On Dissipation.


One of SueG’s core principles was that “dissipation” was to be avoided at all costs. The term seems quaint today. We don’t have much of a collective concept now of promoting discipline, assuming responsibility, avoiding excess, actively seeking moderation if not austerity.

One of her worst insults was “That’s dissipated,” which basically meant weak, sloppy and immoral.

Dissipation lurked everywhere in the corners of SueG’s world when I was a child.  How much she would hate its recent escalation. Dissipation was anything that my mother determined – in her instant and infallible judgment – to be wasteful and without redeeming quality. “Dissipation” ranged from calling in sick to work, snacking in between meals and being hungover to overspending, malingering, coddling and “letting oneself go.” (Conversely, overdrinking and overeating could be indulged for a special occasion, just not their after effects.)

Dissipation was buying a can of soda while doing errands. In fact, a request to buy a can of soda (the bottled water mania hit after my childhood) while doing errands was dissipation enough, since the soda was never going to materialize. When there was no water fountain – and SueG did love a water fountain – ever practical, she would remove the plastic wrap from her package of Larks, fill it with water from the sink of a public bathroom and offer it to my sister or me for a drink. The floating particles of tobacco – quite poisonous, I later discovered – did nothing to make this option more palatable.

I developed in childhood a habit of immediately dispatching my disposable cash the moment I had it in hand. This habit, sadly, carried on into my young adulthood and has if anything gotten worse the older I have gotten. If I had only listened to SueG’s dark warnings about the evil that befalls anyone who “spends money like water” (an assessment leveled at me dozens of times, accurately) I would be much better for it.

That was true for most of SueG’s injunctions and pronouncements. She was very often politically incorrect and could be quite unfair and, much more rarely, wrong. But most of her prejudices hold up over time. People would in fact be better off if they steered clear of debt, buying bottled water for daily use and overeating. Those are hard to argue. The national character long ago misplaced its element of steel. But SueG did not lose hers,  had it right up to the day she died, without fear, in July 2006.


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