Sunday, January 25, 2009


George Carlin, who died recently and was one of my favorite comedians, had a whole routine that I thought was hysterical about stuff.

Although I hadn’t seen the routine for a long time, I began thinking about it for several reasons. One of them is that last year in January, I was enjoying an incredible, last minute vacation in Beijing. China has the largest collection of beautiful useless stuff that I have ever seen. They have been manufacturing and exporting it to the rest of the world for many years. Having inherited a huge collection of other people’s stuff myself, there was very little in the way of souvenirs that I wished to purchase and, of course, I already have a lifetime’s worth of my own stuff, which is weighing rather heavily on me right now. In addition, the Forbidden City is a monument to the collection of priceless, mostly useless stuff—a thousand years of incredible artistry—all mostly neglected and disrespected until the last few years, in the modern effort to merely feed and house a burgeoning population. I have this pile on the corner of my desk that has all kinds of miscellaneous papers that I put there because I want to keep or file them. It has been piling up for a year now, and I finally found the time to go through them, throw out the ones I no longer wanted or needed, and file some of the others. In going through them I ran across the nine-page text of emails that went back and forth between us and Jess, Alex and our granddaughters during the China trip. The following is an excerpt that I wrote for Sami:

We went to a palace yesterday and heard a story about an Empress and her socks. She lived in the beautiful palace and was very proud of her beautiful socks. Her name was Cixi. They were made of pure silk and had beautiful designs embroidered on them by servants. She changed her socks every day and never wore them again. It took one servant seven days to embroider each pair of socks so she had a whole lot of servants that did nothing but make her socks. It cost so much for her to live in this wasteful way that her kingdom ran out of money and was taken over by other nations. The people of China hated her for being so wasteful.

Another reason that I was thinking about stuff is because Ed, Beth’s ex-husband, joined us all for Shabbat dinner on Friday. He came to pick up Beth, who is traveling to Syracuse with him, so that he will have help to go through all the stuff that his parents left behind in their house there. They have been living for several years in a lovely retirement community in Florida and using the house in Syracuse only occasionally. Ed now has the enormous job of going through and getting rid of all that stuff so that they can sell the house because they have decided to stay permanently in Florida. Beth has become somewhat of an expert on getting rid of stuff on eBay. Beth and Ed were friends from college for 17 years before they decided to marry. They divorced last year, but have been working hard on forging that friendship back together again. Perhaps going through all that stuff will help them rebuild their friendship.

Because of this current economic crisis, people have curtailed buying a lot of useless stuff, and that hurts the economy even more. Now is the time to create a change in our society and perhaps influence global society to stop wasting our resources on manufacturing pretty, useless, or poorly designed objects, and put people to work creating well-designed, artistic, and USEFUL objects as well as clean food and water.

Just to be consistent with past blog posts, our guests at Shabbat dinner this week were Beth, Ed, and Larry. Mom was cajoled into joining us, but needed to be wheeled to the table. She began feeling ill after about 20 minutes, and I wheeled her back to bed and gave her oxygen. Dinner was the only time on Friday that she was out of bed. I shopped in the morning, and in the afternoon, Saul with his one good arm helped me prepare: homemade challah, deviled eggs, warm edamame, leek and potato soup, kohlrabi coleslaw, Israeli salad, iceberg lettuce with homemade Russian dressing, vegetable lasagne, and carrot cake. We also had leftover membrillo and Manchego, quick black bean soup, and carob sheet cake. I have to stop cooking for a few days now so that we can finish up our leftovers. I still have a backlog of recipes and photos to put up on the other blog, though, so keep watching.

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