It’s over. All the hoopla and shopping and cooking and eating and celebrating. Presents unwrapped, eggnog downed, credit cards maxed out. It was a fine example of that strange ritual called The American Christmas; an event both sacred and profane.
Last night, somewhere after the smoked trout and turkey, but before the port and carmelized pear tarte, awash in a sea of wrapping paper and bows, the conversation turned to Useless Things.
Not even the hatbox-shaped plastic purse from Japan that says “It’s so fabulous being me!”
I mean truly Useless Things. Those items we’ve owned, whether through our own besotted bad judgment or the misplaced affection of someone else with just a fingerhold on sanity.
Everyone had a story.
Karen talked about the olive tray from Hell. Two feet long and one olive wide, it was The Rockettes of all olive trays. It could hold two dozen of the black olives we used to stick our fingers in, or fifteen of the big green ones that look like they’re staring at you. This is your eyeball on drugs.
Her husband ate an olive and she glared. Where once had been a perfect symmetry of olives doing a high kick in unison, there now lay a briny gap in the line. She corrected the design with a new olive, served from the Tupperware container in her hand.
Another one was eaten. She refilled. And refilled. She spent the night hovering near the crudités, a handful of pristine olives at the ready, unable to walk away from a tray that only looked good when full.
My own story was The Toast. Surely, you remember The Toast? That crusty bit of dried out, seven-grain bread with the face of The Runaway Bride on it? She looked wistful, vulnerable. Yeah, and bug-eyed, too.
When I spotted it on eBay, I had to have it. It was the perfect example of all things useless. Food you can’t eat. Art that isn’t art. A person of fame simply for being a person of fame. A spiritual visitation of the most superficial sort.
I placed a bid and watched — aghast — as another offer came in. I upped the ante. Nobody else was going home with my toast. Two minutes and fourteen seconds left in bidding. I was still five bucks under the limit I’d set for myself. There was wiggle room.
Thirty seconds left. Somebody bid the price up ten bucks. Who was this evil creature, Mr. firstname.lastname@example.org? He took the prize. I hated him. And I hope he choked on the toast.
Dennis’s story was better than mine. He had bought a thousand gross of arrow fletchings. Not the arrows themselves, mind you. Not the arrow heads. Just the little feather things on the back that make the arrow fly straight and true.
“Why?” I asked him.
“Because they were such a good deal.”
Now all he needs are 144,000 boy scouts who want to earn merit badges in archery.
My friend Bob nodded his head, understanding completely. “I bought airplane tires.”