Category Archives: Just won’t use

Tough glove

When I was growing up on the East Coast quite a few miles from the shore, my mother carefully taught me about tsunamis. Just in case it was ever relevant, you know.

She bequeathed her knowledge of tsunamis to me like one of those ugly little magic pebbles in stories that the protagonist carries for years and years until they save his life or enable him to achieve the goal of his quest.

“When you see the water retreat, don’t follow it. Don’t get curious and pick up wriggling fish that are left on the beach. Get away from the water as fast as you can, because there will be a tsunami.”

Probably she was thinking of the 1960 tsunami that hit Hawaii, when 61 people died.

Fortunately, I have yet to use this magic pebble of knowledge. But because this information had been drilled into me so carefully, I paid special attention to the aftermath of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan, just in case I could learn anything else.

Indeed I did: That in the aftermath of great destruction, work gloves are of great importance to personal safety as one climbs through the wreckage. I had never thought of that before, but my soft fat paws, which I use intensely to earn my livelihood as a desk jockey, would be in great danger from broken wood, glass, and metal. Having only once handled wooden pallets and recoiled from the splinters and nailheads projecting from them, I knew I needed hand protection.

4013_Claw_v1-328x438For weeks and months after the terrible events in Japan, I anxiously scoured the internet for the “best” gloves. I decided that industrial gloves looked the ideal in terms of cut resistance and impact dissipation. Big, strong, hefty hand gear meant for first responders and rescuers, they surely would protect my squishy paws from the aftermath of a disaster.

But for almost three years afterward, I hesitated to buy them, while they languished on my wishlist. I was puzzled at my own behavior, because buying gloves seemed like a no-brainer.

Finally, some months ago I thought about the 7/7 bombings in Britain, and thought about what if something similar happened to me in the subway. Eventually, I thought about my purse, which only seemed roomy before the prospect of gloves arose. My headlamp is in there already.

WellsLamontGlovesThen last week it all gelled for me. I went down the block to the hardware store and bought much thinner, lighter, less bulky gloves that would fit in my purse.

My reasoning was that it is better to have two gloves in the hand, so to speak, than a pair at home. If I were home and a disaster were to occur so terrible as to separate me from my purse holding my identification and money, I would surely not have the time or ability to fetch out a pair of bulky industrial gloves. Thus, I choose to have disaster gloves that I can carry all the time easily. Like carrying a headlamp, a pair of coated knit gloves, light but tough, is an easy step to take for emergency preparedness.

But if you are or know a first responder or rescue worker, I can think of no better addition to the daily work gear than the Hexarmor gloves I lingered over for years.


Being ascetic about asceticism

250px-Ignatius_of_Antioch_2Well, things have continued to be unpleasant in my work life. Actually, they’re getting worse. I have had to take consolation from the fact that what I’m going through is hugely easier than being an early martyr eaten by wild beasts– if slower. I shouldn’t whine. But, anyway, this blog continues to help me stay more alert to my relationship with objects.

It appears that the level of stress in my life is correlated with an increase in the size of my Amazon wish list. I hate to admit I was really surprised when I looked carefully. The number of objects on my wish list has gone up by 2.4% this month alone.

I already knew that under stress I tend to eat too much, but I wasn’t quite so clearly conscious that I also tend to WANT too much. Wow! I see now that it’s like an anxious kid reaching for her bear and blankie! Not good for a grownup!

So for today’s object, I’m going to pick something from this month’s additions to the wish list that I am choosing not to buy.

Marriage, Celibacy, and Heresy in Ancient Christianity is the first major study in English of the ‘heretic’ Jovinian and the Jovinianist controversy. David G. Hunter examines early Christian views on marriage and celibacy in the first three centuries and the development of an anti-heretical tradition…

JovinianistControversyThe early history of Christianity is really fascinating. A lot of people don’t realize that a huge amount of action took place in the first centuries after the writing of the New Testament. It is very true that those who don’t know history are condemned to repeat it, because a lot of the most fiery disputes in Christianity in the most recent four or five centuries (such as between Protestants and Catholics) are simply rematches of similarly passionate disputes from the first centuries of Christianity. Any believer who has ever had a serious religious argument with a fellow believer knows: “Let Mortal Kombat Begin!”

The Jovinian Controversy was about what level of asceticism is most appropriate for Christians. Aha! You see why it caught my interest. The “Look Inside” selection on Amazon holds my attention, and rereading it makes me see why I put the book on my wish list a couple of weeks ago. The appropriate degree of involvement with the physical world is still a hot topic in Christianity (as the story of “the Bishop of Bling” illustrates), and probably always will be. The topic enthralls me.

