Thursday, November 15, 2007

In which consumption and Cannonball Adderley occupy my thoughts

Many years ago a morbidly obese but very friendly woman struggled up my front stairs for a singing lesson. I instantly realized she would be an impossible student, because she didn't really want to change anything she did, but she was fun and full of life and we became friends.

We went out to lunch once a week for years and when my son was sick I dragged my sorry butt to her house and fell into her arms sobbing. She wrapped me in a blanket, plunked me on her huge comfy leather sofa, and turned on her huge flat screen tv and provided as much consolation as a person could hope for.

She was the richest and fattest person I have ever known, having 51 million dollars and prospects of many millions more when her elderly parents died, and weighing in at, I would guess, around 400 pounds.

She was not completely housebound - in her comfy new Mercedes Benz she made daily trips to Whole Foods and weekly trips to the manicurist, the hair stylist, and the vet (her dogs were constantly needing some tweaking of their health).

However, mostly she stayed home, entertaining herself with (1) hundreds of tv channels (she had cable and satellite both); (2) her animals (one dog got 15 pills a day despite apparently perfect health - maybe the problem was the large quantities of ice cream he got when she fetched herself frequent heaping bowls); and (3) shopping.

She also derived entertainment from harrassing and complaining about the many people who worked for her. She paid them well but they put up with an awful lot.

I didn't like much of this but she fascinated me, and I was lonely, so I was a frequent onlooker. I asked myself, and now I ask you: how many millions of dollars would it take to persuade you to gain several hundred pounds?

She was a study in the ways over-consumption can destroy a person. Spending money and eating were her pursuits. Her life was full of stuff nobody needs. When I last saw her, she was planning to have a bulldozer scrape her $1.5 million dollar house so she could build another one more to her liking.

She bought herself a $36,000 diamond ring because "I deserve it." Each of her hair styling expeditions (to get highlights and whatever) cost approximately as much as Jethro.

Isn't this what most Americans are accused of? Buying junk we don't need? On the other hand, when we don't buy, they say "CONSUMER SPENDING IS DOWN" and they blame us for the stock market crashing. Guilt either way.

It wasn't her narcissism and consuming ways that made me leave our friendship - it was my increasing inability to ignore (1) the way she treated her full-time maid, and (2) her racism. I haven't seen her in a long time.

Anyway, each summer she complained bitterly about the heat and vowed to move to Asheville. She planned a house-hunting expedition but was afraid of highway driving, so she offered me a free trip if I'd be her chauffeur. Why not? We each had our own private room in a luxury hotel and, as you might expect, we ate very well.

While she was out with a realtor one afternoon I was killing time in a gift shop; I saw a greeting card I'm still thinking about more than a decade later. I didn't buy it because it was "too expensive" and I was so sick of watching my friend spend money, but I have regretted that moment of self-restraint ever since.

The card this quote from Cannonball Adderley, which I may have garbled:

Don't you dare pray when it's raining if you didn't pray when the sun was shining.

Every morning when I wake up I am thankful my spirit has returned to me, and that I'm still above ground. Also, that I'm hearty enough to go head-to-head with a big donkey and play my fiddle for three hours straight if necessary, and I'm especially pleased that I'm not too doddering to play with rocks.

I've had a lot of rocks to play with the last few days. Freezing nights were almost upon us, and I've been depending on hundreds of feet of garden hose to get Jethro his water. While I may not be too old to play with rocks, I feel I am too old - or will be soon - to haul 20 gallons of fresh, unfrozen water from my house to the pasture, every day all winter. I embarked on a waterline-burying project.

It was a big mess! I called Paco and Bob, who between them built the whole donkey empire here. I rented a ditch witch and fetched it with my new trailer hitch. It was huge and scary! Paco had never used one before but he figured it out and trenched almost 600 feet through roots and rocks!

Bob came and we put 600 feet of "PEX" underground line together and fed it through a hole in my concrete foundation -- a hole I'd thought to have provided when the concrete was first poured and then forgotten. Paco found it when I was unenthusiastically telling him we'd have to dig a giant hole UNDER the footing.

Bob put three frost-free hydrants (faucets) out in the field. We ran electric line out to the shed so I can put a water-heater in Jethro's bowl.

Then Paco filled the trenches and spread grass seed and straw over the whole mess. And I hauled rocks (thrown out of the ground by the ditch witch by the hundreds) and started making terracees.

And then, last night - after the last grass seeds had been cast - it rained for the first time in weeks. And tonight it will freeze.

See, everything lined up perfectly! I'm in my warm, dry house listening to the rain watering my new grass. Soon I'll go out and give my new donkey his breakfast in his new, dry house. And tonight I'll be able to keep his water warm. Life is good. I'm praying while the sun is shining - or, in this case, when it's raining, as we've all hoped it would.

p.s. I am not unaware that this project has been my own form of over-consumption. When gas is seven dollars a gallon and I can ride my donkey-cart to Harris Teeter, fueled by the weeds Jethro snatches from the side of the road, I will be no less self-satisfied than the people who buy hybrid cars.




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