NOTES FROM A PHONY BAVARIAN CORNER OF THE U.S. INLAND EMPIRE

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21 February 2016: Value


So here I sit, perched with laptop appropriately resting on lap as I fill the welcoming hollow of my Grandma's rocker - a rather comfy place, I'll be the first to admit. And that's a particularly good thing, too, since I couldn't pitch it even if I wanted to. Nope, that ain't a-gonna happen with this chair is something of a family heirloom. That simple fact is based on its history alone, starting from when it was brought into service sometime around when I was born and, for the next twenty or so years, usually held Grandma and whichever was the youngest of my siblings in a family of twelve children. Such a track record of burpings and cooings explains both the emotional attachment it has within the family, plus how I've ended up with it in particular. Sure, Grandma passed away back in 1986, but "Grandma's rocker" this hunk of wood and cushion was, is, and shall be until, I presume, it completely falls apart.

As if it could. Given its current lack of abuse and family fame such as it is, I'm guessing that come the day of its final reckoning it'll be in the hands of a family member who would think to more appropriately add some "great"s before getting to the trailing word of "Grandma". It might very well sport a different color due, just as now it's upholstered in a color I'm not crazy about - powder blue - but that's an improvement to it's original country-fied look of a broad checkered pattern of muted natural colors. As to thinking it might actually ever "fall" apart, I'm positive that both my Mom and Grandma would undoubtedly retort, "But it's from North Carolina!" Which implies that it's likely (1) made of oak, (2) well made, only (3) only should suffer defeat if mistreated. Frankly, who am I to disagree? For now, this seat's quite safe.

Meanwhile, sitting only mere handfuls of feet away from this historical redoubt of heavenly slouch, stand - sit? - two other rocking chairs. Each is made of wood, but in lieu of cushioning sport spindles and curves of workmanship that exceed that of my familial throne. To be fair to Grandma's taste and my very own rear's experiences, they're pretty nice - but not THAT nice. Still, they didn't cost the ungodly amount I paid for Granny's rocker to be shipped from my Mother's house in Florida to Washington State, either. No, these other rockers (including yet another downstairs, come to think of it) cost all of $20-$25 apiece. Chump change!

Which is the actual point of this little missive, no Ode to the Fancy of Granny's Fanny, this: I find it simply astounding that I can buy such durable rockers at such prices, and that's especially so in the era of furniture being often primarily comprised of sawdust and glue and costing any number of multiples of $20 while lasting only a FRACTION of years that these beasts of solid wood will. How is it that I've only paid less than thirty dollars for pieces of furniture that, when new, sit in stores and command up to ten times that? And probably use inferior wood with each passing year?

My trio of rockers certainly don't look any worse for their wear, that's for sure. And my rear will affirm that their comforts are equal to the task of their new counterparts. So what gives? How can I possibly buy first one, another, and then a third rocker at such prices at Goodwill? More generally, how do such obviously durable goods plummet in value while not doing so in the least in terms of their quality? Or, to phrase the question in another way, what is it precisely in people's heads that makes them avoid thrift stores offering any number of perfectly serviceable, useful goods in favor of new products that are only their mere equals yet at so much more cost?

One answer I have is that this is a particularly American thing, and I say this at least from an amount of anecdotal experience: Folks from other countries that I've met over my many travels have expressed their astonishment to me about our garage sales and thrift stores any number of times. They amazed at the deals, and I don't think it's a coincidence that it often looks something like a mini United Nations in any number of the thrift stores I stop by in Seattle from time to time, usually just looking for books - but always with an eye to upgrade something in my house. When goods often are in perfectly serviceable shape at such cheap prices, why not?

My point, then, is that I wonder what might be wrong in our culture that allows such a great divide in value to exist. One can understand the used item have less value than the new, sure, but this multiplicative factor found on the price tags speaks to something else. Furthermore, it's harming the planet to have such a mental distinction between the two. When I see the stuffed isles with their stacks of plates or racks of t-shirts seemingly to infinity, I reflect on all the resources being used to replace them as new. And this doesn't even speak to all of the new products that are dumped on developing countries when they don't sell.

I'm not providing any answers other than hoping that others change their spending ways. One thing I'm quite certain of, however: We'll know that we're finally getting some of this ecological disaster of our own making solved when the most wasteful country on the planet sees this price tag value gap narrow back to something approaching reason.





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