Eternity or the Franklin Stove?*

I do the laundry at my house.

OK, let me refine that: I take the laundry from my house, once a week, down to the local laundromat, and do it there. Three to six washer loads, two to four dryer loads, bring it home, fold it and put it away. Real men are not embarrassed to admit stuff like this. I do a damned fine job of it, too, producing visibly whiter whites, brighter brights and sharper creases. Because I have moved around a lot, and never really got set up with a washer and dryer, I’ve been doing it this way for most of my life.

For about as many years, I’ve been playing guitar in rock bands. At first I had a guitar bought at Sears, a Silvertone. Later I had a Harmony thin hollow body two-pickup single cutaway electric, shiny black and looking from a distance quite a bit like George Harrison’s Gretsch Country Gentleman (the only guitar I’ve ever seen with button upholstery on the back).

In San Francisco I started a band called The Hots, with a couple of guys from New York named Thom and Pfeffer. They had packed up and driven their ’67 Mustang to California, where they found that nothing was as good as it had been in New York, and the stores weren’t open as late, either, goddamnit. Still, they had come to town hoping to catch a little of that San Francisco Airplane-Dead-Quicksilver-Santana mojo, so they stayed and we played.

I thought things were going pretty well, but one day they sat me down to tell me that I needed a better instrument. They said I didn’t seem to take pride in my guitar, the way musicians in New York did. They said my guitar didn’t sound right, didn’t look right, that it was shabby, and too cheap. Since they wouldn’t shut up (New Yorkers, remember?) and since we were going to be big stars and have lots of money, I decided to humor them, and that’s when I made the first truly killer deal of my young life.

I went to a hock shop on 3rd Street, just below Market, and bought a 1961 Cherry Wood Gibson ES-355, with a hard shell case, for $275. I’ll wait while you look on eBay to find out what that guitar is worth today.

OK, got it? No, it’s not for sale. $275 was a lot of money to me in those days. I had to borrow some of it and I really sweated the purchase. But once I had that guitar in my possession, once I played it in the band, stroked it and fingered it and caressed it, once Thom and Pfeffer got a load of it, I was so high that I didn’t need to smoke anything for a month, and I dreamed about that guitar for the whole month, played it every waking moment, polished it every day.

Over the ensuing decades I’ve played that guitar and others on a thousand bandstands from cheesy to regal. I became a journeyman player, but even though I never got to be a rich rock star I never regretted the money I spent on the 355, or the J160, the Strat or the Blackjack.

Lately I’ve been thinking I need a new guitar, and the one that’s calling my name is the Fender Telecaster. I’ve looked at them online, and discovered a bewildering array of sub-models: the Standard, the American Standard, the Deluxe, the Baja, the Highway 1, the Classic ’72, the Vintage Hot Rod ’52, the Thinline… well, the list goes on for 9 pages on the Musician’s Friend web site, with ten entries per page.

But I went to a store that had a bunch of them, and I played them all, compared the sound and the playability, sorted through the various features and I picked one. I picked one, but I didn’t buy it, and now I can’t stop thinking about it. With this guitar, I imagine, my life will change. I will find The Lost Chord, and when I play, the angels will sing! I wake from a sound sleep with the Tele twang ringing in the room, the fretboard under my fingers, and I think maybe today I’ll go back to the store and bring that baby home.

But I hear this other voice in my head, a practical voice, and this other voice is making a sensible suggestion:Â Instead of another guitar, when you already have so many, it says, why not get something for the home, something you can really use, something you don’t already have? Why not buy a washer and dryer?

I have to admit that there is logic to this idea. I spend two hours doing the laundry every week, and that time is devoted entirely to the mundane task of getting our clothes ready to wear for the next week, over and over, every week. Nothing new is produced, and nothing permanent. The next week, I have to do it all over again. If I had my own mini-laundry at the house, I could do a load of laundry whenever one was needed. I could do small loads, hot loads, delicate loads, using settings that don’t even exist on commercial washers. Of course I couldn’t do six loads all at the same time, but this inefficiency would be balanced by the convenience and efficiency of being able to wash some stuff whenever. While the machine was doing its thing, I could be in the home studio, playing one of the guitars I already own, writing new songs, creating my Art. And let’s not forget about all those quarters – it’s costing 400 bucks a year in quarters to do things the way I’ve been doing them, so a washer and dryer would pay for themselves eventually (you could make a similar argument for the Telecaster, but it would really be a stretch).

Why does life have to be cluttered with these compromises? I can hear both of these voices, both of their arguments, clearly. They both make sense to me. One tugs my heart, one appeals to my brain. Is one more important, more valid than the other? Ben Franklin’s handy cast-iron indoor fireplace (the Franklin stove) brought modern technology to bear on an enduring problem of life in much the same way a washer-dryer would address my own situation, but what have we lost because of it? While Ben worked on his invention and all his other devices (bi-focals, mousetraps, etc.), he may have solved practical problems and made life easier for us all, but he wasn’t putting his great mind to work on the Eternal Questions (who are we? why are we here?). There’s no doubt now that humanity has decided to rely on technology and engineering, but are we really better off with homes that are comfortably heated at all times? What if there were more philosophers, painters and songwriters, and fewer answering machines and 500-horsepower sports cars? Are we in balance with our planet, with our nature?

In short, which fork in the road do I take now?



or the Franklin stove?

Franklin Stove


*Title lifted verbatim from an essay in a textbook collection I read in high school. Can’t remember the name of the book or who wrote the essay. Help me if you can.

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18 Replies to “Eternity or the Franklin Stove?*”

  1. Since it’s not my life, I want you to buy the guitar so that I can live in a world where people buy guitars over washer-dryers, and live each day, and think about Eternity.

