Working for The Man Because of Breton Rose

I’m in the process of repairing my credit, and the damage that being “married” did to it. Not that I’ve ever had any spectacular history with money, because I haven’t.

My granddad taught me how to invest, and I had a nice little nest egg going when I was in my twenties, making bank at the hospital, thinking that I was all that and a bag of chips. Then I got a call from the guy who handled my mutual fund accounts. I had this particular account with a thing called “Strong Funds” and, it turned out, that it was a Ponzi scheme; my Prudential guy wanted me to trade it (but didn’t tell me why), so I did. A few weeks later, the front page of The Pioneer Press had a story about all of these retirees who lost their shirts on the same fund I had just sold without a second thought.

You’re not supposed to get emotional about money, especially not investments. My grandfather told me that it was all “a big, eternal game of checkers;” the same number of pieces always exist, they just move around and switch positions, and you just have to play slow and steady to make sure you get to say “king me!” most often. Well, I did get emotional. I knew from my college Econ classes that money is just an illusion, but in this case, that illusion was causing very real suffering for a lot of very real people, most of them elderly, and I had walked away from the gameboard without a scratch. I felt terrible.

Around the same time, I was lying on my sofa one night, looking around my posh airy apartment in the tony little brownstone looking over the downtown skyline, and I thought, “Someday, I’m going to die, and someone is going to have to get rid of all this stuff.” My mind went to extremes.

I called Mavis and asked her to come over. I cleaned out both of my big walk-in closets that I had filled with clothes from Macy’s and Dayton’s and the mall, emptied my dresser drawers, stuffed everything into oversized lawn bags, threw it all over the balcony onto the street, and then Mavis and I stuffed her car to bursting, and dropped it all off at Joseph’s Coat in the middle of the night, right next to the dock sign that read “NO AFTER HOURS DROPOFFS!”

My furniture went next to St. Vinnie’s, followed by all of my household gear, which was given to a ministry that served pregnant women in crisis, so that some poor girl wouldn’t be sitting alone in a studio apartment with nothing but a can opener and a beanbag chair. My investment portfolio, I signed over to a charity in town, and didn’t think about it again for decades. When everything I owned was either gone or sent back to my parents, I got on a Greyhound bus and headed for the Catholic Worker, and then the monastery.

The weird thing about stuff is that there’s entirely too much of it in the world. I don’t know why furniture stores even exist. Tell people you’re starting a house of hospitality, and it’s fully furnished with zero effort in a week. Nothing matches, of course, but that’s the romanticism of voluntary poverty; eclectic decorating always results in a home that looks comfortably lived in.

So, for years I was in the habit of replacing disappeared spoons and broken dishes one at a time with things I thought were pretty from thrift shops and yard sales. In other words, nothing ever matched in the kitchen, either. When we did holiday meals, every place setting was different, and I liked it that way. A blue Mikasa bowl nested atop a yellow-banded Pfalsgraff salad plate and a handthrown, green-glazed English stoneware charger on the white lace tablecloth, tie-dyed in port wine, indigo paste and nettles tea to hide the coffee stain it came with, all different colours and patterns in the candlelight, was lovely. Our cupboards resembled something only a hobbit would recognise as well ordered, and it was truly beautiful.

But somewhere over the past couple of years, a flip has switched inside me; losing what was once yours by the dishonest measures of others has a way of making you…pissy. Maybe it was the experience of cooking in a beautiful borrowed kitchen where everything went together, or maybe it was going back to collect my things only to find that the woman I had thought for years was one of my best friends had carted so much of it away without a word thanks or explanation, but I was over with making do. After moving here, I gave myself a $200 budget and started hitting all of the thrift stores to replace my kitchen gear. It didn’t go quite as planned. I got a stack of pyrex mixing bowls, pie plates and baking dishes from the nuns in Steubenville for $7. Scott’s mom gave me the surplus bakeware she had stockpiled when she downsized. I replaced all of my rammicans, pyrex egg bowls and loaf pans at Goodwill for a dollar a piece. Then I found an insanely huge collection of Revere Ware pots and pans on an eBay auction for $100, and that’s where it all went wrong. Silverware!

My favourite table service pattern of all time is the Kanney/Grace Breton Rose Stainless from post-WWII Japan. Rogers and Oneida pale in comparison, and you really can’t find this stuff anymore. I grew up with it, and carried a Breton Rose soup spoon around with me from the time I was a teenager onwards; that spoon went camping with me, lived in my car, my backpack and my bookbag; it went to college with me. It was even on my honeymoon with me. It was heavy and balanced enough to pound picture nails into walls, beautiful, well weighted, and reliable to cook with on the fly; it outlasted the Victorinox Swiss Army knife I got for Christmas my 8th grade year, and has often doubled as a garden spade when I needed to harvest plants out of forests all over the country. It’s gone with me everywhere I have ever been, and it needed friends and, sure enough, eBay has it. Or, I should say, they did.

