When May-Zhee, my beloved Riverhead publicist, suggested that I write a piece about a consumer product that I’d bought and wanted to recommend to The New York Magazine readers, I became mega-stressed. May-Zhee is someone I hate saying no to, but, at the same time, me recommending a consumer product is a bit like Greta Thunberg picking her favorite fossil fuel power plant.
I am really bad at buying stuff. Whenever I pay for a product, I feel disorientated & humiliated. The rest of the time I can live inside my head and pretend I have only imagination and ideas and no physical body at all, but the moment I need to pay the guy in the supermarket for a toilet paper roll, my entire infantile illusion collapses. So in the end, the real challenge with this piece wasn’t writing it but finding something— anything!—that I’ve actually bought in the last few months.
Ok, I'll begin with an honest disclosure:
The men in my family don't buy things. Or at least, not the right things. Our moms buy us diapers and shorts when we’re born, and we practically wear them until we croak. We are interested in people, we love animals, we’re kind of indifferent to vegetation, and everything else bores us to death. Although it isn't as if we don't buy things: we do, but always for the wrong reason.
My late father used to buy tons of stuff from telemarketing people. He had such little interest in what he bought that often, when the package arrived, he couldn't remember what was in it, but he could always remember in great detail the telemarketer’s voice or something she’d said about her favorite food or a good movie she’d recently seen. Buying an unwieldy Tanturi exercise bike from a telemarketer with a soft friendly voice who was a great fan of Leonard Cohen was the closest he ever got to cheating on my mom. And in the end, she was able to forgive him.
For my dad, buying things was a strange and wonderful way to speak with people, and the fact that each conversation ended with him having to find a place for yet another useless object in my parents’ apartment was a small price to pay.
Some space in exchange for human connection sounds like a fair deal, but I don't even fall for that. And that's what makes the Master Lock 5 key combination safe so special to me. My family discovered it while using an Airbnb in Brussels. The owner had left us the apartment key in a lockbox in the building hallway, and unlocking the little safe was such great fun that our son immediately wanted us to have one of our own. This was only a few weeks ago, but since we've been home, our life has changed. We now have a new tiny piece of real estate in our building. It’s just two inches wide, but still, it’s only ours, and we can leave stuff in it for each other: a note, some strawberry flavored chewing gum, and once in a while even a key.