As you’ll witness at any mall in the United States, the mental states of humanity reside on a vast spectrum. Our brains are not so easily compartmentalized from one another—and I don’t care what the DSM says. I recently bought a white ceramic garlic holder from Crate and Barrel. Joyce helped me by holding my clean, white mixing bowls—replacements for my decade-old chipped set—at the counter while I browsed, and I eventually placed the comically oversized garlic replica in the basket she’d handed me. It really is shaped like an enormous head of garlic, but with holes for aeration. Now, every time I glance at this newly acquired thing, I’m truly delighted in a heartfelt way. It cost $16 but feels much more valuable, perhaps because I perceive it as functional art, mass-produced as it is. My fixation doesn’t seem exactly “normal,” does it? But we all fall in love with objects and covet a great unnecessary number. Just in varying degrees. Someone diagnosed with what is referred to as “autism” may seem, at least to so-called neurotypical people, to prefer objects over humans. But browse at ebay sometime, where all kinds of mental states track vintage bowls or new designer dresses and whatnot over weeks and compete to win. Immerse yourself in the vastness of Walmart and really take in the scale of STUFF. Peer into meticulously kept and totally unkempt closets across this country. Go to the nearest estate sale, where the often innumerable possessions of the Greatest Generation are up for grabs to the rest of us, and see the acceptable hoarding associated with decades of booming prosperity. We trade our lives for things. It’s just a matter of degree. No one needs five rakes. There is simply no good reason to own 30 cheap T-shirts or 15 ceramic knomes. We can do without garlic holders, certainly.
I was listening to my local NPR station, KUOW, one morning in the car when I heard a panel of guests discussing their views on Amazon.com and the company’s role in and value to our tech-drunk city of Seattle. It happened to be the multiple male guests who expressed a positive view of this Web-based behemoth, whose prime service I utilize quite frequently. Its innovative, job-spurring presence, to them, represents the spirit of our growing metropolis. After another of their blindly glowing reviews of Amazon’s impact, the lone woman on the panel blurted out, “But all Amazon is doing is helping us buy more garbage!” There followed a brief moment of total crickets, pure stunned silence, in which I smiled so wide it hurt. I don’t know who she is, but ever since, I have wanted to write that woman a letter of enthusiastic appreciation. I wonder what she thinks about her statement, if it even registered as a powerful for her, as it did for me, especially given the non-reaction she received on air. Did she ever receive the high five she deserved? I wonder if, like I often do, she cringes herself to sleep because she uttered something truthful that pushed everyone off center. She deserves applause and a book deal. Certainly not an ADD diagnosis for interrupting the accepted form of object madness.