    But if it was me, I would probably be buying the w/d, except that I would already have a w/d and no guitars (or whatever else would substitute in, maybe cool original artwork).

  2. Get the guitar. Tools of your trade outweigh a w/d that will only sit and slowly self destruct with time.

    Then again, having recently bought replacement w/d – I advise, get the simplest, fewest button w/d possible and you will save a bundle – plus the cheap ones wash clothes just as clean as the expensive ones. Ditto the dryer.

    A guitar that speaks to you is priceless and clean socks are still just socks.

  3. The Telecaster wouldn’t earn any extra money or save it, either. The appliances would eventually save you the money needed for the guitar, wouldn’t it? I’d love for you to be a crazy fuck while I just watch, but it sounds like doing the laundry is getting pretty tedious after so many years. Wouldn’t it be nice to own your own? I’ve done it both ways, and it is superior to have those machines in your own home!

  4. Washer/dryer all the way.

    I understand the pull of a guitar (let’s not forget that I got Chuck a new bass for his birthday one year; yes, I let him pick it out), but you already have some great guitars. You could argue that the Gibson did, in real ways, change your life, but the Fender will not, cannot, change your life in anything like the way the Gibson did–in part BECAUSE the Gibson did. The Gibson took you to a new place; the Fender will only enable you to enjoy that place in a (possibly) new/different way. That’s not a bad thing, mind you, but to be able to do laundry whenever you want? Without having to make a special trip and sit there and do just that? Man, THAT could change your life. I have laundry machines in my building and I still fantasize about having my own washer & dryer; I chose the building I did in large part because the washer & dryer are accessible indoors and I don’t have to trudge down icy outside stairs in the middle of February to do my laundry.

    Not that I’ve thought about this at all . . .

  5. Oh, man. Buy the guitar. Soothe your soul, spread it with balm, find your bliss as you play that beautiful instrument. The washer and dryer are conveniences only, and they won’t necessarily save you a thin dime. $400 a year in quarters isn’t much, considering the W&D would cost you well over $1000 and then, there’s the monthly energy costs of running those machines. The dryer is particularly expensive. You’d probably spend $400 a year, at least, in increased utilities.

    Buy the guitar, Larry. Consider the trip to the laundromat just a small price to pay. Besides, that’s two hours free to read a good book, right?

  6. All this time you’re going to the laudromat and we’re not getting to read great laundromat posts??!!

    I say buy the guitar and keep going to the laundromat.

    Laundromats are cool.

    And so are new guitars.

  7. Some of you have not been clear in your choice, but among those who have, it’s Franklin Stove-3, Eternity-3.

    The votes for Eternity are poetic and irrational, the votes for the Franklin Stove make perfect passionate sense. Then there is kStyle, ever-creative, who has suggested a way to have it all, even if it means a little delayed gratification; and Kathleen, who implies that Eternity might be a bit frivolous for her, but prefers to live in a world of Eternal Frivolity — as long as she has good appliances.

    I confess I still haven’t made up my mind, and the fifty-fifty nature of your responses has not helped. Every recording I hear now was made with a Telecaster. Lately I’ve been listening to Mudcrutch. That’s a Tele you hear. Sweet! But if I had an extra couple of hours a week to practice instead of going to the laundromat, maybe I could play that good, too. But I wouldn’t have a Tele. You see my problem?

    So I’m still looking for a sign, or a perfect argument for one way or the other: Eternity or The Franklin Stove. In the mean time, you’re right, Blue Girl: I really should write something about the laundromat.

  8. Maslow, baby.

    Remember the hierarchy of needs?

    Because it’s the mundane things that can (but not necessarily do) make it possible for us to contemplate the infinite/eternity. The mundane things still have to be done; the secret is to minimize the hassle and time and effort involved in doing them, which is a secret not everyone learns. That is, many people take the new technology and expand their expectations as well (housework is actually a stunning example of this, and I can point you to several fine histories about it–as the machinery became available, standards of cleanliness went up, too, and the work fell more exclusively to woman rather than being shared around the household).

    If I had a washer/dryer in my apartment, I would also buy a couple of extra laundry baskets, and when one got full, I’d go ahead and wash that load, while I did something else. Now, I end up having to collect quarters and go downstairs a few times and so on; I don’t know what I’d do if I had to go to the laundromat, as I don’t have a car and it SNOWS here.

    Seriously, I could write much more about this, but will stop now.

  9. How ’bout this:

    Many, many years into the future, you are lying on your death bed. And this old choice of yours pops into your mind. And you remember what you chose.

    Do you then smile? Or frown?

  10. Narya – I’m not sure what level of need “convenient laundering” comes in at, but I take your point. I am beginning to understand my dilemma, however, more as a product of the old-fashioned puritanical Work vs. Fun framework. It’s not a precise fit, but it feels as if the new guitar is actually one of my physiological needs, at least as important as “Esteem.” I may be fooling myself, but I’ve gotten along without the appliances in question for so long that I don’t have a clear picture of how much better my life could be if I owned them.

    Blue Girl – Your question touches the shocking third rail of Baby Boomerdom in the 21st Century. To be blunt, I don’t know just how near my death bed is. Given that uncertainty, what’s the correct path? Should I make sure the sheets are clean, or party like it’s 1969?

  11. Well, look at it this way: if you get the washer & dryer AND you stop making the damned bed, you’ll have more time to actually PLAY the guitar!

  12. To be blunt, I don’t know just how near my death bed is.

    Well. No one does, Mr. Jones. The point is — is that one should have as few regrets as possible. So, make your decision with that thought in mind.

    You know the old saying…something like, No one ever says on their deathbed….”I wish I would’ve stayed at the office more.”

    Will you be lying there thinking….I wish I would’ve bought that washer and dryer….” ??

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