ApostolicFathers1But thinking about it today, I know, deep down, that I don’t have the fortitude to wade through almost 300 pages of anything, much less a tome of early Christian studies. I also don’t feel I have enough background, which is why I’m leaving both volumes of the reasonably priced Loeb Classical Library’s Apostolic Fathers on my wish list, because Jovinian was quite a bit later than people like St. Ignatius of Antioch, who studied directly under St. John the Evangelist (best known as the beloved disciple at the Last Supper). And my work situation is keeping my span of attention low.

My experience in academic publishing whispers greedily, “You should get it before it goes out of print. You just know that probably there was a print run of 1000 and it will never be reprinted. Just buy it and keep it.” But my more ascetic self says it’s a waste of space and money I don’t even have, really, to spend $47 for a book (or $30 for a used copy) that I will probably never get around to reading. And this book, if I leave it in the freecycle area of my building, is going to end up in the trash.

So, with a great deal of regret, I’m going to delete it from my wish list. The mortal combats of Jovianian’s era will have to wait for another day, perhaps another lifespan.

Glass lust

Please pardon the length of today’s entry. Compared to any other object I have coveted and written about, this one is vastly more difficult. I have written about items I have wanted to grab or to gobble, but I don’t think that I have ever written before of having “given up hope” of getting one, to loose “my mind’s grip” on it, to “wrestle with the decision” not to buy it, as with this. Since beginning this blog, I have struggled several times to write about this item and failed to even begin to set down a few words. Hence the length of time since my last substantial post on this blog. I’ve been fighting the urge to acquire this item.


The Olympus XZ-2

This item is the excellent Olympus XZ-2 camera, which is most notable to me for a lens with a bright, light-eating maximum aperture of f/2.0-2.5, which is practically unheard-of for a point and shoot canera.

Decades ago, when a poor graduate student, I somehow managed to scrape together a month’s pay and bought an Olympus OM-4 with a portrait lens. The OM-4 was one of the last legendary film SLR cameras before the age of autofocus, which was just then coming in. It can even be used without a battery. The esteem in which it is held by its owners can be seen on eBay, where fond sellers tend to set bottom bids at least three times higher than buyers are willing to pay more pragmatic sellers.


The Olympus OM-4

The OM-4 has all sorts of useful abilities, particularly spot exposure, and it could use what was then phenomenal (and no longer produced) ISO 3200 film for low-light conditions.

The Olympus Zuiko 85 mm f/2.0 lens was an affordable marvel. Portrait lenses for digital SLRs of that length and brilliant aperture are now essentially unaffordable to all but pros, costing in the thousands today. (Portrait lenses are so called because an 80-105 mm length is ideal for taking portraits, although actually they can be used for anything.)

Glass lust is hard to explain to non-photographers, but when you have a really good lens on a good camera body, you know it, because it makes taking pictures effortless; you have no awareness of limitations. With a bright and high quality lens, even under dim conditions, the light comes through clear and easy, not shadowed, cramped, and darkened by a small aperture. A blurred background becomes possible, which is particularly good for portraits, as it draws the eye to the subject, instead of the face being one blob among an equally sharp background. With just a little care in framing and choosing an exposure, pictures can look professional.

Glass lust is so powerful that when a young amateur photographer who did good political photographs made a plea for donations for a better lens while he followed our favorite presidential candidate around the country, I sent him $200 without question, because I knew the ache of glass lust in him had to be real for such an unusual and specific plea.

I had a wonderful time teaching myself photography with the OM-4 and that lens. Most notable was a portrait I took of a roommate who then asked for an 8″ x 10″ version to give his mom — “This is the best picture of me that anyone has ever taken,” he declared. Other successes included some remarkable shots of candlelit church services that came back from the processor with fingerprints all over them because they had been handed around the lab. I took a fine shot of a string of 25 Sun Gold tomatoes in my garden. And once, I startled my mother when I showed a picture of her I had casually taken. Used to wide-angle snapshots filled with glare and grinning people, she stammered, “That looks…” she hesitated, “real.”

And then, gradually, over the years and particularly as my finances failed along with my marriage and my business, I stopped taking pictures. There was not much to see in those days that gave me pleasure; there was no money for film and processing; and an abusively controlling spouse meant that I had very little freedom to find any good subjects, particularly people to take portraits of.

