Saturday, August 13, 2016

The Importance of Things We Take For Granted, a Tribute to Andy Rooney

I wish to salute the 1,001 conveniences of modern life that we take for granted. There's a vast range of various variables concerning the size/significance/importance/etc of these things, and I could live, no, survive (there's a difference), without many of them, but all are important to one degree or another or they wouldn't exist.

Dr. Deirdre McCloskey, the subject of a recent post, would call them market-tested betterments. They exist because someone had an idea, and multiple someones found the implementation of that idea useful.

Paper towels, or rather a lack thereof, is the genesis of this column. I live in the attic of the large house that me and my freakishly large household lease from our tight fisted but blessedly mostly absentee landlord. It's quite pleasant, as far as starving artists garrets go. It's a finished attic and my hunger pangs will be alleviated shortly via my portable refrigerator and my microkiller. Incidentally, my late wife called call microwave ovens microkillers, for no reason other than it made us both smile and just sounded right. It still works for me. Miss ya' babe.

However, I'm out of paper towels, which I discovered yesterday, much to my horror, when I was doing a bit of cleaning. This means that I'll have to use two paper plates instead of one since I don't have a paper towel to place betwixt the pre-cooked snausage (please refer to microkiller justification above) patties I'm rapidly becoming obsessed about (I told you I was hungry) and the aforementioned paper plate. See, without a paper towel to serve as a pork grease absorber ("pork fat rules!") a second paper plate will be needed to prevent pork grease from leaching through and leaving a spot on my desk, which apropos of nothing, is actually a high-quality, six foot long (30" wide) utility table. Well, it's apropos to me, I like a large desk/workspace.

[Marie-Louise and Dana, are glancing at each other, and me, nervously, as if to say, no, you ask him if he's having a breakdown of some sort.]

Lest you think I'm having some sort of breakdown, fear not. I'm merely setting the stage for what follows.

[Dana heaves a sigh of relief; Marie-Louise smiles and administers a brief back scratch of encouragement.]

See, everything mentioned above, except the utility table that I use for a desk, are relatively recent inventions. All of them exist in the background of my life, I take them for granted and give them very little thought except for when they stop working (or need cleaning). I'm a firm believer in, and derive much enjoyment from, cleanliness in general. However, I don't enjoy having to do the work necessary to effect a clean environment.

I suspect this is genetic. For those of you that don't know, or may have forgotten, I am descended from a very old European aristocratic family. By the time I came along, years of deep dissipation had caught up with them and when I was kidnapped by gypsies my family refused to pay the ransom (it's complicated). This led to a series of events that culminated in my "father" winning me in a poker game at the Gem Saloon in Deadwood, South Dakota.

I've always felt that I was destined to have a small, devoted coterie of servants (to whom I would be exceptionally kind) to deal with all the daily humdrumery. I've also assumed that at some point I would be independently, but not embarrassingly, wealthy and would live the life of a mildly dissipated, but nevertheless enlightened, dilettante. I'm still cautiously optimistic but I'm 62.75 years old chronologically speaking (39 spiritually) which means I only have 38.25 years left.

At this point, I'd settle for enough dough to take the Stickies to Disney World. But none of this has anything to do with the Importance of Things We Take For Granted so I better move on. Dana and Marie-Louise are starting to look jumpy again.

I go to great lengths to use paper towels responsibly. Primarily because I'm cheap relatively poor frugal. Also, for environmental reasons, though I must admit that while I suspect paper towels degrade quickly and efficiently and constitute no threat to mother Earth, I don't actually know. Better safe than sorry.

But there it sits (I've secured a fresh roll.) A pristine, white, sanitary sentinel. While I'm an enthusiastic user of rags, because I'm cheap relatively poor frugal, but sometimes only a paper towel will do. When certain things need cleaning, I must have paper towels.



Bear with me.

Stoicism, I refer to the now mostly ignored philosophy (not an attitude) that teaches that the remedy for longing for stuff we don't, or can't have, is to be aware of the stuff we do have and contemplate how we would feel if we were to lose it. Paper towels for example. Or computers.

I have lived without both paper towels and computers. I need to check in with my older sibs for verification but I don't remember having paper towels in our house when I was a kid. I do remember being amused when my roommate (I was about 25 at the time) came home with not only paper towels but with a paper towel holder/rack/dispenser as well (which was installed with limited success so we stopped using it eventually and just left a roll sitting on the kitchen counter).

I was amused because paper towels seemed like a waste of our limited resources, and besides, that's what worshrags were for (see ubiquitous My Pillow commercial wherein the "inventure" of the My Pillow brags about it being machine worshable). However, over the years I've developed a deep and lasting affection for paper towels. Oh, I also have a deep and lasting affection for my My Pillow.

And computers. I lived without a personal computer for more than half my life and I'm so old I personally know people that don't use one, don't even own a cell phone. I currently don't own a cell phone, but for the record, I was an early adopter and had given up my landline very early on just to see if I could, and I did. But now I hate them, cell phones I mean, but there's no point in getting into that just now, so I won't.

I love my computer, it's a current events junkies/music lovers/dilettantes delight. "Need input!" And unlike a cell phone, If I choose to ignore it occasionally to read a real book or play around with my keyboard (as in music, as in piano, not the device that I'm typing this on), that I'm going to someday actually learn how to play, when I'm out and about in the world no one will approach me, wild-eyed and salivating, demanding to know, "when was the last time you checked your phone! I left you a gazillion messages!" Sorry, I said I wasn't going to go into that.

But the other day Mark's Toy IV, my current computer, for some mysterious reason wouldn't let me fire up Chrome, my window on the world, my access to all the stuff that I keep in the cloud -- until I rebooted, which fixed everything. Phew! Which set me to thinking about Stoicism and how appreciating what you have is much better than bitching about what you don't.

Have you ever wondered why phew starts with the letter p? I miss you, Andy Rooney.

Have an OK day.

©Mark Mehlmauer 2016

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