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.
Certainly not those presents we’d just opened. Not the baseball cap with the three little lights on the brim so you can see the dog poop you’re trying to pick up in the middle of the night.
Not the ballpoint pen with the picure of a hunky, black-haired man in a Speedo who loses his swimsuit when the pen is held upright.
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. email@example.com? 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.”
He nodded again. “Eight hundred of them. For 747’s.” He looked as proud as a retriever with a dead duck in its mouth.
His wife, Joanna, snorted. “You’ll recognize him on eBay. He’s the guy who writes ‘my wife says I have to sell them or she’ll leave me.”
So what’s your most useless gift or purchase? C’mon. Fess up.
I can’t remember ever buying something that was totally useless. Now items taking up lots of space and not getting used is a different matter — my home is filled with that sort of junque…
Louise,I love this post — and the timing of it.
For years, before I was married w/children and so damn responsible, I shopped regularly at Archie McPhee. Among my many purchases was the gallon of tiny treasures — nun puzzles, plastic ants, plastic fish, fake gemstone rings etc etc.
Nowadays, I buy frivolous things that could, possibly, have use: alien-head pens, chile pepper pens, stuffed toy cows.
Damn, I sound so staid. Awwwkkkk.
B.G., you gotta’ lighten up! Go have some fun! Buy something inane, like the dog-bone shaped paperclips I got last night.
And Pari, oh my yes, I do love McPhee. And while I have no idea of what a nun puzzle is, I want one.
I have bought so much useless clothing I could clothe entire countries. I’m sure I’m going to hell just for that alone. The seductive thing about buying clothes is that there will ALWAYS be that one perfect occasion, which somehow justifies every senseless purchase.
I don’t even have an E Bay (aka The Road to Hell) account. I just can’t.
I gave my wife wind-up Hopping Lederhosen for Christmas this year. I believe I may have had more fun buying them than she’s had playing with them.
Wind up, hopping Lederhosen? There’s another image I don’t want imprinted onto my retina.
And Alex, I understand the clothes jones. I’ll have to show you the blue snakeskin boots I treated myself to last week.
Damn, I feel so left out here. The only useless thing I can think of buying was a wig when a body perm went sour and I had to cut my hair to two inches. It now hides in drawer somewhere…feeling absolutely useless. Oh, wait…cookbooks. Not necessairly useless except when one has over three dozen. I mean, if I haven’t learned how to cook by now…?
Good mornin’, Elaine. Hope you had a good Christmas. As far as I’m concerned, no book can be considered a useless purchase. A waste or money? Yeah, sometimes. But never useless.
Sounds like you better go back to The School of Squandering. Unless some of those antiques purchases of yours count.
Moving to Texas for grad school, then to Los Gatos, then to Hollywood, then all the way back to NC pretty much cured me of buying things on the far edge of Useful. 🙂
Now I’m dealing with the extravagant buying habits of a son whose eyes are bigger than his stomach, wallet, etc.
I will say, though, I still have the skills. They just lie dormant. I exercise them regularly by circling items in catalogs.
You’re right about a few antiques purchases! I’ve got a couple of boxes of ‘treasures’ that were too good to pass up. But not very practical: Mirrored candlesticks (already ghosted), a Chatelaine missing pieces-but oh, so lovely, silver booze labels (like who can’t tell the difference between bourbon and scotch?)a jade sensor missing it’s top…oh, don’t get me going here. I might weep.
eBay is of the devil… and I love it.
Several years ago, my wife banned me from bidding on things… right after I bought a chap pleather wallet with the 1960 Pirates World Series team stamped on one of the tri-folds.
That was the twentieth item in a span of a month.
Once I started earning decent money, I returned to eBay and most recently purchased two pair of shoes from Argentina. What’s special about these shoes?
Um, they’re old Adidas SL72’s… the same shoes worn by Paul Michael Glaser in the original Starsky & Hutch TV series – my first cop hero.
Well, this Christmas marked the fifth whisk my husband has received from my mother. Apparently she thinks that stainless steel wire whisks break or something and that we always need one. They are always the same size, too. They’re piling up in the drawer in the kitchen. Perhaps we should try selling a few on eBay.
I don’t buy too many things that are useless, but the clothes thing I can understand, as well as buying shoes. Those boots sound way cool, Louise!
Billie, your virtual shopping may be the only cure for me. There’s not an inch of space left in my closets and drawers as it is. And I’m threatening to put the vintage Shelby Mustang out on the street to cannibalize the garage space.
Elaine, even your pseudo-trasures sound wonderful, although I agree about the booze tags. I say, when in doubt, drink it.
But Guyot’s the one we need to watch. Clearly, he’s got this addiction worse than the rest of us. Except maybe Alex.
Seriously, Paul. Pleather wallets? And Starsky & Hutch shoes? (At least it wasn’t Nancy Sinatra boots.)
Karen, I can see it now. A Calder-like mobile made entirely of kitchen whisks! Chris will make millions!
Guyot’s ALWAYS the one we need to watch – but, huh – Louise? Blue snakeskin boots? Hmmm…I think we’re gonna need to watch you too. 🙂 But please do wear them to LCC! I must confess I’m jealous. Oh, to be young and bold again. How utterly chic!
Okay, do none of you buy useless kitchen gadgets but me? Of course, I couldn’t live without my cherry pitter or my shrimp deveiner, but I cleaned out my utensil drawer on Christmas Eve (in case anybody opened it and saw how grody it looked) and found several items that I couldn’t even identify. What was that funky-looking thing with the screw-like device at the end? I don’t even want to go there…
“What was that funky-looking thing with the screw-like device at the end?” Patty, my love, that is a corkscrew.
And Elaine, when all else in life fails, I buy shoes. My husband has made me promise to stay below the fifty pair limit, but he doesn’t know about my private stash under the stairs.
All right – Louise is wearing the blue snakeskins to LCC and G is definitely wearing the Starsky Adidas. Oh. My. God.
Everybody else, dig in your closets and shoe up.
I hope they have riot police on hand.
A corkscrew? Oh. Never mind.
Oh, hell – no one mentioned kitchen gadgets! I’m a champ buyer there. 🙂 I’ve got every damn thing made. I bought a Mandoline a few years ago and it’s still in the box. I have peelers for every vegetable known to man. I have Japanese garnishment makers, Russian piroge forms, a pasta machine, a ravoli maker, empanada forms, taco shell forms…wait…I have to go look in the kitchen. Nevermind – you’d think I’d gone off the deep end if I listed everything. Oh, and my favorite – an avocado thingy that slices perfectly. The only thing I must have now is one of those tomato slicers. And you know that box thing they show on TV? The one where you set an onion on a grid and press the lid down? Got one of them puppies too. But don’t waste your money-it’s not all that great.
And shoes? Oh, my. Louise – we need to talk. Really. Loafers are my weakness. With or without tassles. I’m not bigoted.
Santa Baby, how nice of you to check in! You must be bushed. And Santa is supposed to be anal retentive. Making a list and checking it twice, and all that kind of stuff.
Alex, just you wait for the Guyot and Ure shoe parade.
And Elaine and Patty, I just saw a mango corer that I think I have to have.
Good Stuff guys!
hello,i’mtrying to find sl72’s tennis shoes like paul michael glaser wore in starsky and hutch.please if you find any please e-mail me.thank you.