I’m reading an online version of a big city daily, and my eye falls on a startling headline: “Ball fetches $804,129.”
I read on. Following a 10-day online auction, a baseball hit out of a ballpark by an allegedly steroidal batsman has been purchased for this astounding amount of money.
Not only that, but there has been litigation to determine who had possession of the sphere following a scramble amongst the rowdies in the stands after the home run was hit.
This is a clear sign the end of the world is near.
Two things strike me as I read.
First, the insane amount of money spent on a baseball. I don’t care if the ball represents a milestone in the sport or in the player’s career, it is an obscene amount of cash to be squandered on a baseball. In my mind’s eye I see an alien archaeologist excavating the ruins of what was once a massive structure and fishing a deteriorated sphere made of hide sewn around string from the dust with his 12-digit paw.
“It was food,” he tells his group of eager alien graduate students. “They obviously ate these spheres while they celebrated their rituals. We believe they had tiny heads, dressed in tight, shiny clothing and suffered from profound dental problems.”
That’s if the ball doesn’t get moldy and disintegrate a couple decades from now.
I am temporarily comforted by the fact the purchaser of the ball chose to spend his money on an essentially worthless artifact. Granted, he could have donated the cash to a charitable cause or helped fund an eco-conscious startup, but unlike like so many who have more money than they deserve, he at least did not harm others in his self-funded, self-interested pursuit.
Second, the transaction causes me to reflect on the notion of owning useless crud.
After all, it’s spring.
Time to think about tidying up.
I own useless crud and so do you, unless you’re a Trappist monk or you belong to a fringe Buddhist cult.
I’ve got a house full of useless crud. It is fair to say my abode amounts to a slash pile of contemporary consumer culture.
I collect so much junk I rent a storage space in order to keep all my useless crud. I haven’t opened the storage space in four years; I’m no longer sure what I have there. I can’t remember where I put the key to the lock on the door. It’s probably lost in one of the drawers in my kitchen, hidden in a tangled mass of useless crud. I’d look for it, but I’m afraid to open the drawers.
Very little of my useless crud is worth keeping.
Bottom line: I’m a very sick man. A victim of conspicuous consumption, prey to clever advertising jingles.
I look around the living room and dining room of my house. I’ve had a lot of help in this venture.
It’s obvious my wife is also a sick person.
We are pack rats.
A layer of crud obscures the top of the dining room table. The crud covers the top of the table like an alluvial plain, sedimented in strata in a long-dry river delta. There is layer after layer of paper on the tabletop: newspapers, mail, bills, notes. I dig to the bottom layer of paper and fish out a scrap. It is a note: “Don’t forget Ivy’s appointment with dentist, 4:30 p.m. Friday.”
Ivy left home sixteen years ago.
The exterior of the refrigerator is a disgrace. Every inch of surface on the appliance is plastered with notes and faded photos, wads of them held to the door and side panel with grotesque magnets. There are photos there of people I do not know. They are smiling, they wave, they hold babies, they are dressed for a wedding.
Who are they?
The interior of the refrigerator?
I push some debris aside and sit on the couch. I would put my feet on the ottoman if it weren’t covered by a thick mat of magazines, none of which I have read. I pick up a few of the magazines and examine them: “Eat Sea Weed or Die Journal,” “The Fibber McGee Quarterly,” “Oprah’s Investments for Oldies.” Where do they come from? Who orders them?
I don’t dare check my garage. I have boxes of crud stacked in the garage, put there when we moved to Siberia With a View 27 years ago and not opened since. There are boxes of examination textbooks I received from publishers when I was teaching 35 years ago. I haven’t read them.
I avoid opening closets, fearing what I might find there. After all, there are shoes in the furnace room that haven’t been worn in a decade. What might lurk in a dark closet? A London Fog overcoat purchased in 1982? A Nehru jacket?
I have a dream: I am 80 years old. Kathy and I are still living in the same house. We smell stale and we never open the shades on the windows. We watch television 12 hours a day and eat soup from the can. Kathy wears a muumuu (she has seven or eight of the garments, each with a floral pattern so colorful it hurts the eyes). She slogs around the dimly lit house in a pair of threadbare bunny slippers. I wear one of two sweatshirt/sweatpant combos — one salmon in color, the other teal. There are stains on the garments that will never come out. I wear sneakers that fasten with Velcro. We keep at least 70 bottles of medications and supplements on our kitchen counter. We can no longer see the labels, so we just wolf down whatever is handy.
The contents of our kitchen cabinets and refrigerator are worthy of a science experiment. There are items in our cabinets that have been there for 20 years: crackers as dry as desert sand, sugar harder than cement, cereals that disintegrate at the touch. We eat foods stored in our refrigerator that are months if not years past their sale and use dates. We chow down on canned goods whose labels have turned to a fine powder, the sides of the tin containers swollen by gases generated by the decomposing elements within. Every meal is an adventure.
