Like many of us sinners, I spend too much time shopping on the internet. My kids are going back to school in a few weeks — actually going, to the actual school building, if the center continues to hold — and my excuse this week for sinking into comfortable escapist consumerism, propped up on many pillows in bed next to my big Vornado fan, is: school supplies.
Who doesn’t get a delicious nostalgic frisson just saying those words aloud: school supplies? A parent fired with leaves-crunching-underfoot September enthusiasm can lose an entire evening browsing name stickers and personalized file folders on Etsy.com — and that’s only the first item on the shopping list. There are fonts to choose, and, if you really get into it, colors to coordinate: How about safety-orange name labels with gray-camo pocket folders, and a pencil case emblazoned with characters from the “Demon Slayer” manga series, son?
(The answer to the rhetorical question at the beginning of that last paragraph is: my children. My children do not get a delicious frisson from the words “school supplies.” My daughter has requested plain-black-plastic three-ring binders from Staples, and my son is mutinous and likely to drop his backpack full of perfectly labeled supplies among the horse chestnuts on the sidewalk and wander off his two-block route to the John M. Marshall Elementary School to do science experiments with hairspray, matches, and empty Gatorade bottles behind Stop and Shop.)
But me, I have always been foolishly susceptible to magazines’ shopping suggestions, riveted to read which juicer or bubble bath was the winner of Good Housekeeping’s trial tests, and completely hypnotized by Oprah’s famous holiday-time list of “Favorite Things.” If Oprah says a certain triple-milled hand soap from Italy with Amalfi lemon scent is the best, stand back! I am going to winkle a way to find a coupon code for 30 percent off and I’m going to buy those hand soaps for someone’s birthday.
As my ex-husband likes to point out, this consumerist addiction is in direct conflict with one of my other favorite things, the Rev. Billy and his Church of Stop Shopping. Have you heard the good news? Reverend Billy and his Stop-Shopping Choir are a band of roving activists and performance artists who proselytize on behalf of Mother Earth, to peaceably and creatively combat the corporate monoculture that is bringing so many species and cultures to extinction. (You can find Reverend Billy’s sermons, with the choir singing apocalyptic hymns such as “It’s the End of the World” and W.B. Yeats’s “The Second Coming” on Apple Podcasts.)
Well, as the Rev. Billy says in regard to shopping: We are all sinners. In an attempt to reconcile the demands of the little red shopping devil on my right shoulder (who just now is whispering in my ear that I should browse the internet for “Princess Victoria Louise” poppy seeds for October sowing) with those of the winged Earth angel on my left, here is a short list of My Favorite Things That Cannot Be Shipped by UPS.
Number one on the list this August are ice cubes. An excessive amount of crushed ice (or ice cubes) in any drink is summer’s best luxury. Excessive ice is very American — I once read an article about how the ice industry was born in New England, when the Tudor Ice Company hacked blocks out of frozen Walden Pond, to the disgust of that hypocrite Henry David Thoreau — and on this point, score one for America. Europeans are wrong when they suavely slip a single cube of ice into a tall glass of lemonade, to let it melt. What’s the point of one ice cube?
Number two is a British television program called “Detectorists” that you really should watch. Yes, yes, you have to have a subscription — Amazon Prime or Acorn TV — to view it, but if you have one of those already it’s kinda sorta free. “Detectorists” is a comedy about guys who go around the English countryside with metal detectors, hoping to unearth a Bronze Age hoard, starring Toby Jones, Mackenzie Crook, and an enchanting cast of magpies and meadow birds. It will make you happy and lull you into a state of pre-pandemic calm. The bonus is the fantastic, romantic theme song, performed by the towheaded actor Johnny Flynn, which you will want to download and play again and again.
Number three: the actor Johnny Flynn. Watch “Detectorists,” become infatuated with his theme song, then go to YouTube to watch Johnny Flynn sing it with his acoustic guitar and tattered hand-knit sweater, then wallow in a month-long Johnny-Flynn-athon when everyone else in the house is sleeping. Mr. Flynn is a killer heartthrob for Anglophiles like me. If you were a sucker for Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy or Jeremy Northam in “The Winslow Boy,” I direct your attention to Johnny Flynn as Dobbin in the 2016 BBC mini-series adaptation of “Vanity Fair.”
Number four: white corn from the Pike Farms farm stand on Sagg Main Street in Sagaponack. I know! I’m shopping again. But we all have to eat. White corn is so far superior to bicolor corn that no one should be allowed to argue about it. As the Stop Shopping Choir sings, there are “only so many beautiful days left on Earth” and we should spend as many of them as we can eating fresh white corn.
Number five: Rufus Sewell, the actor, in Agatha Christie’s “Pale Horse,” now streaming. Not the murder mystery “Pale Horse” itself — which I enjoyed, and who cares? — but Rufus Sewell. What a face! Rufus Sewell is aging better than any actor since Paul Newman. Check him out. You’re welcome.
Six. The amazingly round tree at the top of Mill Hill, on the East Hampton Village Green — you know, just before Town Pond and in front of the South End Burying Ground. Right now, my favorite tree’s leaves are a sort of plum-red color. Coming up or down Main Street, I like to admire its roundness as I approach. It’s the perfect tree. (In fact, I almost called this column “The Round Tree” instead of “Shipwreck Rose,” because it seems to me there is something symbolic in the way thousands of individual leaves come together to create a wholeness, as starlings flock to create such beautiful shapes in the sky, never colliding.)
Seven. A small publishing company and quarterly literary journal called Slightly Foxed, run from a house at 53 Hoxton Square, Hackney, London. Slightly Foxed has a podcast, too, in which authors sit around a kitchen table and talk soothingly about their favorite old books, while dogs and carpenters come and go and doorbells randomly ring. If you like softly intellectual conversation about, say, out-of-print memoirs of farming in the 1920s or what it was like to trek on a camel while wearing Edwardian skirts and stays, this is the podcast for you. The way the Slightly Foxed people talk, it’s almost like the world hasn’t gone stark, raving mad.
Eight. Swimming at Northwest Harbor of an evening, after work, when there’s a breeze from the south to keep the horrible horse flies at bay, as there often is in summer. The Rev. Billy reports that the Earth is undergoing a phenomenon called “terrestrial stilling,” in which near-surface, mid-latitude, inland wind speeds appear to have decreased by 20 percent since the 1970s. Stilling! The stilling of the wind. Think of it. Breezy bay swims — get ’em while you can.