Thursday, May 13, 2004

Puzzling Behavior

So, let's see... I have about $85 in my checking account, I haven't paid anything to my credit cards or my savings account this period, I'm going to be late with my car payment, and it's a whole week until payday... so what do I do? I plunk $125 onto my credit card (the one that still has room on it) for this thing:

It's a Chinese ivory puzzle-ball, but the ball itself isn't a puzzle, it's not something you can take apart and put back together... the puzzle is how do you carve ten concentric spheres out of a solid piece of ivory without breaking the outer spheres?

I actually know how this is done, because my stepfather used to make similar things, but out of soft wood instead of ivory; basically, you drill conical holes from the surface to the center of the ball, and then using tiny steel wire tools, similar to the things your dentist uses (in fact my stepfather did use an antique tartar-scraper), you simply chisel away perpendicularly from the holes, very very carefully, until you've loosed the inner spheres; then you pull the surfaces of the inner spheres into the space created by the drilled holes, and carve those surfaces with fretwork designs.

I've always been fascinated by intricate hollow things that were carved out of single pieces of something, be it soft wood or ivory or solid granite. I've seen ivory balls like this in many places, of different sizes and intricacies, and have always wanted one. And this one is special, I've never seen one with more little spheres, each with two more spheres inside, studded about the surface. It would have cost a great deal more if the outside spheres were all intact, but one was missing and two are held in with Scotch tape as the rim of ivory holding them in has been chipped.

I don't think it's very old, the outer carving is a little crude, so it's probably from after World War II, though the color of the ivory suggests it's from before the Sixties when China reopened for limited trade with the West. But then, I am by no means an expert on ivory carvings, it could be ten years old and was simply handled a great deal.

As unendingly interesting as all this is, I am still surprised at myself for buying this object. I simply can't afford it right now, and I am trying to limit my spending to things I actually use or have some need for... and I have absolutely no need for a Chinese ivory puzzle-ball. I don't even collect such things, as a rule... I have a good many Chinese antiques, but these are all family pieces, not bought things. I guess it does tie into my dead-animals collection, as I'm sure the elephant whose tusk this came from didn't survive the experience, but it's not a fashion accessory (like my armadillo purse or my fox wraps), nor is it in the shape of the animal from which it was made (like my harp-playing turtle or my inflated puffer-fish).

My coworker JB, with whom I had wandered into the antique shop on our way to dinner, suggests that I might be able to return it for store credit and buy gifts instead... gifts for others are a far more forgivable frivolity than pricey purchases for onesself. But then I wouldn't have this fascinating little object to puzzle over.

I don't know what to do. Fortunately, I have some reimbursement checks from work and from my father that I haven't cashed yet, which should cover my student loan payment that's due tomorrow (with a little left over), so if I lay low with the spending for the next seven days, taking my lunch to work instead of buying it, and rereading old books instead of getting new ones, I should be okay.

Nevertheless, my continuing fiscal irresponsibility is starting to make me a little nervous. I spend my money as fast as I make it, and sometimes even faster... I have one credit card charged almost to the limit, and another one about halfway there, about $5,500 worth of interest-bearing debt (not to mention my student loan or my car loan). I can never keep anything in my savings account, as soon as I get it up to about $500, something spectacular comes along like taxes or dental work or new brakes to empty it.

My only emergency reserve is the remaining value on the junk I've bought in the last few years, I'm sure I could raise a quick few hundred just on the books I have packed up, not mentioning the ones on my shelves, nor to mention the clothes and videos and other such I have lying about. I could also realize a few thousand on my jewelry collection if I gave up everything but my most treasured favorites, as I got pretty good prices on most of it and could quite likely resell it for the same amount.

But of course I'd hate to have to do that... it would have to be a serious emergency to make me part with the least of my babies. In the meantime, I am simply going to have to take sterner measures with limiting my spending. No more jewelry, no more furs, no more fucking ivory puzzle balls until I get my credit cards paid down and at least enough in my savings account to cover a root-canal or a new set of tires.

How terribly, terribly bleak. And it seems these financial megrims always hit me in the late spring or early summer. The rest of the time I just sing a happy tra-la and keep on spending. Must be something about the weather.

Or, now I think about it, I also get the Mating Urge about this time of year, and since the Mating Urge has been regularly frustrated this last decade or more, I take out my frustrations in my one remaining addiction, shopping. This puzzle-ball may very well be the fruit of my frustration over my Yahoo! Personals guy not writing back to me. And the heart-angst that led me to respond to that ad, the romantic yearning that leads me to throw my fear of rejection to the wind, is probably the same angst and yearning that made me spend more than nine hundred dollars in the last seven days.

Whatever the reason, if I'm going to return the puzzle-ball, I'd better do it before I get too attached to it. It is awfully cute, and I have long wanted one. But then, this is awfully cute, and I've always wanted one:

PS: By the bye, in honor of Blogger's new 'do, I've made some much-needed changes around here; aside from creating a new logo (didja even notice?), I've also redone my Home and Gallery pages, and updated my About page. Go have a look! (And here is the old logo, in case you hadn't noticed the difference)

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