Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

9 Tammuz 5766 - July 5, 2006 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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Shema Yisrael Torah Network











Home and Family

A Tangled Mess
by Bayla Gimmel

Most knitters dislike the final stage of the process, which is appropriately called "finishing." For example, a typical baby blanket pattern calls for 14 or 15 ounces of yarn, and the yarn comes in 3 ounce skeins. Each time you add a new skein of yarn to your project, you incorporate two loose strands of yarn: the last few inches of yarn from the old package and the first few inches of the new one. After the knitting stage is complete, you have to work all the loose strands into the fabric. Finishing is tedious, a bit time consuming and rather boring.

With this in mind, you will understand why I eagerly purchased a new type of yarn, which comes in huge one-pound skeins. The ad for the new yarn announced the news that one could now knit an entire project with one skein and eliminate the finishing hassle. That was too good to pass up.

Yarn pulls out from the center of the skein so you really don't see what is happening inside. When I was at the halfway point in knitting the blanket, an annoying thing happened. The yarn started coming out of the skein in clumps rather than a single strand, and the clumps were getting quite tangled in the process. I was spending a good deal of time turning and twisting my work to straighten out the many tangles and avoid the formation of knots.

In desperation, I decided to stop work, pull out the very end of the skein and start rolling it into a ball. This was easier said than done. It took well over an hour to straighten the yarn and wind it up. What a frustrating mess. Each time I turned the piece to avoid one potential tangle, it kinked up somewhere else. Had I used five separate 3 ounce skeins as usual, the finishing process would have taken perhaps 45 minutes. My no-finishing wonder yarn managed to cost me more than twice that time!

It was quite a relief to extricate myself from the whole mess. Now that the blanket is almost completed, I can laugh about my error in judgment. However, I know many people who have succumbed to a different lure and are now tangled up in something that is much harder to solve.

The problem starts innocuously. A kollel couple sits down one evening late in June to make plans for the upcoming school summer vacation. They start reminiscing about their own childhood vacations, when they would pile into their respective family station wagons, with a tent and sleeping bags tied onto the roof, a cooler full of hot dogs and other goodies underfoot and off they would go to a scenic state park for a camping experience.

Abba and Ima conveniently do not recall a baby sister getting car sick or each of the older children asking about every five minutes when they were going to get there. Nor do they remember everyone frantically searching both sides of the highway for signs of the closest rest stop as the recently trained toddler gives everyone a massive headache by howling - - non-stop — "I've got to make."

Selective amnesia has also erased the recollection of the army of ants at the picnic site and the zillions of mosquito bites that they accumulated during the long nights in the great outdoors. With the passage of a dozen or more years, those summers have become nothing short of idyllic.

Now they decide together that they want to give their children a wonderful summer camping trip. However, they are missing one essential ingredient. They don't have a car. "Not to worry," declares Abba, "We can rent one."

The next day, Abba spends his lunch break making calls and finds out that renting a car is mighty expensive. If this whole adventure had been based on clear thinking, that would have been the end of the story. But, unfortunately, logic has not entered the scenario from the very beginning and it certainly isn't making its appearance now.

Our intrepid vacation planners make a calculation. If they put together the amount of money that it would cost to rent a car for just five summer camping trips, they can buy a car of their own. This is as ridiculous as my decision to buy the giant skein of yarn, and also where another tangled mess begins.

People who are selling a good, reliable car, either because they are moving or because they now need a different type of vehicle (van, pickup truck, etc), quite understandably expect to get a large amount of money for the car. Therefore, if you see a car for sale that is priced at the figure in this story, 5 times a two week summer rental fee — which comes out to 2 or 3 thousand dollars — you know that this car falls into one of three categories.

It might be a lemon, which means it was troublesome from day one, or it might be getting old and in need of frequent costly repairs or it may have been involved in a serious accident and isn't structurally safe.

No kollel family would dream about buying a yacht or a private plane. They would tell you, "Of course not. Those are playthings for the rich and famous." I have news for you. For people who are just making it to the end of the month on a stretched budget, car ownership should remain as remote as buying a Lear Jet.

Cars do not run without a constant supply of gasoline, which is extremely expensive. A car also needs minimum maintenance consisting of oil changes, basic tests and adjustments. There are things which have to be replaced at routine intervals, such as oil filters, batteries, shock absorbers, spark plugs and mufflers.

Even if you are good with a wrench and particularly handy at automotive diagnosis and repair, you can't make replacement parts. They still have to be bought. Other car related items that cost money are insurance, license fees and emission control certifications. Owning a car is like having a guest at your table who consumes a lot more than his share of the family's food.

There is another important thing to consider. This whole scenario started with a pipedream of piling a family into a station wagon or car. Those days are gone forever. The old bench style front seat that used to hold three adults has been replaced by two front buckets seats that accommodate exactly two passengers.

The way a whole bunch of children used to fit into the old family buggy was by putting one row of kids on the seat and another on their laps. Today, babies and toddlers aren't allowed to sit on laps. By law, each child under a certain weight now needs a special car seat that takes up at least a third of a car's back seat. To further complicate the picture, every passenger — including children — must have a seat belt.

How many people can fit into today's average car? Five. Therefore, most kollel families are not really talking about buying a car. They are talking about a van. And if you think a car guzzles gas, try going somewhere in a van.

I really got upset when I was trying to free my knitting project from the knots and tangles that threatened to ruin it. And that was just for one stressful afternoon!

Imagine someone who is just able to balance his family's budget for food, housing, clothing and tuition, and all of a sudden he sees himself entering the down, down, down debt spiral as more and more of his dollars, shekels or pounds are going to fuel and maintain a car or van.

That is really a tangled mess!


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