January 7, 2009

Homegrown’s all right with me

Now that your New Year’s resolution to give up butter, tobacco and/or interstate truck-stop pornography is but a wistful pipedream, perhaps it’s time to strive for something attainable, such as giving up your addiction to crap.

Like many Americans, my holiday was an obscene orgy of gift giving that left me deeply ashamed and eager to repeat it again as soon as possible. But there’s no time like a new year to make an effort to reject consumerism.

At Christmas, my family made an honest attempt to substitute homemade gifts for the usual store-bought variety. Setting aside for a moment the glory and wonder of the wicked-cool Santa Claus Pez dispenser I found in my stocking, my favorite Christmas gifts were homegrown. For example, knowing I love crossword puzzles, my daughter Laura made me one partially comprised of my own goofy puns. I will cherish it forever.

Mom gave me a photo album full of dozens of old family pictures, including shots of my great grandparents, photos of my own children and a photo of my terrified self at 2 years of age, looking at the camera as if I were peering frightfully into the future reign of Donald Rumsfeld.

Another classic photo features my then-teenage sister (and LEO Weekly book editor) Mary wearing a bikini and posing on a diving board at a hotel swimming pool during a family vacation. (I will be offering copies for sale on Craigslist — stay tuned for details.)

In another startling shot, I’m posing for the camera on the occasion of my First Communion, with my prayer book pinched between my praying hands. The photo will be perfect for the cover of my upcoming memoir, “Mrs. Welp, I’m Afraid Something Has Gone Horribly Wrong.”

My sweetheart gave me another fabulous present when she took our clan to Mammoth Cave National Park for a day of hiking. One of Kentucky’s many homegrown wonders, the aboveground trails at Mammoth Cave are every bit as spectacular as the cave underneath. From the abandoned riverboat landing (which apparently fell victim to the 19th century’s 86Riverboats progressive-transportation movement) to the dramatic spot where the underground River Styx emerges from the cave below, the park is an excellent place to get limestoned.

These experiences reminded me of the Buddhist maxim that attachment to material goods leads to spiritual failure. So, with all due apologies to President-elect Obama and his plans for growth through economic stimulation, my New Year’s resolution is to say “no” to stuff. I remember too clearly being told by (omigod can he still be) the current president that we could shop our way out of misery, and I’m not buying it. Wanton consumerism is the problem, not the solution.

But of course I have to live in this world, which means I won’t be killing my own hasenpfeffer and fashioning iPods out of coconuts, so there will have to be some consumption. And when it’s impossible to forgo stuff altogether, my second New Year’s resolution is to double up on my efforts to keep Louisville weird by buying local.

Because I grew up in a retail family, keeping weird comes naturally to me. I can still remember how pissed my dad was when Service Merchandise opened its doors and began selling discounted googaws, which he feared would run him out of business. It didn’t exactly do that, but the trail of despair that the ensuing big boxes have inflicted on America is impossible to ignore. And, while you can be too rich (e.g., T. Boone Pickens) and too thin (the Olsens), you can never be too weird.

According to KeepLouisvilleWeird.com, $45 of every $100 you spend locally stays in the community, compared with $13 when you buy from a chain. And, of course, local businesses have more character and more flair than chain stores.

But most important of all, local is where you’ll find the love.

Still, it’s not always easy. During our recent trip down I-65, we were forced to choose between Cracker Barrel and Bob Evans to feed our hungry brood, which was a reminder that keeping weird isn’t always possible if you want to also avoid starvation. (Or worse, grumpy kids.) This is not to disparage America’s restaurant chains, many of which produce fare so saltylicious that it’s almost impossible to tell that their teenage line cooks expectorate on every morsel before plating it up. But it’s a good reminder that homegrown is the way it should be.