"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Super-Strollers And The Lost Art Of Simplicity

There is a tendency among older people to insist that ‘things were better back then’.  Burt Lancaster had a great line in the movie Atlantic City by Louis Malle.  Lancaster plays a 70-something small-time gangster who, saddened by the destruction of the old city to make way for new, Las Vegas-style mega-casinos, reminisces about the dance halls, the amusement parks, piers, cotton candy, Victorian hotels, enjoyed by both the swells of Philadelphia and petty but respectable hoodlums like him. Everything was better.   Looking out over the water he says to a young friend, “You should have seen the Atlantic Ocean in those days. That was really something”.

Things of course were never in times past.  Most Americans of a certain age are happy to see the Fifties go. No one ever talks about the good old war years or the way it was back in the Depression.   Every successive decade has had its ups and downs. The Sixties seemed to have more highs and lows than most, what with the wars, riots, and assassinations on one hand; and free love, free speech, and free drugs on the other.  It was a seminal period for baby boomers who still talk about it as the best time of their lives.  Perhaps every decade is the most transformative and best ever if you are 20 and have your life ahead of you.

A close friend of mine, child of the Fifties and young adult of the Sixties, left most of the excess of both eras behind but retained one important lesson from both – simplicity.  No more chrome-and-fin Cadillacs.  No more diamonds and minks, floral perfume and canapés.  No more cotillions, tuxedos, carnations, and crinoline. He dressed simply, ate simply, and behaved simply.

However, he neither sought nor valued a primitive life and only wanted to rid his life of unnecessary accouterments and fancy. 

He was intrigued by Hindu asceticism. Since the world was only maya, or illusion, Hindus said, there was no value in adornment or luxury.  If the only purpose in life was to leave it forever behind, then tchotchkes had no place.  Accouterments were distractions.  Adornments vain and unnecessary.

In the remake of The Fly, Jeff Goldblum’s girlfriend asks him why he never changes his clothes.  He is shocked and replies that he does, every day.  “Then why do I see you always wearing exactly the same thing?”.

Goldblum goes over to his closet, opens the door, and shows her a rack full of suits, shirts, ties, socks, and shoes – all identical. Having to choose an outfit every day, he explained, was an unnecessary, distracting, and irritatingly bothersome chore.

There is nothing simple about America today. Take baby buggies, for example:


Then there are bicycles.  Most people only need this, but buy $2000 Italian racing bikes instead.

All you really need to ride on a bike path or a country road is shorts, a tee shirt, and Keds.


The arguments are well-known.  The old-fashioned single-purpose stroller is of no use to young parents who jog, multi-task, and co-care; and tight Lycra biking outfits reduce wind drag, wick sweat and help to maintain muscle tone.

My friend's kitchen is simple.  Basic stove, modest counter space, and a few good knives.  He keeps his  knives sharp, his cutting boards clean, and his two iron skillets well seasoned.  No need for marble-top islands, Viking industrial ranges or refrigerators.

My niece spent hours as a child playing with old spools and plastic spoons, a bucket, some pots and pans, and a shovel. She built things, arranged them, and made noise with them.  She made rivers and rivulets, crossed them with drawbridges, and dug gardens.  Not today:


The problem with having a clothes rack with a few identical suits, wearing them until necessary replacement; or buying basic strollers, Walmart all-purpose shorts and cut-rate Dollar Store sneakers is that the American economy could never survive.  The high-end Mercedes strollers, the $2000 30-speed racing bikes, the logo-ed touring suits, spacious shoe closets, makeup, handbags, and hair styling; filled-to-excess playrooms, and Viking stoves keep the economy humming.

Simplicity frees the mind, saves money, and avoids clutter.  The more things you have, the more cluttered your mind is. Imagine how peaceful, untroubled, and pure your mind would be if you lived in a Shaker room like this:

The Japanese have made simplicity an art

Big-box stores encourage us to buy more things. Extra cheese graters, tackle boxes, warming trays, underwear, hairnets, bows, knee socks, and girdles.  Lawn chairs, grill accessories, and acne cream.

Simplicity is a virtue, and we have lost it.

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