"The Shoe Fits"
“What are you doing?”
I’d stood up and stepped to Janet’s coffee.... service... station... on its tray... on the Victorian table. “I’m looking at my fork.” I said, paused and then said: “May I leave now?”
“Of course you may... but don’t disappoint me.”
“Before you go... tell us a story; one of your antiques stories.”
“I’ve told Chris it’s you best side; your wonderful stories.”
I looked at Janet. Then I looked at Chris. Both were sitting on the sofa. Looking at me. Like two cats. “I’ll tell you a story alright. What do you want? Something stupid like my buying that crud out there in the truck; from that fish barn?” Pause. “I’ll tell you a story. How about the difference between ‘good’ and ‘junk’?” I picked up her... empty with crumbs in its bottom “I made them this morning”,... ‘cookie dish’; the oval pressed glass ...1950’s ....1960’s... ‘glass dish’ Janet has obsessively served.... WHATEVER.... in ever since and ALWAYS every time I ‘visit’ (making its first appearance in this tale in Part Sixteen [A]). “Junk.” I said presenting the dish toward the sofa. Then returning it to the tray.
“Absolute. Sends a bad message to all.”
“You made the cookies?”
“And you put them in a piece of JUNK.”
“Always put them in that... because you don’t have anything else... anything better. And don’t know what anything better IS. AND... you don’t realize the message it sends... to people like me.”
“That you don’t know.”
“What it is; what the ...(sarcastically) DISH... is. AND that... YOU... don’t know THAT YOU DON’T KNOW. AND... don’t know that I DO know what the dish is AND that I KNOW YOU don’t know what it is and... WELL?
“Have bad taste”.
“Little messages from the corners of... you, dear. This ‘dish’ is express mail.”
Janet turned to Chris. “See what I mean.” She said.
“I bet Mr. (Dump) eats ALL your cookies.
“How do you know that?”
“If there was ever a man who would put his pudgy little fingers in your... what do you call this? Cookie Dish? Junk attracts junk.”
“He does eat all the cookies”.
“What a surprise. I never eat ANY. Right?”
“He doesn’t ever eat them.” Janet says turning toward Chris. “Why don’t you?” she says to me.
“That dish makes ‘em taste bad.”
“It does not.”
“Your bad taste gets on them.”
“It does not. My cookies taste... Oh.”
“Right. It’s not YOUR taste. It’s BAD taste. It’s over there.” I say waving off into the room. “You just go and get it; pick some up and bring it home. It’s not you. You DO know better. Right?”
“I never know what I know with YOU.”
“Well... you could always get a good cookie dish... for your GOOD cookies. Of course then we’d... have to move on to those coffee mugs”.
“What’s a good cookie dish?”
“Here? For you? In this house? 1850’s. Pressed glass. Pattern glass. Would look just about the same as this junky one. It’s a ....sweet ...meat ...dish.”
“You know; sweet and sour chicken. Fried chicken nuggets. Pu-pu platter.”
“It is NOT.”
“A sweetmeat dish is an 18th century... principally English... glass dish whose design form is still active (in usage) today although the qualities of the early examples have, ah... disappeared. Sweetmeat referred to, really, ANY treat the dish served...including your cookies. It didn’t have to be ‘sweet’ or... ‘meat’. You’d want one appropriate to the age of you home (built 1847). They’re not hard to find and not expensive; no one knows what they are or that... they should know... so ...its not that hard or expensive for you to change your horrid ways.”
“Well... I don’t know what one IS.”
“Yes... so its time for you to TEACH yourself... good taste”.
“How do I do that?”
“That... for you... and this dish... could be a long project.”
“Thanks a lot. What kind of dish do you have?
“I don’t serve cookies”.
“Yes. I have an Anglo-Irish cut glass one around right now.”
“Cut glass? Really.”
“It’s Federal era cut glass; not Victorian. It’s a whole different thing. Understated. English... or Irish lead glass made for export in the 18th century. To about 1830. Then Americans perfected pressed glass. We invented it. That took over. So this house would have THAT. You can’t go wrong. The only people who wouldn’t know (the difference) are the people who don’t know (the difference). And who cares about them.”
“Well... I don’t know.”
“And I don’t care.
