Friday, June 14, 2019

Vintage Kitchenware

My supposedly stainless steel slotted spoon rusts if it sits in the sink overnight.

My colander is so flimsy that it dents if you drop a spoon in it.

The shiny surface of my flatware is wearing off, revealing toxic copper.

My folding steamer basket jams.

My measuring cup chips if placed within an inch of any dishwasher item.

I feel like I'm 22 again, living an ad-hoc life on the cheap with everything jury-rigged and temporary. But now there are no alternatives.

You might decry it all as "Chinese-made crap", but that meme's wrong. China also manufactures our iObjects - to a level of refinement and build quality no American factory could match. Same for your fancy TV. The problem isn't crappy Chinese manufacturing, it's cheap American consumers demanding ultra-cheap essentially disposable crap. That market is so dominant that higher-quality operations can't compete. Few of us will pay an extra dime for quality.

If only I'd intercepted my mom before she'd thrown out all her housewares prior to moving to an assisted place. Her measuring cup, her slotted spoon, her steamer baskets and silverware and colander had performed for decades. I remember them like a dream of my more grown-up era before backtracking to my flimsy life as a 22-year-old. A more substantial, less aggravating existence - my gentile upbringing on a Viennese estate where the kitchen staff (Jakob and Sophie and dear old Magdalena) labored with weighty, substantial spatulas. Having fallen on hard times, I obsess endlessly in my quest for a proper potato masher.

Next best thing: I intercept other moms. I head to eBay and insert the search term "vintage" along with the item. Zillions of households are selling this stuff. There's a premium, but I'm happy to pay 1.5 - 2x the going rate. Like the 1945 Buicks still going strong in Havana, the good stuff will last forever. It never dawned on me that my Mom's Ekco slotted spoon was a potential heirloom.

I don't mind the additional expense because it doesn't add up to much overall. Thankfully, I'm not a "lovely coffee table person" (LCTP), my shorthand for people who need to establish for themselves and others that they're cultivated "nice" people who "have nice things". This preoccupation gets very expensive, and becomes a mindspace-dominating neurosis. I lack the LCTP gene, so none of this is a question of status. I just want stuff to work.

Clarification: I'm not saying you must not have a nice coffee table. I'm not calling you decadent bourgeoise for owning anything decorative or lovely. It's the compulsion that you have to. LCTP are people for whom everything must be perfectly lovely and decorative. They feel they're living on stage, and anything cheap-seeming or not perfectly matched makes them tremble with unease, like they're revealing fractures in their desperately glossed image.

I frequently note in this Slog that we're not living in a movie; that it's a horrible mistake to neurotically pull back the camera to view one's own life as if it were some cinematic narrative (that's what Narcissus was about, IMO, though the Greeks, lacking film cameras, were forced to use a less precise metaphor). This impulse is the source of all unhappiness, and the extreme version is seen in the LCTP person. If you happen to own a nice chair - or even a nice coffee table, whatever - god bless and enjoy. Me? I own a jacket.


Peter Cuce said...

I think your slant on LCTP is a tad negative. Sure, people who take having nice things to an extreme exist (just as extremities exist in every realm), but there are entire gradations of people between zero and that level. Having a few nice items and creating a beautiful room out of a mixture of found objects and a few pricey pieces is one gradation that I have adopted, and I've created an apartment that I love to come home to. I'm as happy spending time here as anywhere in the world because of this.

(btw, captcha is brutal - I had to go through storefronts, fire hydrants, buses, and traffic lights!)

Jim Leff said...

I guess I didn't define it well enough. I'm not talking about a few nice things (did you figure I'm in favor of living in a rat's nest?), I'm talking about people for whom every purchase, every possession, must remind them of their status and elevation, even a lowly coffee table. Everything immaculate and perfect.

Unless you exist in a realm where that sort of loftiness is the cost of entry, it strikes me as a madness.

Nothing wrong with quality, niceness, per se. The problem is when every damned thing needs to convey status. That's what I call a LCTP. My home too is a pleasure. But not because it's all shiny and lofty and expensive and high-end and makes me feel socially elevated. I'm not on-stage. I'm assuming you're saying something similar.

Sorry about the captchas. I need to do it too. Even as-is, I still get anon trolls. Blame Google.

Jim Leff said...

I added a clarification at the bottom

Display Name said...

my goodwill store feels like the necessity room in Harry Potter. They hardly ever have microwaves for sale but two or three times my microwave has gone belly up and a microwave has appeared on the shelf. I was lusting after a new ceramic loaf pan because the one I love has to soak a bit before I can use it again. Cdc was donating some stuff and I decided to take a quick look. There right on a shelf in plain view was a gorgeous cherry red loaf pan a bit heavier than my green one. I'm baking a vanilla pound cake in it right now. The house smells lovely. I did buy some anthropology ceramic measuring spoons because they are so pretty and make me smile every time I use them. They make me want to bake more. All my knives are from my mom except one red handled one from my uncle george. Have you ever watched Rumpole? Back in the day you used what you inherited. Rumpole's wife she who must be obeyed exclaims once after company has left "Imagine noticing people's things!"

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