February 10, 2008

The Year of Buying Objects


As a rule, I don’t buy many objects these days. And by “objects” I mean non-essentials. It’s become a rule for the simple reason that I don’t have any money. I scrape by each month on a couple hundred bucks (mostly in the form of a gummint disability check—the mere fact of which still fills me with shame), so after the rent, the bills, and the necessities—food, beer, and cigarettes— there’s not that much left over for stupid luxuries.

            Moreover, I don’t like using my credit card on account of my technoparanoia (hell, I don’t even like using my MetroCard as a result of my technoparanoia, so you can imagine the ugly scene that arises every time I need to buy a new MetroCard with my credit card). Whenever possible I pay cash to avoid leaving any kind of electronic trail. Limiting myself to cash that way limits my purchasing power considerably.

            But in recent months, a few of those objects I do have around the apartment have been dying on me. In most cases when something breaks, I’ll just throw it away and be glad to be rid of it.  In these most recent cases, though, in order to maintain my sanity, my safety, and my meager livelihood, they needed replacing. This proved to be much more troublesome than I could’ve imagined.

            Morgan took care of the first one for me. For the past six years, I’d been plopping my ungainly self on a desk chair that wasn’t just broken—it was dangerously broken. I’d been dealing with it, but she thought I was pushing my luck, given that I spent most of my days balanced precariously on the damn thing. So one Saturday morning without telling me, she bought me a new chair, then dragged it six long blocks uphill (then up two flights of stairs) as a surprise.

            So that one was easy (for me, anyway).

            The next thing to go was the lamp. It was a simple table lamp which once belonged to my grandmother. It was a sturdy thing, black iron and gold trim, with a small gold plated eagle screwed into the base. Ugly damn thing, to be honest, but it did the job. Without it, one large and important corner of my apartment was cloaked in darkness.

            The wiring had been iffy for months, so before I ended up with an electrical fire, Morgan and I went looking for a replacement. Simple enough, right? A damn lamp?

            Well we hit ten stores in a single afternoon, from a Staples to a ninety-nine cent store, and couldn’t find anything that would do the trick. Believe it or not, we found the best selection at the ninety-nine cent store, but something in my guts wasn’t sure about the idea of plugging in a ninety-nine cent table lamp. What’s more, it’s impossible to find a lamp designed to handle anything more than a sixty watt bulb. What the hell’s the deal with that? Sixty watt bulbs, I’m sorry, do me no good. Might as well just light a candle or gather a jar full of fireflies.

            (I should probably point out here that I do not enjoy shopping for anything, let alone lamps. If at all possible, when a purchase is necessary, I try to get in and out of the store in question in under three minutes. Stores make me nervous. I don’t like the people who work there, I don’t like the people who shop there, and all the objects on the shelves tend to disorient me.)

            We headed home that afternoon stunned and frustrated and exhausted. Then we began drinking and forgot about it. The next morning we stopped in an old hardware store three blocks from my apartment and found exactly what I needed, and all was well.

            Two weeks later, I knocked my old phone off the table. This sort of thing has happened four or five times a week for the past fifteen years. Unfortunately, for some reason this time the phone stopped working. The connection was fine, it simply wouldn’t dial anymore. That’s no good, right? Not that I call that many people, but I do call a few.

            Now, if I were interested in a cell phone, I’d have no trouble at all. All I’d need to do is walk one block east or west, find myself a brick, close my eyes, and throw it. If I then crawled through the shattered plate glass window of whatever storefront I happened to hit, I’d be able to find a cell phone. Drug store? I could find cell phones for sale. Party supplies? They carry them, too. Stationery store? No problem. And given that half the stores one block east or west of me are cell phone stores anyway, the odds would be just that much better that I’d have quite a selection to choose from.

            But I don’t want a cell phone. Never owned one, and hope I never do. I just want a simple telephone—the kind that comes with a cord that you plug into the wall. The kind designed for talking to people and nothing else.

            If I had my way, I’d get me one of those old, heavy square black desk jobs circa 1947. Unfortunately, maintaining the 1947 theme in this apartment is becoming increasingly difficult, unless I want to shell out the big, big bucks. Vintage phones, I’ve found, run over $300. Of course if I did get one of those, it would have an actual dial—which in turn would make refilling my prescriptions and dealing with the Social Security office even more difficult than it already is.

            So I can get alone without the 1947 phone easily enough, but then I learned that I can’t even get a phone with a real bell—a real, metal, electric bell—anymore. The phone that just died had a bell in it, boy. Scared the shit out of me whenever it rang. A bell that could—even from the far end of the apartment—jar me from the deepest sleep. This cheap (well, it wasn’t that cheap—let’s call it “shoddy”) thing I ended up with weighs about one-third what my old phone did, and instead of a manly, tooth-rattling bell, it tweedles like a cartoon chipmunk. Not only won’t it wake me—I can barely hear it when I’m on the other side of the room. But given the choices I was offered, it was the closest I could get. I can’t imagine how many pieces I’m going to have to sweep up when I knock this piece of crap off the table.

            Sad thing is, I’m guessing that a few years down the line, I won’t even be able to get this much. From the feel and sound of it, I’ll be surprised if it lasts three months.

            The environmental types condemn us for being such a culture of disposability. I have no argument with that—it’s true. But we probably wouldn’t be throwing so much away if companies didn’t make such shoddy crap.

            Christ, now it sounds like the stereo’s starting to go, too. That means I’m gonna have to find somebody in town who still sells Victrola belts.


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