Thursday, February 27, 2014

Footprints - New and Old

I recently spent a little money on something I’ve been wanting for probably twenty years:  at last, there is a headboard for the bed.

The master bedroom at my house is a sancutary of light and peace, filled with memories, a good closet, and – often – two of the mighty finest pets ever brought forth into the world.  It is such a great space even my mother loves that room.  It’s just a place of relief and seclusion, even renewal.  It’s a pretty room with beautiful, oblique light, perfumed, jewel-colored, and comfortable.

The bed has always been suitable and quite nicely dressed.  The storage is capacious and the furniture well-situated.

But my night tables have always left something to be desired … and so, a storage headboard, “proudly made in North America” (not the USA, but not imported from China, at least) costing nicely under $200.  I’ve looked for many years at antique shops, and even considered making a headboard, but in the end I wanted a storage one.  Most of the vintage storage ones are either wildly expensive or (more often) the wrong size, and so I opted for a new one.

It arrived yesterday, and naturally all plans to ignore the thing went the way of the dodo in a serious hurry, and I spent an hour and a half last night, listening to NOVA telling me about a conspicuously luxuriant (but technologically interesting) skyscraper imperiled by the economic hijinks of 2008, and having a largely very easy time of it with the assembly.  There was that one step where the correct connetors were unclear and I did a bit of huffing and hammer-banging, but the good news is, that is a minor issue and the thing itself is going to work out very nicely.

It’s sufficiently rare for me – or, indeed, most of my family – to invest in furniture which is brand spanking new that, inevitably, the transaction has me thinking about how much recycling I do in general.

As most who know me well are aware, I am almost entirely clothed and bejeweled thanks to the good sellers of eBay.  I’ve been a user for probably eighteen years or so, and it’s been an interesting study to watch the site go from individual human sellers, to siginificantly larger companies using the site as an outlet, to large-scale entrepeneurs dedicated to eBay sales (even with vintage and pre-owned items), to a massive conduit for goods straight from Asia … and, in the past two years or so, finding a new balance with more and more domestic sellers once again.

One of the reasons I like eBay is that, with a magnitude of goods in at least my own areas of interest, it’s possible to refine both my searching and my resulting wardrobe etc. to a highly satisfying degree.  It’s possible, of course, to customize searches to exclude sellers off our continent, or outside the US at all – indeed, even to peruse goods within certain mileage-points of my location.  This is especially useful in excluding, say, sellers in California – which can tend to be a conduit for Asian sellers, and which is three thousand miles from me.  Why reach so far for a single pair of shoes, for instance, when it’s eminently easy to find plain black pumps sold far closer to home?

It’s also possible to perform a general search for harder to find items and then, within the results, to make distance an eliminating factor.  If there turns out to be one fantastic aurora borealis rhinestone choker for a good price in Pennsylvania, and a similar one for a similar price in Texas, suddenly there is the luxury of choice.  All feedback and criterion for desiring something being equal, I’m going to give my business to the Pennsylvania seller.  And that one seller I ran across in the process, who didn’t have the right thing but did show great prices and happens to be less than fifty miles from home?  I’m saving that seller, even if I don’t buy from them today.

Another of the great features is the “condition” filters – and I probably use pre-owned, vintage, or otherwise non-new more than any other option (except when I’m buying shoes; don’t ask me to put my feet in shoes which have belonged to a stranger, I don’t CARE where they live …).

Some sellers make a great point of being “green” in selling pre-owned items, and vintage purveyors are often proud to point out both this and the uniqueness of their pieces.  They play to individualism and the environment all at once, promising you’ll stand out if you buy this mid-century handbag or that vintage wool swing coat – and praising you for not sending your money out of the country and/or contributing to resource depletion by giving new life to beautiful and useful older pieces (often manufactured domestically, which is also a selling point).  Or, as with vintage tools, cookware, or the like, durability and defiance of the idea of obsolescence may rule – and “you will not find this anymore” is a fine come-on for sales of working (and sometimes even non-working, but at leat intact) watches, machines, etc.  Not long ago, I bought an old Longines watch head on a Speidel band; it does not use batteries, and keeps perfectly marvelous time.  I’ve also invested in a retro space heater – bright orange and very seventies-looking, and apparently in good working order (I need to test it, actually – the seller did NOT pack it well and it is at least cosmetically damaged) – because, once again, why buy new?  My toaster, a marvel of a machine, is half a century old and shiny and cool-looking.  Sunbeam is a wonderful name to see in the kitchen and it works a treat.

Not long ago, after an afternoon together, my mom and I were in my basement perusing some of her mother’s furnishings, when she looked over at an ancient ceramic planter I have had since I was in college.  She lit upon it and said, “I think that is the liner for the hot fudge machine!  I thought that was gone!”

My grandmother had once run an early ice cream and fast food stand much like a Dairy Queen.  In one corner of my kitchen today, I have the big hot fudge warmer – people love the sight of it, and I’ve often thought about seeing whether I might even eBay up the missing piece, the crock that goes inside it, which actually holds the sauce.

Apparently, I had it all along.  I emptied the old potting dirt out of it into another old planter, mom and I took it upstairs, and I slid it into the appliance.  The fit was so smooth it actually glided down into the pot, slowly pushing out air as it nestled in place.  With a good scrubbing and not a few random yelps of joy at the curious furbabies (and, oddly enough, a cut that drew blood, from the smallest of chips bouncing onto my arm light as a feather), the thing is home – and what once was a peculiar piece of décor which would heat up but could no longer be used is now a retro aluminum dream of hope, that one day I might find a way to resurrect both my dad’s homemade hot fudge recipe and his mother-in-law’s tool to make a living, and share joy with my family, my friends, some group of wonderful people who will appreciate it.

Of the artifacts occupying my home, an awful lot of them were handed down by family.  My father’s things, my grandparents’ furniture and pictures, my mom’s contributions, even a great deal of food canned and shared by my wildly-beloved-for-it brother (yes, shipped from rather far away …).  There are antique bargains in my kitchen, in my dining room, in every room and the basement – I can think of only a single piece of furniture I bought new in my whole home, in fact, and even that by now is fifteen years old itself.  Few of my clothes are new with tags, which means I’m not contributing to that industry of resource-consumption.

I put out recycling that exceeds the single bin afforded my household every two weeks when they come – but I take out the rollaway trash can about once a month, and even then the thing is rarely anything like full (unless my next-door neighbor borrows space in it to discard yard waste).  My output to the sanitation department, then, is markedly low – and my output in terms of household donations is substantial in terms of per capita quantity.  I’m well overdue for a trip to the Salvation Army, and there are more “things” in my house than I have a right to, but the overall footprint isn’t oversized, and I have good periods when I work hard to streamline my life and my consumption/contribution.

Spring is one of those times.  I’ll put out some things on the annual collection day in spring or summer, when you can set old furniture or goods or outright trash on the curb and it will be picked up (and not always by the trucks designated for the rounds; there are people who make rounds the night before, scavenging treasures from other people’s discards, which are by no means always trash).  I may get back in the habit of posting things on Freecycle (a truly excellent means of clearing out possessions you don’t need, but which are not refuse and you don’t have time or perhaps transportation to donate).  I’ll do the spring cleaning – as satisfying, at least, as assembling a headboard – and perhaps help my mom do the same, or have a day of help from her, ploughing through my basement or yard, the two of us on an efficiency/beautifying mission.  We’ll liberate some things, find uses for others, maybe swap one or two, and discard a little bit.

In the process, laugh here and there, get a lot done, and work very hard.

We’ll find our footing in our footprint.

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