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Choosing to Stop Choosing

By Bob Woodiwiss · April 5th, 2001 · Pseudoquasiesque

I freely admit I'm no genius. That fact has been firmly established, over time, by, among other things, educators, standardized tests, my steadfast faith in the predictions of television meteorologists and my failure to attract an archenemy.

But I'm no idiot, either. Of that, my friends, you can rest assuaged.

So imagine my chagrin when, last week, I had to face the reality that I'm inadequately equipped -- acumen- and wisdom-wise -- to buy a set of cookware. What's worse, this is only the latest example of my growing incompetence at consumerism. In addition to pots and pans, I also no longer have the stamina or the intellectual wherewithal to buy computer hardware, computer software, electronics, major appliances, car tires, bedding or any athletic shoe that might actually be used for an athletic activity. Pizza is on the bubble.

What's behind this slowdown in my personal economy? I can tell you in a single word: Choices. Options. Alternatives.

I'm in the Housewares department of a major national retailer, i.e., a chain store. (How I wound up shopping at this particular place isn't important; suffice it to say, I'd assessed and rank-ordered all the pertinent retailer information available to me via catalogs, the internet, mass media advertising and third-party editorial endorsements, taking into consideration details such as breadth of selection, pricing policy, location/s, [including bricks and mortar versus e-tailers], sales associate knowledge, service after the sale, as well as political/social factors [sale of products manufactured in sweatshop, prison or slave conditions; employee diversity; environmental impact/contribution to suburban sprawl; active boycotts; predatory marketing practices; particularly objectionable owner/s and/or lobbying efforts; etc.] and, after several months, randomly picked this place.) My mission: to purchase a full set of evenly heating, lifetime-lasting cookware to replace the stained and streaked, lost-lidded, loose-handled, Teflon-denuded odds-and-ends with which I currently burn my meals.

I've done a little research -- read some product reviews, talked to some culinarily-inclined friends -- and I'm relatively confident an up-close, hands-on look and feel will allow me to quickly pull the trigger on this piece of domestic business. I begin the look/feel.

There's non-stick and stick resistant. There's commercial and professional quality. I can buy anodized aluminum, hard-anodized aluminum, stainless steel-clad aluminum, stainless steel-clad copper, all stainless steel or all copper. Mirror, brushed or black finish. Any fool, the salesperson seems to indicate, could discern the advantages of each.

Some brands or certain lines within brands have clear lids, some have opaque. Handles come in all-metal, all-metal with heat diffusion design, insulated and wood-sheathed, plus a choice of shapes, including flat, round or molded hand grip. Hmm.

I'm looking for a full set and notice one manufacturer has some package deals: 8-pieces plus a free omelet pan (a $50 value); a 10-piece on close-out ($90 off); and an 11-piece on close-out ($75 off) with a free 1-quart saucepan (a $60 value) but $40 over my budget. The 8-piece has a 14-quart stockpot I'll never use; the 10-piece has three pieces of the same circumference meaning they share a single lid and, therefore, preclude my ability to "cover and simmer" with all three simultaneously; and the 11-piece, unlike the 8- and 10-, is commercial grade (better) rather than professional (not bad, but not as good, either). Other brands have similar, though most assuredly not identical, offers.

And, people, I'm simplifying here.

But this is how it is now. An endless selection of any given product. Each with something extra here, something missing there. Upsides and downsides. Trade-offs and intangibles. "Non-comparable comparables" is how I think of them. The upshot being my old friend and faithful companion, "buyer's remorse," has now been replaced by "buyer's paralysis."

Yes, it seems that in corporate America's expanding effort to cover all the bases, cater to all the niches, touch every price point, upgrade and update products while up-selling and sticking-up purchasers, I no longer have the aplomb to ride-ride-ride the wild surfeit. Instead, I'm drowning in it.

So I'm without cookware. Yet I still need to eat. But rather than try to figure out whether to order from the place offering the two three-item medium pizzas for $12.99 or the one offering the unlimited items large pizza with a free two-liter Pepsi for $14.99 or the one that'll deliver a large two-topping pizza plus 10 hot wings to my door for $13.99 or the six other offers magneted to my refrigerator, I think I'll have a PB&J.

Chocolate-stripe PB.

And seedless raspberry J.

On low-cal sourdough rye. ©



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