Sunday, November 24, 2002

The no-frill life

Putting the extras on hold


We have not lost the ability to distinguish our needs from our greeds, have we? The essentials from the extras. The bČarnaise on the steak. The cherry on top of the sundae. Not to mention cup-holders in the minivan, leather in the SUV. The Jacuzzi in the McMansion.

We've heard about budgets, haven't we? I don't know about yours, but my father's lectures featured phrases such as "money doesn't grow on trees" and "you can't get blood from a turnip" and the ever-popular "we just can't afford it."

This was before Visa and MasterCard and what we delicately call "deficit spending."

Concrete art

I'm as bad as the next person and probably worse than the person next to him. I used to complain about airline food. Until they stopped serving it. Then I complained about their peanuts. Now I would consider myself lucky to find a peanut in the "snack" they hand out from the formerly complimentary drink cart. (I think it's Meow Mix, but I can't be sure.)

Anyway, now I hope they will get me where I want to go and that my luggage will be in the same hemisphere. In other words, if they supply the basic service, I can do without the mystery meat and potato-like substance.

Books, of course, are not a frill. Nor is art. They are essential to our culture, if not our very souls. But they are not free and, increasingly, they are not cheap.

In a memo to the Cincinnati Park Board, Director Willie Carden recommended that a $200,000 Crystalline Tower park project be scrapped and the money used to offset construction overruns, including cracked concrete. A member of the art selection committee protested the holdup based on "something as mundane as concrete."

I guess the tower will be situated on a cloud.

"I have a park to build," Mr. Carden said at a meeting Thursday when he tabled for 90 days any decision on the tower for the Theodore M. Berry International Friendship Park.

An 83-foot titanium sculpture might be a dramatic addition, but isn't the park the important thing? The basic. The meat and potatoes. Besides, if things are tight, what's wrong with a big tree? We could think of it as a one-artist exhibit, God being the artist.

The venue seems right.

Then there is the matter of five library branches nearly extinguished by the board of the Public Library of Cincinnati & Hamilton County. It was not because they do not want people to have easy access to books.

The library is strapped.

After public outcry, the board voted to save the branches and cut hours instead. Citizens now are disgruntled with Sunday closings of all 41 branches and abbreviated hours at the main branch. Library spokeswomen Amy Bannister sighs. "We had to save money somewhere."

We are in a war, aren't we? And enduring a market correction or downturn or whatever it's called when people lose their retirement funds and their jobs.

So, if we're lucky enough to get a sundae maybe we can live without the cherry on top. At least for a while.

E-mail or phone 768-8393.

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