Monday, April 10, 2006

Tax & Spend

Financial advisers would have us take our tax refund and do something responsible with it, like open an IRA, make an extra mortgage payment or hand it over to one of their brethren for safekeeping. But I spent an entire Saturday wrestling with Turbo Tax. I figured I deserved a reward. So we took a portion of our Fun Money and in a sudden burst of consumer confidence, we bought dishes.

I am now the proud owner of eight five-piece place settings of Crate & Barrel’s Century Classic. I have been eyeing this pattern since it was introduced in 2005 and paid periodic visits to the store’s display model. But our IRS-fueled shopping spree was nearly iced by a case of Cold Feet.

I entered the store, single-minded. The first hint of wavering: a quick look at the other patterns, “just to make sure.” It was then that I noticed the signage describing the differences between stoneware, porcelain, bone china and earthenware. Based on the preponderance of young couples clutching registry forms, I suspect the information was positioned as a pre-emptive strike against an influx of June brides. It so happens that Century Classic is earthenware, the least sturdy and most prone to cracking. One wonders why it’s even manufactured, save to boost sales of replacement pieces.

(Eavesdropping on a sales clerk, I hear that bone china is durable enough to stand on. I’m selling tickets to Easter dinner, where I will test the concept on the set my parents inherited from Grandma. I promise my father’s reaction will be infinitely more entertaining than Charlton Heston parting the Red Sea.)

Wavering developed into full-blown indecision. Should we pick another pattern?

Dave and I are the masters of inaction. At our old apartment, we suffered through a rat infestation and sporadic sewage backups rather than re-locate to a hygienic, rodent-free dwelling. Because that would have required planning and effort. Currently, the walls of our spare bedroom are splashed with paint samples, and have been for the past eight months, while I debate the relative merits of Shelbourne Buff, Waterbury Cream and Dorset Gold. I should just frame the trio of splotches and tell visitors it’s an early Mark Rothko.

It took me nearly nine years to settle on Century Classic. I may never love again. So I took a deep breath and vowed to protect the fragile earthenware from that pair of death traps known as the dishwasher and microwave. Which should be relatively easy, in that we don’t own a microwave and will continue to eat off our old dishes.

Three C&B staffers packed up our place settings, cocooning each piece in an inch of tissue. I counted—a total of 126 sheets of packing paper. A couple of years ago, Dave and I vacationed in Washington—the state, not the D.C. We went hiking in Olympic National Park, where the old-growth forest predates Columbus’ “discovery” of the New World. The park is surrounded by National Forest and just plain forest, both of which are open to loggers. Driving to trailheads, we passed countless trucks hauling away loads of fallen trees. I hoped some of the timber was slated for resurrection as a hardwood floor or a baby’s crib, but now I fear the majority was destined to cushion fondue pots at Crate & Barrel.

Once home, I extricated the swaddled dishes and set about making space for them. Sent to the trash heap: assorted mismatched mugs, the last remnants of the Currier & Ives borrowed from my parents 12 years ago, and an entire set of chipped Jadeite cereal bowls. Dave confessed that the bowls made him nervous. He feared a microscopic sliver would get mixed in with his oatmeal and destroy his digestive system. I might have laughed this off had I not once read about a woman who killed her husband by grinding glass into his food. Our purchase of Century Classic may literally have saved Dave’s life. I wonder if we can deduct this on next year’s taxes as a medical expense?

Because I’ve already mentally spent our 2006 refund. I still need serving pieces.


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