Dear everyone,

Tomorrow my little nonprofit will be putting on a community forum to ask people what they hope to see in the community 10 years from now. Already some rumors are swirling around about an epic power play, about our organization trying to grab leadership. I might be called a communist, and I’m sure someone might try to hit me with a chair. Community work is dangerous. At a similar forum in Vancouver, Washington months ago, an elder threw a chair at a wall and stormed off. He was aiming at the facilitator. Fortunately, he forgot his bifocals.

But we are trying to be sensitive. The Vietnamese elders have been traumatized by war and loss of home and power. I would throw a chair, too, in that situation, maybe even a patio set. I think about what they must be feeling, nearing 70 or 80, having been respected generals commanding thousands of soldiers, and then some sexy vegan whippersnapper comes along and holds a community forum.

With this house hunting adventure, I’ve started thinking about how short life is, and what it means to be alive. Sure, there’s friendship and love and meaningful work and family and stuff like that. But honestly, life is also about enjoying the little material things that make you happy, such as organic ramen that costs $1.29 a package, or $20 for a pound of morel mushrooms, or $16 to see a movie in 3D.

A couple of years ago, Jameelah and I discovered truffles, which are mushrooms so rare that they can fetch thousands of dollars a pound. $2400 for a pound of mushrooms? That’s ridiculous. We found a jar of salt infused with black truffles. It was $25 for a jar the size of half a yogurt container. At that price, I was hoping the salt would include some crushed Swarovski crystals mixed in. Back in those days, I was an Americorps member trying to make ends meet, and Jameelah didn’t make much more, so we were torn about spending $50 on frivolities.

But are these things frivolous? What determines what is frivolous? My father would definitely have called us idiots for spending $25 on salt. But even in the dead of winter, he still keeps the heat turned down to save money, and none of us wants to visit because it’s so cold and uncomfortable (he also uses only a couple of long florescent light bulbs, to save on electricity, which makes everyone look ghastly pale).

We used the truffle salt and oil on everything, from popcorn to soup to edamame. We made it last, and it was amazing how much and how long we enjoyed these things. One time, we went to Bainbridge Island and discovered this wine made from a grape that was infected with a type of mold. It made the wine super sweet and fragrant, what you would imagine ancient Greek gods to drink as their ambrosia. It was $40 for a small bottle. We bought that too, and kept it a year before we would open it.

Of course, having been poor before, I understand why dad tries to save on money. One day, my little brother emailed me while I was away in college: “Huy, mom bought teeth whitener.” We were happy. It meant that they were starting to not be worried so much about money.

Recently, I read, scientists discovered the only known immortal animal, a type of tiny jellyfish that, for its species’s survival, sometimes can change its cells and revert back to being a baby jellyfish, and start its life over and can repeat this as often as necessary. We can’t do that yet, so ironically, we sometimes restrict our life so that we can extend our lives. I’ve learned these habits from my parents. For years I couldn’t enjoy soy yogurt. They’re $1.09 per cup, which is unfair, compared to about 50 cents for regular yogurt, and I couldn’t justify the cost. But now, eh, life is short, so I literally budget $35 a month for soy yogurt. Gourmet chocolates cost $2 to $10 per bar. I still can’t get myself to buy the $10 bar, but $4 every once in a while is OK.

Until we humans can isolate the genes that make that species of jellyfish immortal, we should try to enjoy life: travel, eat out once a while, buy a piece of art, throw a chair during a community forum. Of course, just because we should enjoy the finer things in life, doesn’t mean that we should be idiotic about it. The key is moderation. And hiding credit card statements.

Here’s my personal list of justifiable indulgences: wild mushrooms (especially chanterelles and morels), Tofurky jerky, blueberries, sundried tomatoes, artichokes, olives (the ones that are $9 bucks a pound, not the canned ones), truffle oil, truffle salt, olive oil, really crispy apples, kitchen gadgets, small electronic stuff, movies in theater, and video games that I can enjoy with Jameelah. These are things that make life worth living for me (besides love, family, writing, making fun of the Tea Party, etc.)

Let me know what yours are.

If I survive the forum tomorrow, I think I’ll go buy another $40 bottle of moldy grape wine.

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