What are the things that make you happiest—that don't involve a major transfer of currency? Six writers give us a new appreciation for ordinary pleasures, from supermarket pudding to zingy pop radio.
Paradise. 17 Cents a Spoonful
For Mark Leyner, it's a single sweet dollop of a pudding...
For Gillian Fassel, Saturdays navigating estate sales...
Two Wheels, No Waiting
For Saïd Sayrafiezadeh, riding his trusty bike...
For Caitlin Macy, listening to the radio...
In My Element
For Farai Chideya, just being around water...
Life on the Page
For Jessica Helfand, collecting day-to-day memories in her scrapbook...
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What if you could condense the evolution of gastronomic pleasure from the very first mammalian sip of mother's milk to everything savored and swallowed over the millennia into one single alimentary act? Sound crazy? And, friends, I'm not talking about hot, steamy Christmas puddings, bread puddings, figgy puddings, crème brûlées, or zabagliones. I'm talking about the store-bought, ready-made pudding you find in the refrigerated section of your supermarket. I'm talking six plastic four-ounce cups of cold, thick, dizzyingly sweet pudding for around $2. I'm talking Swiss Miss. I'm talking Kozy Shack.
And actually, I've refined the act of pudding eating even further, down to its Eucharistic essence—a single spoonful. Two ounces. Seventeen cents' worth.
Here's how it's done: Scoop out a tablespoon of pudding from the plastic container (butterscotch is regarded by pudding illuminati as the epitome of flavors); put it in your mouth; do not move it around or disperse it in any way with your tongue; swallow the glob intact and let Mother Gravity slowly draw it down. Remember—this is as much about how it feels as it is about how it tastes.
Anticipation of that single sweet glob is the fuse that drives me through the day. A tablespoon of pudding is the perfectly titrated dose. It's a fugitive pleasure, swallowing a syllable. That sweet, thick syllable—pudd. The -ing is simply the slide down the throat, the pudd as it bids adieu... The parting of the pudding is all sweet sorrow.
A cowboy's shot of whiskey in a saloon sends the cowboy west, far from Mama, toward trouble, exile, and ultimately into the sunset. But the spoonful of pudding has a completely opposite vector. It sends you back, back east, back to Mama, toward the dawn, all the way to Eden...before the fall of mankind. Prelapsarian paradise at only 17 cents per glob! That's what I'm talking about.
Mark Leyner's most recent novel is The Tetherballs of Bougainville
"This is a beautiful book," the teacher wrote in May 1945. "I am sure it will be something to cherish and pass on to your children. It betrays your artistic nature and your gentle, beautiful character."
But her children did not cherish this book, and I can't resist imagining a novella to explain their heartlessness. Maybe, tragically, she outlived them. Or perhaps they just weren't the kind of people who get sentimental about objects, and when they came across this relic while cleaning out her attic, they thought, "What am I going to do with this old thing?" and tossed it in the "sell" pile.
And sell it they did, to me, for $8.
Sometimes I feel it's the least I can do to honor this stranger, to buy something her own family didn't deem worthy of saving but that she kept, for a reason strong and personal to her. And every time my 5-year-old daughter asks me to pull "Poetry in Costume" off the shelf so she can pore over the wonderful ladies and their lovingly rendered draperies, I'm reminded that the circle of life is also very much a circle of stuff, passing from one gentle, beautiful character to the next.
Gillian Fassel is a writer based in San Antonio.
Saïd Sayrafiezadeh's memoir is When Skateboards Will Be Free.
That you can cook and clean to the radio (and drive and dress and endure dental work) is to me central to the appeal of the dial. It's stimulating...but not coercively so. It's pleasurable, but, like tea to television's coffee, the addiction it incites is a mild one. Radio is not only wildly cheap, it's durably so: The machine I listen to now is not remarkably different from my clock radio of 30 years ago. Let your stereophilic husband have his fancy speakers and his subwoofer. Optimum sound quality is not the point of radio. For me, just listening is—tuning in, wherever I happen to be, to this private conversation that always includes me.
Caitlin Macy's new collection of stories is Spoiled.
Farai Chideya's debut novel is Kiss the Sky.
I travel everywhere with a little notebook, double-stick tape, and a date stamp. That's all you need. A few months ago a giant dragonfly, which had lived for a long time in my studio, dropped down on the table, dead. I was fascinated by its wings; they're so rarely—if ever—not in motion. I taped it into my sketchbook; it resembled a piece of delicate brown lace. I know some people don't trust their ability to express themselves in words, but if they grab something and paste it down in a scrapbook, they can make sense of their life as it changes. The gesture—not just saving something in a box but cementing it into place, saying, "I was here, this happened, here's the date"—that's really what it's all about.
Jessica Helfand is the author of Scrapbooks: An American History.