Calculus for the Aging Consumer by Lois Ruskai Melina

Calculus for the Aging Consumer

The older I get, the more I appreciate how, when I own an object,

I have to take care of it, I have to be responsible to it.

And that makes me want less and less.

~ Ruth Ozeki

This is the last car we will ever buy, I say.

We do the math calculations that now inform our consumerism:

Start with the number of years we likely have left to live, be healthy, be active.

Subtract the life expectancy of the item.

The difference tells us when a purchase makes sense.

We add historical data to our math. (It’s good to use our brains like this.) We typically drive our cars for 15 years before replacing them. Our Prius is 14 years old, so we could wait a year. This is my husband’s argument. I point out that in 15 years we will be 85, probably not driving. Why not enjoy the new car for as long as possible? Now. He says there might be new safety features in a year. Our 2008 does not have sensors for blind spots. No crickets chirp when it drifts into the next lane. We have to brake manually when we get too close to a vehicle in front of us. I hesitate to point out that we can use safety features now. He does most of the driving, might see that as a criticism, dig in his heels. Instead I ask: Wouldn’t it be nice to listen to audiobooks in the car? My husband has dozens on his phone. He listens to them on the 25-mile bike rides he takes several times a week. Bluetooth technology delivers sound right to his hearing aids. Our car plays CDs.

I argue for AWD. We drive over three low mountain passes to visit our grandchildren. We cross country ski on Mt Hood. My husband reminds me that we have tire chains for the Prius. I remind him my hands are too arthritic to manipulate tire chains when it’s cold and snowing. I can do it, he says.

What if you’re not with me?

He likes the idea of a hybrid plug-in. Do most of our city driving on electricity, use gas only for long trips. We calculate how much fuel we’ll save, how much we’ll reduce our carbon footprint.

The only AWD hybrid plug-in with adequate electrical range is a small SUV. It will be a stretch for me to lift our kayaks onto a roof rack higher than our Prius. I’m short and getting shorter.

Then there’s our mattress. We awake with stiff joints, neck pain. Or sometimes fail to fall asleep at all. We roll toward each other into the deepening depression in the center of the bed, even when we don’t want to. Our first mattress came with a 15-year guarantee. We were young and newly married. We couldn’t see that far into the future. We’ve overslept on two more since. We temporize with a memory foam topper, but there is an issue with sinkage when we make love. Knees and elbows and hips. Like having sex in quicksand. We research mattresses that isolate movement so we can stop disturbing each other when one of us gets up at night to pee. My husband carries the new mattress up the narrow stairs to our attic bedroom himself to save the $30 the delivery people would charge.

Our almond-colored Maytag washing machine still works after more than forty years of diapers and dog beds, muddy running shoes, wine-stained tablecloths, pitted shirts. I want it to last till the end. I don’t want to die with a new washer in the basement.

Our everyday dishes: chipped. Our silverware: missing forks. The sofa is lumpy.

Our dogs are now nine and thirteen.

What I know for sure: This is the last box of LED light bulbs we’ll ever buy.

Lois Ruskai Melina is a retired educator, avid rower, and passionate fan of women’s soccer. Her debut essay collection, The Grammar of Untold Stories, was published by Shanti Arts in 2020. The title essay, published in Colorado Review, was a Notable work in Best American Essays 2018. Her work also has appeared in Sport Literate, The Carolina Quarterly, and 2016 Best of the Net Anthology, among others


Art: Carlo Cainelli Public Domain ALT A sketch of two lovers sitting at a restaurant table


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