I recently watched an instructional video on home improvement, and I was struck by how deeply into the presentation the language of business was embedded. For example, when deciding what kind of cabinets to buy for a kitchen, the host recommends that for luxury homes, one purchase the finest fixtures available, since lower quality fixtures could reduce the value of the home. On the other hand, for “normal” homes, one should purchase cheaper cabinets, since having the finest quality available would not necessarily increase the value of the home. The question of which fixtures the people living in the house would actually enjoy is never addressed. Even safety is discussed primarily in terms of financial liability: if someone is injured due to construction work on a home, is the contractor liable, or the homeowner?
In other words, the top priority of the instructor appears to be maximizing the financial value of the house while minimizing costs and liability. One of the disturbing assumptions underlying this perspective is that the home is seen as an inherently temporary product, intended more to be sold than lived in. In this view, the home is reduced from being the intergenerational nexus of a family’s life to being a commodified “vehicle” expected to provide a good “return on investment” (ROI).
Why would anyone plant a tree on such a property, given that the tree could take decades to mature (and only then serve its intended purpose, ROI), long after the house is expected to be sold, and even resold? In his “Last Lecture“, Randy Pausch implores parents to allow their children to color on the walls, as his did. What role could a child play in such a house, other than staying out of the way, for fear of doing something that would (heaven forbid) reduce the value of the property?
Thus what should be the primary focus of home improvement, building a beautiful, loving, warm, and safe long-term environment for family and friends is mutated into a heartless business venture that is crippled by the binary logic of the balance sheet. It is, of course, wise to keep a place for cost-consciousness in any large project, but let us not allow cost-consciousness to supersede the higher consciousness of building a true home.
Once I bit lustily from the fruit;
until the shivering insult of rot
learned me to be cautious forever.
“Fourteen… thirty-five?” He felt stupid saying it so slowly, but it sounded wrong.
“Yep,” the woman sitting on the other side of the table said. He thought he saw a slight leer. “You want it?”
“Ummm, well, I, uh, hmmm…” He had an uncomfortable sense that she somehow understood his disfluencies better than he did. “I’m not sure, hmmm. What is it?”
“It’s a clock. Antique. It’s worth at least a hundred and fifty but I gotta get rid of it.”
“A deal,” he thought. “Maybe. This lady knows what she’s doing. Probably not $150, maybe less, but who knows? Maybe it’s worth even more. I could get Sam to look at it… Besides, it would look good on the bookcase, next to the lamp.”
What he said was, “Huh,” but again he sensed that she was reading him more closely than he would have liked.
The vendor sat at the edge of a plastic folding chair, arms folded, with raven-black hair, wearing a dark purple dress made of what looked like velvet, the steward of a table covered with old dolls, old bottles, old mirrors, objects waiting for a place to go besides the dump. The table’s faux oak veneer was peeling, revealing the damaged particleboard underneath.
“It’s nice,” she said.
It was, he agreed. But it also looked heavy, and he had a long train ride home.
“Yeah…” He started to pull back.
“You can have it for ten. I gotta get rid of it.”
He tried to remember what was in his wallet. Did he have a ten? He was pretty sure he had a twenty, but sometimes these flea market people didn’t have change, and they had to go to the next table, to their… friends? Probably more of a you-scratch-my-back kind of situation (now that was an old saying). Anyway, he definitely didn’t have… fourteen-thirty-five, and didn’t feel like spending more time with this transaction than necessary, and already regretted following his curiosity to this weird place, and this weird woman, with her weird table, but if he had a ten on him, what the hell, it was a nice… clock, or whatever it was. It didn’t look like a clock to him, but it looked old and ornate and brassy, and they don’t make things like they used to, and it would give his apartment a slightly classier feel, and… She was staring at him, waiting, waiting for a decision, while he tried to remember if he had broken a twenty recently… He had! Yesterday, when he stopped by the deli to get a coffee. The guy hadn’t been crazy about giving him nineteen dollars in change, either.
“Sure,” he said.
He took out his wallet. There was no ten, only three twenties and a few singles. He blankly handed her a twenty.
“Hold on, I’ll get you your change,” she said, and headed to the adjacent table.
“Careful, it’s heavy.”
I am writing on the eve of the Iowa caucus with a plea to voters in Iowa, many who see Donald Trump as the answer to American’s problems.
He is not. His rhetoric against Islam and Muslims is already pouring gasoline on a conflagration, serving no other purpose, and his election to the presidency would have the effect of increasing the quantity of gasoline a million-fold. Members of the three great monotheistic religions have coexisted peacefully together before, so it is not without precedent that I still have cautious optimism that it can happen again in my lifetime.
I cannot speak for all Americans, but I do not want my president to lead my country into a religious war with Islam. There can be no winner in such a war. The dangers are too great. And the only security system in the world that can prevent random attacks is a totalitarian one.
The election of Donald Trump to the presidency would only escalate the tension between Islam and the West. I am concerned that his election could lead to a thermonuclear event in the next ten years, on one side or the other.
Again, today I plead with my fellow American citizens of the great state of Iowa. Please do not elect Mr. Trump to be leader of the Free World. We will be more safe and secure as a country without the terrifying drastic measures he has proposed.
Thank you for reading this.
Daniel M. Tsadok
The string in my single-quotes
automation flows forth:
the incantation remembered,
I sigh imperceptibly
as my variable expressions are manifest
and my output
is deemed satisfactory.
You cannot escape the cauldron of being you,
time’s eternal tempest;
the stillness at its center
with an elusive peace.
Its spindly legs grope frantically
for an exit from its mysterious
translucent prison. The bottom
is familiar – rough and shaggy.
The perimeter is deception,
the illusion of freedom,
summoned from above by a malevolent demigod.
She, too, familiar.
What foul magic hath sealed in this crafty creature,
even with the air around it?
What sport of it maketh these alien adjudicators
as requital for its transgression;
daring to scavenge for crumbs
in the light
just after lunchtime?