There’s an infantile instinct which I’ve never been able to shake. I can remember very distinctly, and therefore probably erroneously, its earliest manifestation. I remember watching the most popular boy in the 5th grade at Washington Street School riding his bike with Lynn (Linda?) D’Agostino on the handlebars up Tiffany Street. Lynn (Lisa?) said hello to me. Really, she did. I knew I had no chance with her; Barry Kingston was already a babe magnet, even before his band had a video on MTV or anything, and I was, well, a kid who was going to grow up to write a blog on urban issues in declining Rust Belt cities.
Later on that day, or a month later or something, the topic of Barry Kingston came up and my next door neighbor said that she didn’t like him. Didn’t like him? “You don’t get to ‘not like him’.”
It all gets really twisted and contorted in here, so let me give a different example of this infantile instinct from when I was in my early 20’s:
In the late 80’s things in Utah were pretty bleak. It was hard to find a job in Provo that would help pay for my schooling at BYU. I drove in to Salt Lake City every morning to work as an “independent contractor” (read: scam) cleaning movie theaters. It paid very little, had no benefits, and I had to pay the social security taxes as employer and employee. I also worked for two or three hours in the morning at a radio station in Salt Lake. My wife found a minimum wage job at a mall where she managed to get maybe 10 hours a week. Eating out meant Little Caesar’s Crazy Bread.
When our neighbor in West Valley City shot herself, and I ended up with her blood all over my clothes after trying to revive her, we decided to move back to Massachusetts. I got a real job with flexible hours and benefits, and my wife found work at Mass Mutual. I was able to take a free bus to a nearby state school to complete my teacher certification, and buses ran every 10 minutes up State Street to Mass Mutual. Within a few months our lives were stable economically. We could get an actual pizza from a real pizza place(unknown in Utah).
My sister-in-law and her new husband were finding life on the Wasatch Front similarly difficult and paid us a visit to see if a move back east might work out for them. Yes, I had a job with great benefits; but I was a bellman at a hotel. Yes my wife worked for a Fortune 500 company, but it was low level data entry stuff. And we lived downtown in a small apartment so we didn’t need a car.
Well, they were hoping for more, ya know, executive track positions.
Wearing uniforms and taking buses was beneath them.
That’s the thing. It is partly the “offense” that somehow what I do is beneath someone else, but there’s something that turbo-charges it when what I am doing is beneath them but they claim to need my help. They can’t afford McDonald’s but want me to help them dine at Ruth’s Chris…by “loaning” them my Big Mac money.
Our vacations to the Cape are always last minute. We live fairly close and I can only spend two or three days there before I go a little crazy so we wait and see if there’s a time when family is spending a week or two when we can squeeze in a few days and the weather is nice. Then my wife heads over to Expedia and looks for some deals.
This year we spent two nights at the Sandcastle Resort in Provincetown. We booked just a few days in advance but it was perfect for what we wanted to do while there: Stroll along the beach and collect seashells, wander up and down Commercial Street, and give Luna the opportunity to make some money busking in front of town hall.
The accommodations for the three of us were a full sized Murphy bed for the grownups, and a pullout couch for Lu. With both beds open/down there may have been 20 square feet of floor space. There was a teeny tiny kitchenette, and a small table at which to dine…after the Murphy bed and the pull out couch were restored to their original positions. It was fine. Our plan was not to do anything in the room but sleep, shower, and change our clothes.
Two things tickled my fancy. One was that this was called a resort. It had a tennis court, a pool, and beach access on the bay side, but that was about it. Two, signs like this:
referred to “owners and guests”. Owners! There was a time, my guess would be in the 50’s, when this place was built that the beach access, the pool, the tennis court, and its location on the tip of the Cape would have been enough to make the average middle class American feel as though they were having an adequate enough resort experience, given that their last name wasn’t Kennedy, to purchase a unit as (I assume) a time share.
I’m not buying a timeshare, but it was nice enough. And there’s something about the fact that it isn’t enough for other people that grates. This follows in a series of posts where I’ve expressed that, yes, the American Dream is out of reach for many, many Americans because of deindustrialization, the financialization of the economy, the failing safety net and the like. But it is also true that the 50’s American Dream included a house less than half the size of the average home today, and perhaps one car, and a lifestyle that still included public transit, public parks, public pools, and maybe one trip…ever…to “Disney”. Even McDonald’s was still a treat!
(Graphic courtesy of Sean Potter at MyMoneyWizard.com)
I know, I’m getting old and grouchy, and the poor and the working class are getting the shaft today. That said, there’s an economic cohort, of which I am a part, which seems to fancy itself too good for those things that my father’s generation pointed to as luxuries, and yet wants to be seen as victims because (true story) a public school system wouldn’t grant them the use of personal time to spend a week in Bermuda (or the Bahamas or something) during the school year when they had an opportunity for a free trip.
I’m not railing against avocado toast, see:
If you have the money for avocado toast, have avocado toast; if you don’t have enough money for avocado toast but you still want it, make sacrifices elsewhere so that someday you will. The point is, nothing was ever beneath me. I cleaned toilets, crawled in the mud (fun, actually), drove vans, schlepped luggage, delivered newspapers, fixed pallets, and I can’t remember what else. Sometimes I take my hard earned cash and I splurge on something ridiculous, but sometimes I eat a homemade peanut butter sandwich.
My life is filled with luxuries and so, more than likely, is yours. For me part of being happy is keeping that in mind, and when I’m with people who’ve clearly lost sight of that it really irks me. My gut says that we’re headed for a time when a lot of things we view as normal will no longer be commonplace. If I’m wrong I’ll just continue to idiotically feel especially lucky because I can have a cheeseburger on a freshly toasted bun while listening to (annoying) jazz music in a beautiful public space. If I’m right? I don’t know, I suppose that if I’m right we’ll all look back and realize how much we took for granted.