Bumps, Scrapes, Tarnishes and Tears

As a general rule, bumps, scrapes, tarnishes and tears are not a good thing. The illustration that springs to mind is that of a new car. Upon discovering a nick on your new car, do you ruefully regard it then gently rub an index finger over the offending score as though you could expectantly make the blemish gradually cease to exist, hoping against hope that it were but the unintended and serendipitous smudge of an airborne fowl? The phrase “wear and tear” (an undisguised import from the legal exclusions of warranty contracts) is hardly the answer! In an instant the integrity of your vehicle is compromised. Indeed the entire point of getting a new car is under siege! The spiritual heights of the impermanent flight are unceremoniously grounded. Cinderella’s vanishing carriage has nothing on the vaporization!

The late Hughie Whitten (along with the notable JC Smithson) worked for Stewart C. Burns at the former GM dealership Burns Pontiac Buick located across from the Legion on Bridge Street, Almonte. Hughie once observed, “The first thing you do with a new car is beat is with a baseball bat then drive it through a barbed wire fence!” The point is, bumps and scratches are ineluctable; and Hughie cogently reasoned (with wisdom well beyond what his tender years might have suggested) that it were better to relent than to resist. It is a philosophy which is hard and blunt, not for the pusillanimous among us and certainly not easily absorbed much less practiced. On the contrary our instinct is to combat the condition or at least to abhor the result. In the car industry for example there is an entire segment rapaciously dedicated to reversing the trend. And a productive business it is! A mere scuff on a new car adorned with one of the higher end paint jobs is assured to cost no less than $1,000 to obliterate it from memory. Meanwhile it is no “accident” (pardon the pun) that the insurance industry has spliced its own scheme of deductibles to coincide with this trajectory as though to remind the masses that certain things in life are inescapable and must be borne as ultimately personal without the benefit of recourse.

Oddly enough not all tarnishes are objectionable. In the jewellery vernacular the various abrasions and indentations endured by the metals (silver, gold or platinum) are approvingly labeled “patina”. When applied to the green or brown film on the surface of bronze or similar materials it is called oxidation; when applied to fine furniture or people with money it is called polish or breeding. In certain contexts, bumps and scratches are a favourable consequence (though generally speaking car owners seldom aspire to such distinction except I suppose for those used in stock car races or demolition derbies).

Accommodation of bumps and scratches is for some people an unattractive alternative when applied to the chronology of our lives in spite of its compelling logic. There is however virtually nothing that can be done to reverse the trend. I refuse to except the cosmetic employment of plastic surgery (other than to deal with disfigurement, the unanticipated result of accident or medical misfortune). The purposeful elimination or alteration of nature’s bounty is in my opinion bound to fail notwithstanding the ambition. Besides I see nothing wrong with wrinkles and grey hair. Unless one avoids reflective surfaces we are regularly reminded that the course of Time has worked its mischief upon us. This naturally sustains the cosmetic industry, an utter futility I regret to add.

The ultimate resolution of the problem of bumps and scratches is to discard and replace the item entirely. In an era of low quality and disposable goods such wasteful abandonment is shamefully tolerated. It is however a plan of limited application and certainly not generally suitable to the human sphere except perhaps if one advocates a routine of divorce or parting of ways. The sequel to any such conduct is of course doomed to be the same as before though some prefer to romanticize “the second time around”. Even if adopted as a recipe for perfection in the context of cars, getting a new one every year inevitably raises the tortuous issue of utility and maybe a deeper exploration of the psychiatry of the enterprise not to mention the collateral issue of the environment. Meanwhile I acknowledge that many of us are captivated by the allure of new stuff, whether as an ingredient of irrepressible passion or a sacrificial ritual dedicated to having the latest technology for instance. In that context, wear and tear doesn’t even figure!

Normally there is a price to pay not only if one insists upon eliminating the distortions of use and age. Choosing instead to capitulate to deterioration has its own element of forfeiture. The latter choice is usually accompanied by a hardened disregard for the material world (a deprivation I’m not currently willing to bear) or perhaps the adoption of a mystical ideology designed to trivialize it (a posture I consider dangerously close to Voodooism). Our rational pursuit may be buoyed by an extravagant economic theory founded on the uncomplicated theory that you can’t have money and things, the logic of which is fairly indisputable. But make no mistake, you’ll be left with one or the other, pits or polish! No amount of specious justification will change that.

One can avoid the drastic effects of bifurcation in the resolution of this dilemma by adopting a path of compromise. It isn’t inevitable that one’s automobile should be held together with duct tape or that one should lapse into dishevelment. The primary expiating resource is cleanliness. Here, as in all matters, simple is better. I find for example that lowly dish soap serves remarkably well to clean jewellery (and magically “improves” the patina). Water of course cannot be discounted for everything else from cars to one’s corpus. The application of restoratives or additives should be equally guarded. When it comes to hair there are extraordinary (and astonishingly pricey) concoctions available but my experience has been that the basest petroleum products work equally well as silk powders, wheat protein or Jojoba oil. It is shrewd to recollect when succumbing to the marketing persuasions of the retail industry that anything you do is a temporary fix and not likely to accomplish a disguise of the original material. It is a fiction that anyone or anything can be restored to pristine condition. And it as soon becomes apparent that the pursuit has as much purpose as a dog chasing its tail.

In the struggle to resist decline, one must adopt a different tact, addressing the cause not the symptom. I have discovered there is considerable advantage to austerity. Plainly the thesis is inspiring because it diminishes the burden, proving once again that less is more. Particularly for those fortunate enough to have the wherewithal there is a distracting tendency to complicate and encumber one’s life through profligacy. I surmise that the reduction of quantity has the unforeseen fruit of focus which effectively dilates the substantive (as opposed to cosmetic) characteristics of the remaining object(s). It is hard to imagine how anyone with a collection of automobiles finds the time to enjoy them all. The same applies to other things, whether crystal, artwork, sterling silver or real estate. By avoiding multiplicity one at least has the bonus of having more to dedicate to whatever maintenance may be required. This doesn’t of course eliminate bumps and scratches but it affords a convenient avenue for moderate care and attention. As rich as some evidence of wear and tear may be (I especially like for example the swaths of grey on old stone foundations) sometimes the cracks of an oil painting are intolerable. Pointedly that process of recovery is called “restoration” and an analysis of it alerts us to serious reservations. I have sometimes queried whether the restoration of a “work of art” does anything to contaminate the original? Or is it only a matter of degree? When does the restoration stop being the work of the original artist and become that of the technician? How antique is a completely restored automobile? Does it pollute a custom-made ring to have it “sized” years afterwards? Does anyone really care? Should we opt instead for measured deterioration in the same way we’re often encouraged to embrace old age?

Whatever the posture – repair or neglect – we are assured that one or the other will prevail. My personal preference is for preservation but occasionally I accede to declension. Surrender is more palatable if the object is of some sentimental value or perhaps its rejuvenation is either impossible or too costly to consider. It isn’t of course implausible that one can enjoy one’s self and one’s things in spite of natural amortization. It does however require some elevation of thought to surmount the appeal of nouveauté; it is well to recall that except for a fleeting moment nothing is new. And of course nothing is forever.