January 8, 2005


A Clutch of Nettles
By Virginia Dare


Beyond my dreams of avarice


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Just when I thought that my fellow Amurricans had pretty much bottomed out on nuttiness, something came along to surprise me.

I was checking my outstanding order status on Amazon.com the other day and discovered a new feature on their Website: a list of the products, in the various categories Amazon stocks, most wanted by shoppers — not necessarily the things they buy the most, but the things they enter into their wish lists. Apparently, while I'd been pottering along ordering books and musical recordings from Amazon, the site became a major gift registry, so that people can now compile lists of products they want, and their friends can refer to the lists in case a baby's arrival, a wedding shower, a birthday, or any other gift-giving opportunity presents itself. Wowie zowie. We've decided on a motif of yellow teddy bears for the nursery, Aunt Gert, so you don't have to worry about those itchy old hand-knit booties; just check our list on Amazon.com and pony up for a 100 percent cotton Finnish onesie for a mere $36. The kid'll fit into it for at least two weeks. Such a deal.

Speaking of the Baby section of the list, one of the top three coveted items is a forty-buck cover for supermarket cart seats, designed to keep kids from touching any of the nasty ol' germs that might be lurking on the carts. Apparently the seat cover can also be used to protect kids from contamination while they sit in restaurant high chairs. (I have another suggestion as to how that can be accomplished, which involves calling a sitter and not inflicting the little heathens on the rest of us, but never mind.) One reviewer, explaining why this product was so marvelous, actually said of her child that "when he sits in those wooden restaurant high chairs, we shove the excess material from the front between him and the front of the high chair. That way, we can pull him right up to the edge of the table without the risk of him leaning over too far and bonking his little head on the table." Damn! Darwin should not be thwarted like that. You'd think that people who believe in an implacable Gaia would know better.

So many assorted thoughts and emotions spring to mind as I contemplate this nifty little item that my brain sort of stalls in first gear. I sat in supermarket carts as a child. My children sat in supermarket carts. I push supermarket carts with my soft, exposed hands. I guess I should be using latex gloves. It's a wonder that any of us is alive today to write this observation or to read it. Germs on supermarket carts. God protect us all.

And what is ever going to become of these effete little bubble-dwellers who are being protected from the collection of environmental hazards that we used to think of as the real world, once they are actually exposed to a few bumps and bruises and scrapes? One cart-cover reviewer wrote poignantly about her kid falling out of a shopping cart while reaching for a piece of fruit. The account mentioned EMTs and CAT scans and ended with the overjoyed assurance that the kid suffered no harm whatever, but went on to point out that the seat belts in a shopping cart give parents a sense of false security. (When I fell out of shopping carts, or off slides, or down steps, I was picked up, dusted off, and sometimes scolded for engaging in the behavior that caused the fall to begin with.) False security? If you want to live a fully engaged life, that's the only sort of security there is, O Best Beloved. Deal with it.


Back to the most-coveted list: A home defibrillator heads the Health and Personal Care list, at a whacking $1,500. You can't really fault people for being terrified of heart failure, when the governmental powers-that-be threaten us with some variant of it on a daily basis as a result of our Bad Citizen lifestyles. But when you look at the statistics on how few people are saved by the application of a defibrillator by qualified professionals who are fully equipped and trained to use the equipment and to follow it up with appropriate treatment, a healthy approach to risk assessment suggests that there are better ways of spending that spare grand-and-a-half you have in your Mad Money jar. I shrink from mocking folks who want to put in place whatever safeguards they can to protect their loved ones. It's just too bad that the odds of anybody's getting saved are in single digits out of every hundred people, and that there are so few cardiopulmonary crises that can be treated by defibrillation to begin with. I'm in a magnanimous mood and will let this one ride.

But the next two items in the same category send my claxons into full cry again. First up is a $15 nose-hair trimmer. The great American dream depends on the grooming of one's nose hair? Some days, I just don't know what to say. The thing cuts ear hair also. Somehow, that doesn't seem to help a lot.

Moving right along, then, item number three is an electric toothbrush. One hundred fifteen smackers' worth. It's cordless — though you may wish to recall that the buck forty-nine toothbrush from the local pharmacy is cordless, too. Amazon's high-tech version has a timer that shuts the thing off when you've brushed each segment of your mouth for the optimal time. And it beeps so that you will be sure each part of your mouth has received equal attention.

Now, I think brushing time is important; I really do. The first verse of Stephen Foster's ballad "Beautiful Dreamer" takes 60 seconds to recite silently with appropriate pauses and flourishes. (Brush up and down ...) Luke 2:1-20 in the King James Bible takes about 90 seconds. (Get those molars ...) I suppose you could time your brushing using Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, although I find it triggers my gag reflex when I'm brushing in the back of my mouth. It's possible my technique would work better if people still committed things to memory and weekly recitations were part of the average student's educational experience. Come to think of it, kids' diction (and attention spans) might be better, too.

So. There it is, O Best Beloved. The stuff dreams are made of. Mr. Spade, do you ever get the feeling that somebody is giving us the bird?

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