“It’s really a qualities choice by you... for yourself.” I continued. “Every THING offers qualities and choices. Just like shoes. You seem to do THAT.”
Janet looked down to her shoes. Chris looked at her nodding foot.
“Ok...so ah... you SORT ah got that.” I said. Janet looked up. “You want to spend more (money) on ‘em (her shoes) but can’t do it.” Janet kept looking at me but put her shoes together with the toes pointing straight ahead under the coffee table. “The cheesy dish brings the qualities of your shoes down. You got to do it all. Its not bad. It’s just as much fun as what you do with your shoes. These days the actual message you send is bigger than shoes: Because nobody cares. But you. So before you know it... you got ’em good. And it is actually NOT that expensive. There’s no one there. I have it all to myself most of the time. I just have to endure crud like this... in silence. Am I stoic? Or right?”
“You’re a piece of work aren’t you. How come every time you come here I either want to throw something out or put something in the safety deposit box after you leave?”
“How come you keep making me come back here?”
“You know why.”
“Because every time I come here I have to look at this dish and that makes me feel like I’m looking a my own vomit on the tips of MY shoes.”
“Not exactly THAT but you do turn out to be RIGHT most of the time.”
“Most of the time? Make me puke”.
“Show us something NICE.”
“Oh please. Here:” I hold up a coffee mug from the tray. “Cup.” I say. Putting that back I pick up a small...ish... shallow bowl ...evidently intended to hold one’s cookie selection. “Saucer” I say and put it back after holding a mug on top of this ‘saucer’ first. Setting both down I pick up a small plate. “Plate” I say. Then I pick the mug back up and put it on the plate and present it towards the women on the sofa. “CUP.... PLATE” I say referring at first to BOTH but then saying again “CUP PLATE” while holding the mug in one hand and presenting just the plate to the sofa.
“Way back when they first finished building this room; in the 1850’s...” I continued “a gather like ours sipped our TEA or COFFEE right here TOO. The coffee preference replaced the tea standard... especially for the American... very quickly and early on. We boys at sea found it and liked it. The girls joined the coffee sipping right away. So by the time your home was built... WE preferred sipping coffee right HERE. And talked about bad taste. Isn’t THAT an ENDLESS conversation?
So showing you ‘nice’ today? I just did that but your... coffee service... is so gross you probably cannot SEE the quality I presented.” I picked up one of Janet’s mugs... that had the decal-applied image of a... well known THEN (15 years ago) popular cartoon cat... on BOTH SIDES of it; ‘yuck’. “What I just did was HOW back then THEY sipped their coffee HERE. Even on that sofa I suppose. Isn’t the sofa a legend? Your greater greats grandmother’s something; right? Anyway....”
“MY family’s.” Janet said to Chris.
“Even the sofa is recorded on HER tree.” I said.
“It is not but I have a photograph of it right here with my grandmother sitting on it.”
“A ...mo-ment... of history. Can I steal my fork today?” I continued picking the fork up, showing it off and setting it back. “Is that for me to STIR my coffee?”
Janet looked at me.
“Oh... right... it’s to SPEAR a cookie... in THAT dish.”
“You just don’t stop.”
“The dish is GROSS. It’s not MY fault. So... getting back to ‘NICE’... BACK THEN WE... with I; a man standing before ladies seated... would ‘POUR’ my... yours... HERS... coffee... into CUPS seated in SAUCERS. I would... or the HOSTESS WOULD... for it would be SHE that has ‘good taste’ and knows that MEN are SLOPPY when pouring GOOD coffee. You know what good coffee is?”
“No you don’t. Coffee, for you, is something you put in your shopping cart when your going down ‘that isle’. It’s a disaster that explains your bad taste: This coffee’s bad taste. IN the middle or your OTHER bad tastes”
“Truth? Hurts? I mean... I guess it (the coffee Janet is serving) is still warm... sort of. Anyway...; the hostess would SERVE the coffee with this poured into the CUP HOT and that cup would be presented sitting in a saucer but SITTING ON a little glass plate. Set down, the recipient would... lift the hot coffee filled cup up with one hand, lift the little glass plate out of the saucer, with the other hand, setting that down on the ...TABLE... BESIDE this sofa... and/or a TABLE before the sofa; NO coffee table. Then this self server would POUR the coffee in the cup INTO the saucer and set the empty cup on the little glass CUP... PLATE; this special little plate to SET the cup on. WITH the hot coffee in the saucer ‘to cool’... one would pour cream and add sugar to one’s taste using a ...coin silver ‘tea’ spoon... one would draw from a pressed glass ‘spooner’; a SPOON HOLDER... found with the COFFEE SERVICE... on a TABLE. Once perfected to personal taste (too much sugar IS bad taste), one lifted one’s saucer with TWO hands and gently... gen-tile-lee?.. sipped the coffee from the saucer. Excepted for the men of course who DASHED their coffee with one handed thumb-over-saucer-rim OH YOU BAD BOYS.”
