Coffee heat rising

Saved from my own fecklessness

This weekend the fates conspired to keep me from spending money.

A week or two ago, while running around town with a friend who was looking for a particular combination of furniture, I came across some dining room chairs that exactly fit the description of the fantasy chairs I imagined would go with the table I bought four years ago. My mother’s kind of Shakery looking chairs work fine with this table, but I’ve always believed that a set of wheatback chairs with wicker seats would be just the ticket. When I got the table, I thought it would be fairly easy to find such a thing, but no! Months and years have gone by, and I’ve never spotted exactly what I wanted.

Until I came across these. They looked much like the one in the picture here, only in a nice medium walnut finish, not painted black; and the design is a little more polished. Perfect: $315 apiece, marked down for a moving sale.

Ohhkay….six of those would come to $1,890, plus 8.3% government gouge equals $2,046. A bit stiff, especially since I’d drained my diddle-it-away savings to buy the sideboard I’ve also been craving for the past several years. Four of them would cost $1,362. And there was some degree of hurry: the store is moving to a part of town that’s a long way from where I live, into an upscale area way too rich for my blood. I hardly ever go there; with the cost of gas where it is, I’m unlikely to venture out in that direction, even to get something I really want. Besides, the sales guy indicated the chairs weren’t about to sit around his floor for long.

So I dropped by on Friday and asked if I could buy just one on approval, to see how it would look with the set. No problem. Schlep this home, and…

Yeah, it looked really, really gorgeous with the table: like they were made to go together. But…

But the dining room is separated from the family room by a step up: the dining room is a slightly sunken room, so you make one step down from the dining area into it. Satan and Proserpine, the previous homeowners, took out the infelicitous wrought-iron railing that further delineated the spaces, creating a broad open area where nothing interferes with the sight line. The family room is the nicest and prettiest room in the house. When I sit at my accustomed spot at the table, I can look across the table into this lovely room with its big fireplace, skylights, Arcadia door, and handsome, simple furniture. I really like enjoying the view of the most pleasant room in my home.

Well, the chair backs are high enough that when you sit at the table, what you see is not the room but the back of the chair across the table! Nice chairs, but not what I want to gaze at while I’m dining alone. My mother’s chairs are low enough that they don’t intrude.

Saved from diddling away $2050 on unnecessary furniture! Back to the store the chair went.

Onward to more unnecessary objects: At Pier One, I recently bought some new dishes, my old set being scratched up and very tired. They’re mostly bright yellow, with blue trim here and there. To go with them, I wanted a set of cobalt blue placemats.

Think anyone, anywhere carries cobalt blue or navy blue placemats?

N-o-o-o. Not a chance!!!!!

After driving from pillar to post in search of a mat to go with the dishes, I finally found the perfect thing at Sur la Table. They had five. I needed eight. The saleslady called the catalog to order me three more: no way. She now suggests I drive halfway across the city to their other store to pick up the other three mats. I decide not.

While I’m walking around The Great Indoors, a repository of some of the most hideous products of the School of Ugly Design available anywhere, it occurs to me that one doesn’t really need table mats. Why use a placemat on a table whose surface is made of reclaimed European warehouse flooring, two-inch-thick slabs of polymerized pine with layer after layer after layer of dark wax rubbed into it? The thing is impermeable! A little water or wine spilled on it will wipe right up.I have a perfectly fine table cloth that can be used for guests.Why do I need placemats at all?

I don’t. Do you?

One less thing to spend money on. One less thing to have to wash and iron and put away.

We have a lot of STUFF in our lives that we think we need because we’ve always had them and our parents always had them and so that must just be the way things are done. Do you find that’s so? What’s in your home that you don’t really need?

What’s a thing worth?

When M’hijito and I were buying appliances for the Renovation House, we picked up a nice but not gaudy gas stove at Sears for about $800. It occurred to me to wonder what really, in human terms, an $800 stove costs. Based on what we know people in various trades and professions earn, here’s an estimate:

  • About 4 hours, plus an LL.D. and 40 years of legal experience, of practicing law at Prestigious Southwestern Law Firm
  • About two days of house painting and plaster or drywall repair
  • About 29 hours, plus a Ph.D. and 30 years’ editorial experience, of deciphering cryptic English written by Chinese mathematicians and training graduate students to spend their lives doing the same
  • About 29 hours, plus a contractor’s license, bonding, and 30 years of experience in the trades, of tiling bathroom stalls and counters, demolition work, installing cabinetry, repairing lath & plaster, rebuilding foundations, installing toilets, installing glass shower doors, hauling trash, and undoing some other guy’s mess
  • About 47½ hours of talking on the telephone to distressed, pained, and enraged Vast Nationwide Insurance Company policy-holders
  • About five 14-hour days (no overtime paid) at the Great Desert University of grading illiterate, plagiarized papers scribbled by the sons and daughters of the American middle class
  • About 66 hours of scrubbing floors, cleaning bathrooms, dusting furniture, scouring kitchens, polishing windows, changing catboxes, changing and laundering sheets, dusting miniblinds, vacuuming carpets, mopping tile, and sweeping the front porch
  • About 80 hours — two endless 40-hour weeks — of chasing other people’s children around, changing diapers, feeding children junk food, listening to children scream, cleaning up baby barf, and wiping toddler bottoms
  • About 114 hours — that’s almost 2½ six-day or almost 3 five-day weeks, plus two weeks of walking across the Sonoran desert in 110-degree heat — of mowing lawns, trimming thorny shrubbery, digging ditches, and hauling trash
  • About 155 hours — almost four 40-hour weeks, plus two weeks of walking across the Sonoran desert in 110-degree heat — of lifting demented, stinking old men and women, of steeling yourself to their wails, of stuffing food and medication down their throats, of changing their diapers, of parking them in wheelchairs and rolling them into the shower and washing the sh** and the sweat and the barf off them, of changing their sheets and changing their clothes

So it goes. Every thing that we own has a human cost. These are just the costs to you and me and our fellow workers of buying a thing. They don’t count the human cost of digging the raw materials out of the ground to mill the steel required to make its parts or the gas required to operate it; they don’t count the time and effort human beings had to put in to building it and installing the infrastructure to make it work.

Each time we decide we want to buy an object, we should think about what the privilege of owning that object really costs.


4 Comments left on iWeb site


I love it.

Friday, May 30, 200810:46 AM


This is fabulous!

Saturday, May 31, 200803:03 PM


You don’t sound very happy about, nor do you sound well-suited for, working at a nursing home, or wherever you “lift stinking old men and women” around.

Someday, you’ll be there, too. I hope you receive morecompassionate care.

Monday, June 2, 200806:50 AM


I don’t work in a nursing home, thank God. But I watched my mother die in one. It was a horrible place. I watched the women who worked there, from the nurses to the drudges who had to do the most awful scutwork. Nurses are paid well, but drudges are not. The work is just hideous.

My mother did stink. The smell of cancer is not pleasant. Nor are the screams and moans of the desperately demented and the truly anguished.The “compassion” you get when you’re in an HMO and your disease cuts into the profit margin is negligible.

It’s easy to be self-righteous…but the truth is, a nursing home can be a dreadful place to work, and the labor is difficult and unpleasant.

Monday, June 2, 200807:06 AM