Despite our failing senses, getting around the house is easy: We follow the paths.
That’s right, we have stacked useless crud — especially old newspapers and magazines — on nearly every square inch of floor in the house, We have left narrow aisles to allow us to get from living room couch to kitchen (to fetch canned soup and medicines), from kitchen to bathroom (where unspeakable thing take place), and from bathroom to the bedroom where we have stacked one dresser on top of another in order to provide storage space for our support garments.
Somewhere beneath a four-foot high pile of dirty laundry is a cat that died a few years before. We can smell it; we just can’t find it.
My dream is, to say the least, alarming.
I mention my concern to Kathy as I gaze at her over the top of a green glass bottle replica of the Eiffel Tower filled with what was once extra-virgin olive oil and crammed with the pathetic remnants of stalks of herbs, long ago turned dirty brown.
Kathy shifts in her seat and dislodges a tall stack of AARP magazines and credit card offers.
“We need to inventory what we have,” she says, “then assign each item a numerical value based on its importance in our lives. We will assign items a number between one and five, with five being absolutely necessary and one being of no use at all. We throw out everything three and under.”
“What about the girls’ clothes and their toys, from when they were kids? Those have to be fives, don’t you think?”
“You gotta be kiddin’, Chunky. Those belonged to our precious babies. We can’t throw them out.”
“Well, what about the 20 pair of running shoes in the hall closet? They have to go, don’t they? They gotta be a one. How many 15-year-old shoes do you need?”
“I trained for the Boulder Bolder in some of those shoes. On sentimental value alone, they’re fives. But now that you mention it, why do we keep all those T- shirts you got at racquetball tournaments back when you were still thin enough to play the game? Why are we saving those? Not to mention all those cheesy plastic trophies you won. I mean, if there’s a fire in the garage — and there might be a fire in the garage since spontaneous combustion is a very real possibility — they’ll just melt.”
“What, my trophies! Those trophies are touchstones: they remind me of places like Farmington, New Mexico, and all the wonderful people I met there.”
“And your ostrich egg collection? What is that all about?”
“Oh yeah. Well, just how long to you intend to keep the pack of alder-smoked salmon your brother sent us in 1994?”
“I’ll get rid of it when you throw away your copy of Stan Mikita’s ‘I Play to Win,’ and that pair of stinky hockey pants you wore when you were 18.”
It’s clear the dialogue will not produce results.
So, there we sit, dour, in the middle of an expanding field of useless crud.
“We’re not going to solve this problem. We need to accept our disgusting situation and cheer up,” I say.
“Yes, we do,” says my bride. “And I know how to do it: Broadway show tunes.” She leaps from her perch and dashes to the living room, shoving a pile of newly washed sheets from her piano. She begins to play and sing, at top volume (which, if you know my wife, you realize is TOP VOLUME). “Give my regards to Broadway, remember me to Herald Square …”
I head for the kitchen. I clear a space on the countertop, moving one of two coffee makers, a blender and the shell of a long-dead juicer to the side.
I will improve our lot by whipping up a great elixir: (insert name of favorite meat here) in a mixed chile sauce. Something zippy, something to clear the head. Energy for a spring cleaning project
I decide to use chicken thighs. I search for a heavy pan and a cutting board. I find them in a bottom cabinet, behind a mess of old wine bottles, beneath a tangle of electric cords and a pile of empty plastic bags.
I season the thighs then brown them in the pan, a few at a time, removing them to a plate when they are ready.
I slice a white onion and smush 10 cloves of garlic. I soften the onion in olive oil over medium-high heat then pop in the garlic, some dried oregano and ground cumin, some salt and pepper. After a minute or two (taking care not to burn the garlic) I add several cups of chicken stock and a can of diced tomatoes and their juice. I bring the liquid to a slow boil, add a bag of frozen, chopped green chile and a tablespoon of Espanola ground red. What the heck, I think, I’ll toss in a can of Great Northern beans, rinsed. I bring the mix to a boil, the pan is covered and into a 300 oven for three hours it goes.
There is only one decision with this stuff: How soupy do I want it? After three hours, the pot is removed from the oven and the chicken shredded into the thickened liquid. The seasoning is beefed up a bit and the pot put on the burner over medium high heat until the liquid is reduced to the desired state — thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.
The mix is great for burritos. It’s wonderful at breakfast, on top of a couple of corn tortillas, garnished with some chopped cilantro and a fried egg.
It’s mighty good eaten from a bowl.
If you can find a bowl.