One area where I believe we least understand each other is our spending habits.
Take my friend, Mack. He's a gun nut who's amassed an arsenal that rivals any Third World army's. But though he's a gun nut, he's not a nut any other way. He's centered, responsible and well-adjusted - a pillar of the community if ever there was one. He loves target shooting, but hardly does it since he works so much to pay for his guns.
Do understand his mania? Not at all. Then again, he doesn't understand mine.
"What's with you and all your pets?" he says.
"Whattaya mean?" I say.
'They cost you a fortune and all you get in return is a houseful of fur and a yardful of poop."
"Yeah, maybe ..." I say. "But they're great company."
"You call four comatose furballs 'company?' Why, for the money you spend on them you coulda had something valuable to show for it.
"Matter of fact," he continues, "you coulda bought purebreds and made money."
He's right of course: My animals' lineage is as dubious as mine, and if I'd saved the money I've spent on them, I could buy a 2013 Audi in cash.
But so what? I don't want a 2013 Audi. I do, however, want animals and to paraphrase Admiral Farragut, damn the expense.
My mother was a perfect example of inconsistent spending. A Great Depression survivor, she watched her budget scrupulously. But she wasn't stingy. She made sure we were fed and clothed well (though not necessarily fashionably), and we never lacked education or medical and dental care.
To her, travel was necessary so we'd be exposed to places, people and gain and experiences we couldn't get in Our Home Town. Thus from an early age, we were shlepped up and down the Eastern seaboard and saw all kinds of amazing things.
She also believed in helping the less fortunate, so she gave freely to all sorts of organizations and charities.
But she hated spending money on herself. She kept her clothes in fine shape so she didn't have to replace them. She never bought jewelry or anything fancy. She loved to read, but rather than buy books, she used the library (which she also supported as much as she could).
Westinghouse's worst enemy
If something was old but functional, she never got rid of it till it gave up the ghost. This was especially true of appliances.
She made coffee in a Neolithic aluminum drip maker that she probably bought during FDR's second term, and her blender was an old, two-speed Waring. But in spite of the appliances' ages, they worked perfectly. Unfortunately, the same can't be said of her refrigerator and toaster.
The refrigerator was half baked. And while that's a mixed metaphor, it's also an accurate one: The food compartment worked all right; the freezer barely worked at all. So while nothing spoiled in the food compartment, nothing froze in the freezer. Ice cream quickly became a coolish pudding-like thing that could've been eaten as well with a straw as with a spoon. No biggie, though, since back in those Good Old Days a Fudgesicle could be had for a nickel, an ice cream cone for a dime, and each was only a 10-minute walk away. The toaster, however, was a whole different thing.
While the refrigerator didn't work very well at all, the toaster worked too well: It burned the bejammers out of every piece of bead, every time. I don't know its vintage, but my suspicion is it was made before I was. Certainly, in toaster years, it was old when I was young.
When we made toast, a knife served two purposes. One was to spread on the butter and jam. But that was its secondary function since before we could do that, we had to scrape off the charcoal that coated the entire slice.
This was our daily ritual from my earliest memories till I left home. Then while I was in the service, my mother actually sent both the fridge and the toaster to Ye Olde Appliance Graveyard and replaced them with brand-new whiz-bangs that worked perfectly.
Now her ice cream was rock-hard; her toast was light golden brown, and the melted and scorched foodstuffs were long gone. But they weren't forgotten. In fact, I still think of them fondly.
The warm gloppy ice cream was a blessing in disguise. Because it got me to walk downtown for my ice cream fix, it also got me to socialize with whoever I ran into. And since ice cream cost money, it forced me into my first career as a dedicated bottle return guy. I often think if we'd had real ice cream at home, I might be a ward of the state today.
As for the toast? It really wasn't as bad as you might think. Let's face it, when you're a kid you don't care about the toast itself, so much as what's slathered on it. So once most of the charcoal was off, it was buried under a thick layer of butter and jelly, which to my naive palette tasted just fine. Truth be told, if I'd put that much butter and jam on a roofing tile, I might've munched it just as merrily.
Ultimately, ignorance may not be bliss, but in some cases it can be as good as it gets.