While walking in my neighborhood recently, I crossed paths with a large, regal dog whose coat of blond curls evoked Shirley Temple. A middle-age woman was on the other end of its leash. I stopped to greet the dog. “Is it a Standard Poodle?” I asked his owner admiringly. She stiffened. “No,” she replied archly, “he is a Labradoodle.” As I walked away, chastened by the tone of the encounter, I made a mental note to add “pricey designer dogs” to my list of stuff we could easily do without. It is a growing list. Most of Utah’s politicians are on it, as are Cold War military bases in Germany and Japan. So are the bedbugs and the air pollution that have accorded Salt Lake City unwanted national standing.
Other items are legacies bound for oblivion. Consider the penny, a coin that has become irrelevant. You can find pennies littering any parking lot because people are unwilling to pick them up. Most people cache pennies in a jar in the laundry room. It is too much trouble to spend them. The government then has to mint more at a cost of 2-plus cents for each 1 cent coin. We would be better off without pennies.
Telephone books are another anachronism. When a new one arrives on my porch—as unexpected and uninvited as a fast-talking salesman—it goes directly into the recycling bin. I have no more use for the monstrous book than I do for my jar of pennies. It was a different story when my telephone number was Ingersoll 7-4952: An updated telephone book was welcome back then. I think voice mail is also becoming obsolete. A lot of people no longer listen to voice mail. They respond to “missed call” with a text or e-mail, “You called?” I dutifully listen to voice mail, but then, I’m a guy who considers polo shirts dressy.
Imagine my distress when I had to add “polo shirt” to my better-off-without list. I had little choice after Travel & Leisure magazine rated Salt Lake City as one of the 10 worst-dressed places in the country. The reason? Because the polo shirt is the wardrobe staple of so many men and women here. Imagine my surprise to read that fashion-conscious New Yorkers don’t own even one.
Bottled water ought to be on everyone’s list. I don’t know which is the most objectionable aspect of processed water: the scourge of plastic bottles or the decision to pay for tap water from who knows where when Utah’s tasty snowmelt is free for the taking. Even so, we Utahns are water gluttons. Each of us uses upward of 250 gallons per day—more than almost all other Americans—and although some arrives in bottles, much more is hosed onto a patch of grass. That unsustainable practice is why “lawn irrigation systems” is on my list of things we should jettison. In so doing, we also eliminate the end-of-the-season ritual of draining the pipes.
I am not sure how much of our ritualistic behavior would stand up to scrutiny. Flossing would, I am sure. So would morning newspapers, but changing crankcase oil every 3,000 miles wouldn’t. (My Subaru owner’s manual specifies 7,000.) The annual physical exam? Unnecessary. And from what I read, so is the yearly PSA blood test my urologist promotes. In some cases, the potential for harm outweighs the benefits.
Reviewing my list, I note that “internship” is the entry just before “pricey designer dogs.” I wrote it during college-graduation season. I saw that too many of my young friends were consigned to a gulag of unprofitable internships when a job is what they needed. With a steady income, they could finally cut the umbilical, replace the polos, pay off student loans and even get rid of unwanted tattoos. (According to the 2010 U.S. Census, 7,650,000 Americans suffer tattoo remorse.) Although Romney and Obama have ready explanations for the job shortage, I have none; however, I don’t think the tax code is as much a factor as the Republicans would have you believe. The moneyed people I know aren’t plowing their capital gains into small businesses. They play golf at the country club—they don’t create jobs. Unlike Jim Matheson, my disappointing congressman, I hope the Bush tax cuts lapse in December. I believe I am under-taxed by historical standards, and I am willing to pay more to help balance the budget. Sure, the federal government spends too much. Sure, there are federal programs that ought to be axed. But we need to get on solid footing and more money will help.
Along with bottled water, “self-absorbed” should be on everyone’s purge list. It is rampant and it is toxic. In a book by Jean Twenge, I read about a survey of 1950s teenagers in which 12 percent agreed with the statement, “I am an important person.” Less than 40 years later—well before Facebook—the percentage had jumped to 80. Nowadays, there are too many people who consider themselves special. Worse, they flaunt their specialness by disdaining polo shirts or coveting mixed-breed dogs with names more euphonious than “mongrel.” Reflecting on my brief encounter with the Labradoodle, I realized his owner was actually telling me: “I am an important person because I paid $1,000 for a fashionable dog, and you are a stupe for not recognizing it.” So, in fairness to the handsome dog, I revise my “pricey designer dog” entry to read “people who feel enhanced by buying an expensive, trendy dog.” But then I realize all I have to write is “narcissist.” Now there’s a category of people we could live without.