When I emerged from that long personal nightmare, the digital camera had dawned, and professional photographers were debating whether to go digital or stay with film. I had no money then, and was much too occupied with survival to use my trusty OM-4. And I had become a recluse to avoid my obsessive husband. However, after I handled demos of cameras that could fit in an Altoids tin, and weighed in my hand the plastic bodies of larger cameras, my OM-4 began to seem less like a prospective pleasure to take up again and more like a steel-framed two-pound albatross around my neck.

I wasn’t satisfied with having a small camera, though, and even the big pro DSLRs could not match the technical capabilities of the OM-4. I wanted something small and capable, not a big DSLR but a smart compact.

And then about a year ago, I noticed that the Olympus XZ-2 was close to the capabilities of the OM-4. I watched the price come down as later models superseded it but did not match its abilities. Now would be a very good time to buy one. If you are dissatisfied with a point-and-shoot, or the picture quality of your phone, or dissuaded by the cost of a DSLR, you should take a look at the XZ-2. I think it is a much better camera than its successors in that line.

However, I cannot see myself getting back into photography. Photography simply no longer appeals to me. Sure, it would be useful to take pictures of things for eBay to thin out some of the muck I have in my little room, but I don’t need a $400 camera with $200 of wonderful accessories for that. Better to use a hundred-dollar tourist toy for that. The XZ-2 is certainly worth its cost, considered objectively, but not as a part of my life. I never did emerge from reclusiveness even after my husband died, and although I have friends, I do not have enough people I want to take pictures of, or to show pictures to, to justify such a purchase.

At this point when in person I discuss things I do not want to buy, my interlocutors channel the cheerful, materialist voices of “positive thinking.” I know the tropes well enough to imagine when alone what such people would say about the XZ-2. “You should get it, because it would renew your interest in this hobby and provide a new way to enjoy the world!” or “You can easily amortize the cost with the things you will sell on eBay.” “You could start a small side business as a classic portraitist, you’re good enough.” “Don’t you want to learn what digital photography and image processing are all about?” And, most appealing to me as a hoarder, “You can buy it and keep it for the day when you are ready to start again.” But I’m simply, plainly not interested in any of that. If I ever have a change of heart, technology and software will have progressed to the point of making the XZ-2 obsolete.

My pride and a dream to regain my youth push forward, encouraging my desires to own this new camera, but it would be a waste. My month-old $30 Dustbuster has given me far more pleasure than the prospect of this camera offers. And so, with tremendous regret, I turn away from this fine Olympus XZ-2.

This hurts.

One nice piece


Alice apparently lives in an SRO.
Click to see Carroll’s text.

When you live in an SRO, a space so tiny that you practically have to step out into the hallway to change your mind, you learn a special way of viewing your home.

For example, you learn to view your neighborhood as merely an extension of your house, rather like a large yard. The nearest food store really is a store of food, your pantry.

You also learn to make little compromises, like learning to scoot into the shower just before the guy who likes a leisurely shave in the shower shows up, even if that is about ten minutes earlier than you would prefer.

And you learn that you can have whatever furniture you want in an SRO, so long as it fits and doesn’t require being bolted to the wall. One of my neighbors has a sofa bed. I don’t know how he and his friends wedged it in there, but they did. He has almost nothing else in his place but that treasured sofa bed.

Nice armchairBut I understand that. When you’re living small, it’s tempting to get a big statement piece. I knew a guy in college who managed to shoehorn a very nice upholstered armchair into his room. It wasn’t quite as nice as this one, but it looked that good to teenaged me. (No, no, we weren’t interested in each other, if you’re wondering if we both fit in that chair simultaneously.)

The SRO room I have comes with lamp, table, chair, some kind of thing with a drawer or drawers, and a new bed. You choose from what you want and whatever is available. I eagerly chose a four-foot desk, and I bought a cheap rolling office chair instead of the one provided. I told the building management not to bother getting me a bed, and I sleep happily on the floor next to the desk.

Computer cartI don’t use the desk, except for stacking boxes of chowder. When I am not at work, I spend most of my time lying on the floor at my computer, which is where I am now. This is not a good thing for my health, because it’s pretty close to bed rest. Just about anything would be more active than that.

So I thought about putting my desk back with the other furniture that new tenants choose from, and buying a stand-up desk. Stand-up desks are supposed to be healthy for you. You join the greats (as well as Donald Rumsfeld). Writes one fan:

Sir Winston Churchill, Ernest Hemingway, John Dos Passos, Virginia Woolf, Thomas Jefferson worked at stand-up desks. Donald Rumsfeld works at a stand-up desk and if my memory serves me correctly, Vladimir Nabakov (one of my favorite writers of the 20th Century) wrote his novels on index cards at a stand-up desk.

