Friday, March 16, 2007

The Tao of No More

I have a stepson who is overweight in a family of slender people. Some people might be able to argue that their obesity is due to physical deficiencies, but he merely eats much, much more than he should. He's old enough to make that choice now, so I try not to be judgmental about the food he chooses to partake of and the exercise he chooses not to.

Here's what I feel judgmental about: at family dinners, if there are seven people and nine pieces of chicken, he'll do the math and take the two extra pieces. He just assumes that he needs two or three times as much food as the person sitting next to him. I'm a big guy; I won't be satisfied with one itty-bitty piece of chicken.

We are not so poor that I must count every piece of chicken, but it bothers me that he thinks he is entitled to taking more than his share. Bloated to the point of unhealth from excessive consumption, his instinct is not to take less but to demand even more. You can tell he is an American; isn't that what our society is all about? We overconsume fuel and see the expense as a need to drill into any area that might provide even more. Dollar menu, anyone? We know enough about trade deficit and third world labor conditions to be disturbed when the plastic piece of crap in our carts is made in China, but we won't put it back. If anything, we'll add a few more, because its such a great bargain, made after all by small children earning pennies a day. We take more than our share, then blame the results on our politicians. Sure they're bought by corporations. So are you. So are we all, until we step back and say no more.

Say it with me: No more. No more.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

TV as Commodity?

Humans are masters of self-sabotage. Example: In an attempt to give me a much-desired reading area, my husband surprised me with a comfortable leather chair and matching ottoman. It was an expensive set, extravagant for a large family household in which furniture is little more than disposable. Set in a quiet corner with a side table and lamp, there is now no excuse for me not to spend more time at my favorite pastime. Except, of course, that said chair is usually covered with unfolded laundry.

In the same spirit, I ordered cable TV even as I am planning a six-month experiment in extreme simplicity. I certainly have valid excuses—a great channel package at an ungodly low price, or no local channel reception for example—but doesn’t everyone? After less than twenty-four hours with hundreds of channels at my disposal, I have come to a few conclusions.

First, Americans are even weirder than I thought. A quick peek at the channel guide reveals a smorgasbord of innovative and edifying choices such as Engaged and Underage, Necklace Showcase, and True Hollywood Stories. I’m assuming that someone must be watching this pap, but whom?

Second, most children’s programming is neither educational nor appropriate for children. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, but my entire experience in this area heretofore was with PBS and the occasional Wiggles video from the library.

Last, the media has a bigger portion of the blame for our culture of overspending than corporate America, even (gasp) Wal-Mart. Not only is there a television show dedicated to what NOT to wear, new episodes are shown multiple times a day. An entire program beseeching us to dispose of wearable garments simply because a style expert of dubious credentials says it must be? And that’s just one of the hundreds of similar programs available for viewing at any hour of the day or night. No wonder most of us are wading through a quagmire of unnecessary debt.

How long will cable television survive in my bookish home? Will my family be transformed from proud pop-cultural illiterates to knowledgeable consumers of reality shows and music television? We shall see. So far, I think A.) 3 months, and B.) Nope. We’re too far gone for even the savviest of marketing experts.

Friday, March 02, 2007

The Ick Factor

I spent the morning canvassing garage sales and a few local thrift stores for the new little one’s layette. Among the finds: a matched-from-top-to-bootie Hanna Andersson outfit in like new condition. I can already see the ever-higher eBay bids when my unborn one has outgrown it. For some reason, the internet auction community prefers buying Swedish infant’s clothing. I’m as big a sucker for organic cotton and flat-lock seams as any other Mommy, but it was made in Peru, for heaven’s sake. I doubt it has any distinctive terroire.

The inherent weirdness of this obsession with foreign children’s clothing is surpassed only by the attitude of people who turn up their noses at resale completely. I am truly interested in how many people refuse to buy used clothing and household items. I am especially fascinated with the adjectives that this group uses to describe thrift store fare. Grody. Skeevy. Icky. It’s like they lose the ability to speak capably and must revert to a toddler’s lexicon when economics peeks its slimy head into their closet. I don’t care if my budget is blown to smithereens; I must have X or I shall throw myself screaming to the ground.

A bit harsh, but, honestly, isn’t it the truth? Everyone has pet peeves, but most of us reach a point where we accept that we can’t always have exactly what we want. It’s called adulthood. And most of us stop dry heaving and acting faint when faced with perceived unpleasantness some time before age six. The people that balk at thrift stores are selectively grossed out by habits that save money while the obvious germiness of more expensive practices doesn’t bother them at all. They cannot bear to spread used linens on their beds, but hotel bedspreads that go unwashed for months as patron after patron spreads dander and body fluids about them are fine. They’ll have nothing to do with a garage sale coffee mug, but they eat off restaurant plates without a second thought.

Humans are germy sorts by nature, and anything we touch is bound to bear our microbial mark. New items are made with human hands or even grimier factory equipment, then packaged by another set of germs and fluids before being transported in a filthy truck. At their destination, they are unpacked in a filthy back room by a minimum wage employee who may or may not have washed after the last restroom break, then hung in a public area where anyone can touch them and try them on. If you think brand-spanking-new panties have never touched another person’s bottom, you clearly have never worked in a department store fitting room. It’s more sanitary to outfit your family from the local crack house.

That’s why we have soap and hot water, people. That four-year-old in the third world who made your sweater has never heard of toilet paper and probably has no running water with which to wash her hands. And that’s just the beginning of the grossness. So if you refuse to use recycled clothing, you’ll need to some up with a better excuse. I can respect someone who is honest. Just say it: I shop not to acquire useful, high-quality goods, but to fill an emotional void. Or: I am too good for used garments. I deserve the best, regardless of economic or environmental cost.