John's World: Why We Can't Have Good Things

September 24, 2016 02:22 AM

I’m going to make a wild guess and say if you have a Y-chromosome and file a Schedule F, you probably have a Good Hat. It is virtually identical to all your other hats with the exception of cleanliness. Donning the Good Hat is a visible signal to all around you that an extraordinary event is imminent. It could be going out to eat, visiting friends or getting your pickup washed.

Good Hats are treasured and used sparingly, after considerable thought. We ponder: “Is this occasion Good Hat-worthy?” Those around take notice and react accordingly. For instance, wearing a Good Hat to a machinery dealer immediately blows your cover story of getting grease tubes and a new drive belt. The Good Hat fairly screams, “I’m thinking about shiny new steel things!” Conversely, not wearing the Good Hat to a Farm Bureau meeting can signal unhappiness with your farm insurance premium.

Casual wearing will rob the Good Hat of its significance and power, hastening the day when it is replaced and demoted to a “regular” hat. It can also send mixed signals. Don’t use the Good Thing unless you are willing to be judged as not unhappy. 

Economists have faced this phenomenon before. Like they always do, they passed a law—Gresham’s Law—to explain it. Basically it says bad money drives out good. It is a fancy way of saying people hoard Good Things and use everything else. This means spending a suspect currency (£) and saving the strong one ($). It is the fundamental lesson of Old Maid, drilled into us early.

Good Things are to be cherished and used appropriately. The problem begins when we no longer seem to encounter situations good enough for Good Things. For instance, we once had a Good Manure Spreader—we even kept it in a shed. As a result, we wore the floor out of several regular old spreaders as we saved the Good One for some unspecified high profile muck-flinging event.

In addition, we often deem it prudent to protect Good Things with expendable versions available for loaning. I know farmers who have loaner backhoes, drain snakes and sickle riveters. Alas, we forget Good usually has an expiration date. Too often at retirement sales, neighbors admire such pristine artifacts while asking, “What the heck is it?” Indeed, this is the origin of the phrase “good for nothing.” 

Moreover, what is the point of Good Clothes, for example, when financiers are wearing cargo shorts on Wall Street and guests show up in flip flops at White House awards? Or, our Good Things outlive their uses. I can’t remember the last time I needed good clothes for a Hollywood opening night gala. Meanwhile, all that’s required for a Netflix debut is couch-clean sweats. 

Our Good Things are often costly and heartfelt gifts, which adds to our reluctance to dull, ding or dirty them with actual use. I have a set of exquisite wood chisels—the woodworking equivalent of Lamborghini chisels—given to me by a devoted fan (well, me, when corn hit $7) that I just can’t quite bear to subject to the rough touch of actual wood. I open the drawer to dust and admire them from time to time, but otherwise I select the chisels that litter my workbench and have been used as screwdrivers and pry bars.

We can’t have Good Things because we know in our hearts we probably don’t deserve them. After all, we rightly categorize ourselves not as Good People, just everyday usable people. Worst of all, most of us eventually realize if you have Good Things, you can lose them, because we have. Repeatedly.

So, this is where we are on Good Things: If you currently have a Good T-shirt, you are part of the problem. If you have Good Pajama Pants, you are the vortex of the problem. If you have Good Boxer Shorts, you have another problem altogether.

But not to worry. As near as I can tell, a century from now someone will make a killing on “Antiques Roadshow” from your scrupulously preserved Good Things. That’s good enough for me.  

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