After all, Emiliano Zapata said, “It’s better to die on your feet than to live on your knees.”

It could be very affordable. And indubitably it would be healthier than lying on my belly.

But I could stretch beyond merely having a standing desk. I’m also tired of living with metal table legs and composite board. Indubitably I could make my place nicer, more civilized.

da Vinci stand up deskSo, what if… what if I got One Nice Piece? What if I got a piece of real wood furniture, the kind of furniture that you dust and polish, not the kind you wipe down? The kind of furniture that, when you are done cleaning with it, makes your place smell like lemon oil instead of Lysol wipes? The kind of furniture that feels like satin wood under your fingertips, instead of plastic laminate?

What if I got a nice wooden stand-up desk? Isn’t that handsome? Wouldn’t it feel good to use?

I could save up for it; hard work but what a wonderful place to exercise my intellect as well as my legs! (Okay, well, to write this blog.) It would change my place from a room to a home, and be good for me, too!

Alas, I don’t think I will use it. If I don’t sit at my desk now, I would have no motivation to actually stand up. It is all part of a fantasy of the lithe, active, stylish person that I am not.

And who am I kidding about dusting and polishing, when I can barely manage to scrub my sink now and then? A beautiful wooden finish will dull under the thick coat of the urban grit that coats my windowsills, which I  vacuum about twice a year.

And is it not pride that motivates me? Embarrassment at living in an SRO when people I went to school with have multiple houses (even though I daresay I have less debt)? Should I not feel instead the dignity of my way of life?

That wooden stand-up desk is a lovely piece, anyway, though. I refuse to condemn it as overly luxurious if it is a One Nice Piece.

If you are thinking of getting a stand up desk to get healthier, you should have one that honors your work, and honors the workers who made it so carefully. Your place doesn’t have to look like it came out of the Horchow Collection to have One Nice Piece to remind you that it is a home and not just a place to live.

Eye of the needle

Okay. You have to get these. Really. These are great. If you don’t want them for yourself, you have to find someone who can use them, and give them some. Please.

Admittedly, I bring these to your attention because of my fascination with tech without moving parts or electricity, again. But don’t you know someone who quilts, embroiders, or mends?

Spiral Eye Needle close upThese Spiral Eye Side Threading Needles are handmade, very clever, specially easy to thread hand sewing needles. They are also made in America. The inventor writes, “I have yet to find a company in America that actually manufactures hand sewing needles.” And neither have I. Check, the next time you see a pack of needles in a store. In this era of free trade, here’s your opportunity to support American small business!

Go to the inventor’s website. The inventor painstakingly, earnestly explains how her needles work and why they are superior to any competitors. I believe her.

You’ve read me complain repeatedly about my presbyopia. If you have it (and even if you don’t), these needles will make your sewing much easier by making the threading simpler and quicker.

OK, here’s why I don’t have any of these needles even though I think they’re the cat’s pajamas and the neatest thing since sliced bread.

SENcase-183x138My clothes virtually never rip. I buy such sturdy clothing that if something does rip, I need a new one. And buttons and zippers are anathema to me.

Every time I have bought a mending kit in the past, I have misplaced it, lost in the chowder of stuff in my place. So I am sure I will misplace these fine, fine, American needles. Even if I bought the add-on optional coolissimo needle case for them.

And no, I don’t know anybody who sews. But I wish I did.

Be a patriot, buy these needles! Your place has got to be neater than mine, and when you need them, you will be able to find them. And if you don’t live under a rock like me, you know someone for whom these are the perfect gift.

Pancakes and politics


financial journalist Louis Rukeyser

financial journalist Louis Rukeyser

I grew up dorky, or at least my classmates thought my family was. My family always watched the news shows like “60 Minutes” and adored figures who cared about economics and politics such as Louis Rukeyser and Mark Russell. In that B.C. (before cable) era of ABC, NBC, CBS, and PBS, my parents were mutants because they were news hounds and also taught their offspring to be so.

My family was secular in the particular span of time when I was growing up, and one of my happiest childhood memories is Sunday mornings. When I was in college, I immediately recognized the worldly emotional flavor of Wallace Stevens’s poem “Sunday Morning” even though we had no pets and my mother never went about in a nightgown:

Complacencies of the peignoir, and late
Coffee and oranges in a sunny chair,
And the green freedom of a cockatoo
Upon a rug mingle to dissipate
The holy hush of ancient sacrifice.

