On the Love of Objects
The first step is admitting you have a problem. So, okay, I admit I may have the tiniest little compulsive shopping problem. I’m not nearly as bad as, say, my dad, who visits a minimum of three thrift stores daily and whose bedroom is so entirely invaded by terrible fifty-cent neckties that he’s taken to sleeping on the living room floor. Be careful what you wish for: I once expressed admiration for old manual typewriters, and he bought me thirty-six of the things. To fit in a New York apartment! But I don’t blame Dad for my problem: I blame Craig and that scavenger Maxwell. With all those goodies right in my browser, how can I help but window-shop?
The trouble is, my tastes run toward things that fit squarely in the bigger-than-a-breadbox category, like mid-century furniture, compression pole shelving, and 72-drawer library card catalogs. As my dear Erica is fond of pointing out, The apartment is full. And yet I can’t seem to pass by a beautiful bargain. So I’ve taken to bringing bookshelves to dinner parties in lieu of flowers, and I will befriend you if you look at all under-furnished.
It isn’t that I’m particularly avaricious: my deadliest sin is Sloth. Besides, the root of all evil is the love of money, not the love of vintage rosewood, right? I wonder if the root of my craigslist compulsion isn’t so much that I want to gobble things up as that I’m pretty lousy at letting things go. The cloud-capped towers, the gorgeous palaces, The solemn temples, the great globe itself–if it’ll all dissolve, shouldn’t we hold on and steward these things while we still can?
For instance, though I know a coffeepot is not a dog–I’m not that far gone yet–I want my old Krupps coffeepot to go to a good home. He can’t compete with the flashy new model we got as a gift–it has a timer, God bless it–but he’s served us faithfully for two years now, well worth the $1 stoop sale price. Good old Mr. Krupps should go to someone who’ll respect him instead of to some Sheol of a landfill.
Aside from what is evidently a deeply neurotic love of objects, the other main propellant of my shopping compulsion is the odd sort of intimacy afforded by a craiglist fix. Take last week’s purchase of a pretty–and practical!–telephone table from Sunny of Crown Heights. It couldn’t have been longer than four minutes thirty three seconds from the time I entered her crazily stuccoed lobby to the time of my triumphant exit, table in hand, but in that time, nosy parker that I am, I learned a lot about Sunny, enough to bet that in other circumstances we might’ve been friends. I know where she works, and how much rent she pays, and that she once had an unfortunate string of bad parking luck (as evidenced by a festive string of red tickets pinned to the wall). She had a long low mid-century credenza, and the sort of fiberglass shell chairs I love, and a cool light-up globe, and some giant neon letters she’d found on the street. And a wonderful little table with attached seat, which she no longer has a place for. But I do.
We may come to New York for the freedom of anonymity, but we stay for the hard-won ties of recognition. You know you belong when the deli guy knows how you take your coffee, when the bus driver knows your stop, when you know the best place for a bagel and the best way to get from A to W. Sometimes the city is just a few square blocks, but when it’s enormous, we take what connections we’re given, even when they’re as tenuous as wanting what someone else once wanted. So, Sunny, a toast: To a good home. (SGH)