I’ve spent the past year aggressively cornering the market on Japanese Breton Rose Stainless one ridiculously overpriced serving utensil, fork, knife, spoon and place setting at a time from all over the U.S. and Canada and, for the first time in my life, I now have a full set of matching flatware that no one will ever use but me. I. Am. An. Idiot.

There’s this dude named Mark in Waterville, Minnesota, and I’m pretty sure he must know me personally, because that bastard has been torturing me one freaking teaspoon at a time for months on end. I’m not kidding. I buy one, then he waits a week, lists another, and messages me a photo. His packages eventually began arriving with mocking little smiley faces drawn on the envelopes. I want to punch him in the face everytime I have to spend ten minutes trying to unwrap the “protective” spongey mound of plastic cling wrap from yet another crusty, half-washed utensil that came tied with a snotty tiny red ribbon bow. The douchenozzle.

These purchases have filled me with a certain degree of guilt, and my anarchist heart has trouble reconciling such things. On the one hand, I love this pattern, on the other, someone else is still going to have to get rid of this shit when I die, and it bothers me…mostly because I spent so much effort to gather the full set together, and I don’t want it divided when I’m not around to guard over it. And partially because spending a small fortune to have matching silver service that will never be used for dinner parties like my grandmothers used to throw is exactly the kind of consumerist stupidity that I’ve been railing against for years. The only thing that makes it halfway tolerable is that the partial set I inherited of Mavis’ Oneida Independence flatware turns out to be even more expensive and in demand on the worldwide flea market circuit than my Breton Rose, and the only thing more unbelievably outrageous than spending three dollars on a butter knife is actually selling another one of a different pattern for the low, low (by comparison) price of $15.

I’ve been working my ass off this past year, branching out in different finely-trickling money streams to build a new home. A service project here, a production gig there, a batch of soap, an occasional needlework piece, and jobs that can be worked on the fly have been the bread and butter of my recent life. My goal is to be able to pay down all of my reported debt, most of which is medical bills, so that I can rebuild my credit well enough to qualify for a USDA farm loan before the landlord croaks. When that’s done, I can concentrate on film projects. It’s not been easy, and I am blessed to have a tight group of great friends who have filled in the cracks here and there when I’m in a corner. Yesterday, I borrowed $400 because the pressure line in the power steering broke whilst I was driving down the I-77 freeway, and the whole system had to be replaced because it was completely corroded from years of road salt and no undercarriage washing; I’ll pay the cheddar back tomorrow when I get paid, but I can’t help but feel this nagging twinge of guilt…if only I had left my money in the credit union, instead of spending it on things like a group lot of six pretty place settings, or replacing the perc pot I only use twice a year for making heat infusions, I wouldn’t be robbing Peter to pay Paul. Or would I? I don’t know. But I spent several hours in the mechanic’s waiting room in a prickly, guilt-ridden sweat going through receipts for things that aren’t truly neccessities, and it bugs the hell out of me.

I still feel like I’m 12 years old, and I don’t ever want to really grow up. I still want life to be a faerie tale, no matter how much of a nightmare it’s become. I still want to live in the little stone cottage under the big shady tree with Nell’s peasant family in “Legend,” hang my laundry on the line to whip in the sunny fragrant wind whilst the goats and the chickens graze in the overgrown acreage and my dog lays at my feet waiting patiently to play….

…I can hear my granddad chuckling, ice cubes tinkling in his swirling tumbler of scotch, warm cigarette smoke curling up from the crystal ashtray on the polished mohogany side table to the right of his wingback chair. “You can have the faerie tale, Mike (yes, Mike. And my grandmother called me ‘Maggie’ when my mother was absent),” he’d surely say with a familiar wink, “Just as soon as you pay what you owe to the real world for living here. Artists still have to buy paint if they want to put their dreams on canvas, don’t they….”

When GOD was handing out the talents of discipline and practicality to my batch of incoming babies, I was off frolicking in a sunny meadow with the gnomes, learning how to make daisy wreaths. I’m not so fond of the real world. Never have been. I don’t care how necessary money is, it’s stupid. But the older I get, the more necessary it seems to be, and the more I wish – halfheartedly – that I hadn’t signed away my immoral investment portfolio. At least all of my silverware finally matches. And it’s pretty. There’s that.

4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Mary Kochan
    Nov 06, 2018 @ 02:15:12

    Beauty will save the world and it is perfectly okay if it begins in your house. Pick a deserving recipient and will the silverware to someone who will also love it and keep the collection together. AND it is just awful that after reading this I am so tempted to browse the italian pottery I love on Ebay!



    • MikiDaShrew
      Nov 06, 2018 @ 16:56:17

      Okay, that made me giggle. But your pottery collection is lovely, and you entertain far more often than I do anymore.

      I’ve been working on advance directives since Mavis died last year. I don’t want to be unprepared….

      Liked by 1 person


  2. Liz
    Nov 28, 2018 @ 19:43:03

    Someday you will have a lovely Thanksgiving with a mottly crew of friends who will get great pleasure from that lovely flatware. You certainly will appreciate it if ways that people who can more easily afford it never will.



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