So on Sundays, instead of learning religion, I learned to be patriotic and political.

There was the huge Sunday edition of the paper that we would split up and trade. I would sit on the Persian rug while the sun would shine in at an angle, brilliantly. The smell of my parents’ coffee would permeate the air as they argued about politics and commented on the various editorials and op-eds they were reading.

BisquickPancakesThen my father would make Bisquick pancakes. When I got to fourth grade or so, I took over, carefully keeping the buttered griddle (yes, real butter) from being too greasy and the pancakes from being too dry. (Well, actually, I liked the crisp edges of the pancakes that were poured just after I put more butter on the grill.)

Then the Sunday “talking heads” political shows would come on TV. In an era when politicians were not known for discussing “what the meaning of ‘is’ is,” when they were idealized as responsible men, we knew what such an honorable leader would do: He (and it was always a he) would meet the press and face the nation.

My parents and I would sit at the table and watch raptly as we ate the pancakes drenched in Log Cabin syrup. I learned then to be concerned not about a meal consisting almost entirely of fat, starch, and sugar, but about the doings of our country and the politicians who, we naively trusted, represented us.

But I also remember the annoyance of having to wash the manual egg beater with which I had made the batter, cleaning every little twist and turn and crevice.

dough whisk web

And thus it is with admiration, nostalgia and an incongruously overwhelming feeling of love for country that I want a dough whisk. Designed not to entrap dry balls of starch and to be easily washable, it is perfect for making pancake batter. I don’t want one to use, or even to make me fantasize about having a kitchen; I want one to make me smile. For the five minutes before, of course, it goes into a box of clutter and ends up in storage. So, well, I shouldn’t get one.

I don’t know if the King Arthur Flour dough whisk is made in the United States, and I want one so badly I don’t actually care. But if you don’t go to church and want to teach your children patriotism, I would suggest that you get one and make Sunday morning pancakes while watching the full Ginsberg so that they will always connect sweetness with political awareness.

The virgin page

Allan's JournalI want an Allan’s Journal. I want one so much!

An Allan’s journal is made by the same people who manufacture some of the finest English-langugage bibles in the world. These are people who seriously respect fine bookbinding.

Leather bound lined writing paper with edges that are not merely gold but red under gold, and with a ribbon marker, these journals are a worthy reflection of the eidos of books. They doubtless smell wonderful and cuddle in the hand rather than burden it. They come in dignified red, brown, or black, just like fine bibles should.

I hope you will get one for yourself or a friend.

All my life, starting from when I was ten, I have owned blank books. I have always wanted to write down my thoughts, note things that interest me, inscribe secrets, look back in time at what used to occupy my thoughts.

I’ve owned blank books in red faux leather stamped with gold or bound in houndstooth wool, in blazing white genuine leather (a gift, and Tiffany’s, no less– you can’t get them any more) and in humble padded pink pleather; I’ve owned a little black book of the sort that tomcatting men carry women’s phone numbers in, and many other books I’ve forgotten. I presently carry a tiny one in my purse, covered with an iridescent red and green Persian carpet design.

Every time I go to Barnes and Noble, I wander over to their display of blank books and think about buying one with a leather tie aound it. When the gift shop at work got a Moleskine display, I hovered over it for a good quarter of an hour, and keep going back to it every time I stop by. Blank books seduce my imagination with the possibilities their empty pages conjure up.

But, you see, it’s the blankness of the virgin pages that attracts me. It isn’t the actual scrawling out my thoughts. I have never used more than five or six pages in a blank book; and eventually I tear out the used pages and get rid of the book. I never find myself writing anything in them that is worth keeping, much less anything leather-bound and edged in gold over red. They are a perfect example of a nice thing that turns to junk in my hands.

With my current little purse book, I have already written four pages in it and torn them out. I carry the book because who knows, one day I might need to write down a perp’s license plate number. I can’t think of anything else I would want to write that I couldn’t do more easily on a computer. I need to give up the idea of owning a blank book more substantial than a 2″ x 3″ fatuity that I carry because it looks better than a book of Post-Its.

So no, I have no use for a marvelous journal that is lovely to look at, to smell, to hold, an object to stimulate the imagination, a keeper of memories and bearer of tasks for the future. But for you? Hey, these are seriously nice. Get one, please.

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