While saying all this I had animated my discourse by maneuvering the CUP – SAUCER – PLATE threesome from Janet’s service as I had introduced. The two women just sat there looking at me.
“They really drank out of the saucer?” Janet said.
“Yep. The coffee WAS HOT. That’s why the old teapots are all cracked; they poured TOO hot water into them. You know: The maid did it.”
“They really did that?”
“For a while. It started in England in the 18th century. They made the saucers deeper to hold the coffee – tea, whatever. Americans followed fashion and doing that was fashion. So here... we’s was ALL saucer sippers in this room. Americans made the glass cup plates. The English made Staffordshire cup plates.” Observing a perplexed look I said “The English made CHINA cup plates. After a while the English got sick of saucer sipping and stopped doing that. Slowly. Americans kept saucer sipping and the proliferation of cup plates made in the 1840’s to the Civil War shows how popular saucer sipping was. But then... the English... of fashion... started to goof on the Americans who were ‘STILL’ saucer sippers. That was that; saucer sipping in New England VANISHED. So did cup plates and cup plate making; a DESIGN FORM... disappeared. You know what replaced cup plates for little dishes? Butter chips. They were invented. Historically the butter chip design form becomes abundant AFTER the Civil War. Before butter was served on a passed plate or from a TUB. That’s fresh homemade on the farm butter. People like me feel using a butter chip... is tacky. Bad taste. I mean... people COLLECT butter chips. People collect cup plates. Whose more sophisticated?”
“I have some butter chips but I never use them” said Janet. “Maybe... they’re CUP PLATES!” She started to get up to get them? Chris had to dismember her leg-blue jean – sock.- Topsider nodding sculpture to let this occur. Janet left the room for a moment of ...I hear a china BREAKFRONT door open, a clatter and “SURE ENOUGH” she returns clutching a... butter chip.
“You got one.” I say.
“I’m going to put these in my YARD SALE.”
“Oh please.” I say again
“Why not. Probably I should put the coffee mugs in it TOO.”
“Ah...” I say and Janet stops. She looks at me and says:
“Ah... you KNOW that... your YARD SALE... should you have one... IS... bad taste.”
“That’s bad taste?”
“Yeah. See...: The way ...I... see your yard sale is YOU standing in your YARD with all the crud you have that is your BAD TASTE set out on the lawn for EVERYONE to see what BAD TASTE YOU HAVE.”
“Oh my God...”
“That’s right. I see it all the time.”
“I never thought about that.”
“Well I do. And I’m not the only one. Probably... well... it’s probably ONLY a FEW of the neighbors who actually SAY anything.”
“Just think about it; what you do with your tawdry stuff. I mean REALLY. YOU owe it to us to get a grip.”
“But I get rid of stuff.”
“Right. Really attracts the right kind of people. People who DON’T CARE about ANYTHING. Yard sales are tacky. Face it. Proper people don’t have them. They donate. OR DON’T have things they want to ...as people like you say... get rid of. I don’t have yard sales. I don’t have THINGS I GET RID OF. I don’t even go to them. Yard sales are where people who don’t have anything are trying to sell their bad taste that they’re stuck with. Its very hard for someone to sell a truly good painting at their yard sale for nothing; I do know it happens... but... most people... MOST PEOPLE don’t have a really good painting to do ANYTHING with at all. They wouldn’t have a good painting because...
“Because WHAT?” said Janet.
“Because... they only have paintings they LIKE. I don’t have paintings ‘I LIKE’. I have paintings MUSEUMS like. What do I know about paintings. Or good taste. Go to a museum to SEE good taste. I don’t go to your yard sale. Yuck. May I take my fork today?”