I’ll be brief

The other night I attended a talk by Richard Wolff, who did a decent job of delivering the “lucid economics and caustic wit” promised by the event’s organizers. After describing the circumstances that led U.S. businesses to send jobs overseas, he said, “And that is why all of you are sitting there in foreign underwear.” (Or words to that effect.)

At the time I was indeed wearing cotton briefs made in China. Over the last decade I have bought at least a dozen units of similar quality. They stay in good condition for at most two years; after another two they’ve become so holey and shapeless that even I wouldn’t be caught dead or injured in them. However, I do own two pairs of made-in-USA underpants, and after 17 years they show no sign of failing.

I know it’s been 17 years, because I bought these briefs at Lamonts in Port Angeles, and Lamonts went out of business in 2000. I remember that shopping experience very well. After noticing that a style of microfiber brief came in two versions, foreign and domestic, I spent about 20 minutes pawing through hangers, finding the briefs in my size that weren’t foreign-made. Eventually I found three pairs, two beige and one light blue (one of the beige briefs got lost somewhere a few years ago; I mourn it still).

At that time I don’t think I knew that “Made in the USA” can mean made in a sweatshop in the Northern Mariana Islands (though I certainly should have known). Nor had my consciousness been raised about the pollution caused by microfibers. Despite the downsides that I’m now aware of, I’m still happy with that purchase. I just wish that the briefs and my memory hadn’t faded to the point that I no longer know the brand or style.

Speaking of keeping stuff around for decades, I’ve been listening to a book about compulsion. Here are a few things I’ve learned so far:

  • The point of all compulsions is to relieve some sort of anxiety.
  • In the 19th century there was an epidemic of people (mostly men) wandering off for parts unknown, often unknowingly.
  • Hoarding is actually more common among men than women.
  • My husband, who I thought was the healthiest person on the planet, probably has obsessive compulsive personality disorder. But then so probably do I.

Familiarity breeds content (and contentment)

Most people who know me would not call me lazy. They would be wrong. The fact is that I assiduously avoid hard work; I haven’t had an actual job in nearly eight years. In all facets of life I gravitate toward the easy stuff.

Right now, for example, I should be cramming for the first day of Tax-Aide tomorrow, but instead I’m searching for animals in the jungle. While this task may be more fun than studying tax law, it isn’t always easy to tell which species appear in the 15-second video clips. Some animals dart through the underbrush at a distance, some appear mostly outside the frame, and in some cases the image is poorly illuminated or out of focus. But the biggest impediment to accurate identification is ignorance. No previous activity in my life has required me to tell a warthog from a giant forest hog, a red duiker from a small gray duiker, or even a chimp from a gorilla. So I spend many minutes comparing images, replaying clips, and squinting at the screen.

The one species that I can effortlessly ID without fail is humans. (Well, there was one clip where I wasn’t sure if I was seeing a person’s sleeve or an elephant’s trunk, but as long as more than half a human limb is present, I can be confident of my annotation.) This makes perfect sense, because I’ve seen humans every day for nearly 63 years. I can even distinguish individuals with some accuracy, a feat I haven’t yet mastered with chimps.

Language proficiency is a lot like animal recognition. The more time you spend immersed in a language, the more fluent you become. The lazy option is to speak only your native language and feel perpetually perplexed by all others. Instead of IDing African animals I could be studying Hebrew, Spanish, or French. But languages, like tax law, are just too hard. I will never get the hang of calculating ACA affordability or the seven conjugations of Hebrew verbs, whereas I have some hope of learning the quirks and features of some species.

Plus I would much rather contribute to saving species than to saving taxpayers a few dollars. Yes, even now, when our tax dollars are likely to be so thoroughly squandered (and  maybe that’s the real reason I want to escape to the jungle).