Christmas has outgrown even our outsized childhood ideas of plenty. It has become the fulcrum of more: lights, things, extravaganzas, debt. Armies of the poor invisible to us toil to make the stuff we are expected to give ourselves to show love, which in consumerist coin is more like fealty. You’re a bad parent if you don’t get your kids the physical objects exquisitely devised advertising programs them to want. Adults run themselves ragged desperate to recreate the wonder lost to their adult discernment. So it can seem. Without a TV I only hear NPR or the NYT report on retailers gutpunched by Black Friday disappointment, so now they’re keeping stores open every hour until Christmas Day. That strikes me more as desperate than holiday cheerful.
But this gets close to moralizing and I don’t want to be a scold. Buy stuff if you want: we’re far enough down that road I doubt my brand of asceticism will much alter the trajectory of the human project. (Oops, just moralized. Sorry.) It’s fun to show you care for somebody by giving them something practical or resonant. I would love to buy friends financial security, health, and freedom from guilt, but The Market hasn’t provided. So I call and send cards. That’s good too.
This time of year has always felt free and easy. There’s the sense of running out the clock and everyone taking it easy, opening the valves to let the steam out. Things are wrapping up or being written off as unachievable. It feels like disrobing on a warm beach.
Small endings matter too, and here is the smallest I can offer.
When I rented my first room in college, I enjoyed sharing a table and cabinet space with lower-middle, blue-collar class types, the cigarette smoke adding frisson to hard-luck working stories. I didn’t mind sharing a bathroom. I hated doing dishes. Work has worth and labor deserves respect, but this act of life-support overhead unraveled me. I had books to read and papers to write, worlds to work out in my head. Aren’t there machines that do this? Yes, and I declared forever after I would always have one.
Now in my own place, the low-end builder’s special dishwasher works well. It uses more energy and water than necessary, but I’ll take that devil’s deal. (Between the cat and me it runs once a week.) Detergent brand doesn’t matter; not even using Jet Dry matters. Unrinsed everything goes in, clean dishes come out. It’s magic.
To save the fishies and employ Canadians, I bought this box of green-branded Safeway dishwasher detergent. I would guess over a year ago. Within a week after opening, it solidified into a solid white block. Smacking it against the counter to break it loose did nothing. Hammer whacks broke up small icebergs, which I could crumble by hand. And so it’s gone all this time.
Today is the day of change. The box, already shredded, was ripped open like a rotten dress and I pried out the last thin shards and crushed them in the dispenser cups. I banged the carcass on the silverware rack to get the last little bits that tinkled out like candy snow. The box is empty. Its work is done.
Such a silly, small weekly dance: ripping and pounding on it, cramming the grainy blocks into the dispenser and mashing the little door shut, washing my hands clean after and noticing the soapy-ness but no suds. Our little ritual. But we have run out the clock, a little before year’s end, and we can go along to other things now. Are you glad for our time together, box, knowing it would end? You have been nothing but faithful. I am glad we stuck it out. You have nothing to be ashamed of.