When I first moved here from Phoenix, I worked in an office in the financial district. My co-workers and I would read each new Williams-Sonoma catalog (we called it "gastroporn") with a delight that made people in other departments prairie dog. I loved the gadgets. Knives in amazing forms, spoons that did everything but knit sweaters, bowls with handles, lids, spouts, feet, eyelashes and Ph.D.s. I loved all of it.
But it's gotten weird. A while ago, I was bitching about how American politics has become a game of edge cases. The Republicans and Democrats are so comfortable with their own middle grounds that they don't feel the need to even discuss them anymore, so instead they pander to the two groups of people that Williams-Sonoma are squarely aimed at: rich people and fringe cases.
Time was you could find all sorts of clever baking dishes with newer and better nonstick stuff on them, or spatulas in better shapes to help you scrape that last little drap of stuff from your bowl with corners. Those things are useful in a variety of situations, even though they're not run-of-the-mill items. They are the equivalent of a politician saying "I'm going to revamp Medicare so that you get more value for the premiums you're paying." It's a known quantity being delivered in a new way.
But here's a thing: grilling planks. These are pieces of wood that you heat, soak in water, and then put your stuff on to grill. Because grilling isn't already enough of a pain in the ass that you have to add five more steps to it. I'm not doubting that there are plenty of people who like to grill. I'm not doubting that there are a few people who like to grill so much that they are willing to devote some effort to it, but the vast majority of people soak a few briquettes in lighter fluid and blacken a few weenies. And anything that means that a piece of food that normally cooks in 15 minutes now takes 45 is not, in my book, an improvement. This is too much like the Iraqi war. There's no earthly need for it, and all it does is suck up time, money and resources to make a few rich people look good.
Here's another one: the tiered cocktail salter. This is in keeping with a trend that makes me deeply uncomfortable: the single-use appliance. How many people have bought bread machines, marinade machines, creme brulee torches, milkshake mixers and after the honeymoon of having the requisite food a few times, it ended up in that cabinet above the refrigerator? Single-use appliances perpetuate the American idea that the world is an endless cornucopia that will yield material wealth in abundance forever, so it's okay to squander it on panini grills and butter slicers. This is a politician saying "No, really, the economy is looking up! Prosperity is right around the corner!" Humph, I say.
Asparagus tools, something called "breading trays" - I'm telling you, the only thing they don't sell is an actual pork barrel.
Williams-Sonoma does still sell basic stuff like pots and pans. But at this point, the basic stuff they sell is really only for the rich. They sell a 68-ounce jug of dish soap for $29. I looked under my sink. I think I paid about five bucks for the 96-ounce jug I've got, and my habit has long been to cut it heavily with water. But that's just me.
They also sell things that would really only be of use to you if you do the sort of entertaining that generally requires staff. You know, the kind of party where you don't necessarily know everyone on the guest list personally, and where the guests are going to be hit up by somebody to make a contribution before the night is over.
The double blender, pictured here filled with two different kinds of margaritas, perfect for keeping your constituents happy and feeling generous. The electric salt and pepper mills because having your butler turning the pepper mill by hand would leave him susceptible to carpal tunnel, and you're probably not giving him health benefits, the huge electric slicer because what a large crowd needs to keep it well-sedated is meat, and sliced meat is easier to eat. And finally, the giant ass soft ice cream maker, because there's no better way to top off a meal of meat than with some butter fat.
Williams-Sonoma used to be the store that held all my hopes and dreams, and I realize now that they've gone the way of much of America. And I've realized that my hopes and dreams now lie in that vast basement floor of that huge store in Chinatown. The one where you can buy actual stuff that you're going to use, and you can get it cheap.