Wednesday, July 6, 2011


A little personal background first:

I was born in downtown Buffalo to a father who was still going to night school for an engineering degree and a mother who was working as a cashier.  There was money there, but not a lot.  I know we jumped around between an apartment, a duplex, and maybe even a house until I was two and we moved to Rochester.  My dad got a better engineering job and my mom continued working nights at Wegmans.  We lived in a townhouse in one of the poorer parts of a development that had probably been built around the late eighties.  Money was there, but it wasn't abundant, especially when my two sisters came along.

My dad got a better job offer about eight years later and we moved to Syracuse.  He's worked at three different places in Syracuse, bumping his earnings each time.  Both he and my mom still have some debt, though my mom is now making more money working most-of-the-time (a bit more than part-time) as a teacher and tutor.  I realize that I have been more fortunate than a lot of people in how I've grown up and have a healthy respect for those that have had it much harder.  (I don't think I've ever had a best friend whose parents stayed together.)  The point I'm trying to convey here is that luxury and extravagance have been completely foreign concepts to me for every year of my life.

The inspiration for this entry came from a tweet in which one of my internet (hopefully real-life on day!) friends said "I'm at the point where I hope folks who make more than $1 million are taxed until blood squirts out of their eyes."  Of course I was quick on the retweet button having a healthy disdain for the rich (and especially for those that seek to live a continually extravagant lifestyle).

I've never been a part of the culture that says we need to always accumulate more worth, more possessions, more luxuries, more whatever.  There's always been a certain point that I can get to and be completely happy with what I have.  I don't need a big fancy luxury car, I'm plenty happy with my Toyota Corolla that's big enough to cart a reasonable amount of people and stuff and small enough to hit 40+ MPG on the highway.  I don't need a big fancy house in a development, give me a one bedroom apartment with high speed internet.  (Or if I have kids, give me an old farmhouse in the middle of nowhere with work to be done and no municipal plumbing.)

I'm trying to think of the last purchase I made that was based in extravagance and vanity, that had no other purpose than looks or status that also wasn't something insignificantly minor like a new T-shirt.  I didn't have to buy a new car two years ago, but with warranties, maintenance costs, and improved gas mileage, I figured that it would turn out to be the more economical choice in the long run.  I didn't need a new computer two years ago, or a laptop last year, but given my schooling as an engineer, and my attempted career as a writer, these things are necessities in some sense because they offer improved performance, compatibility, and software relevant to my ability to support myself.

I had an ex-girlfriend that insisted her family buy her a new softball bat every year.  Not a cheap venture in itself, and even worse when you consider her parents were a self-employed locksmith and stay-at-home mom at the time.  The concept of having something new just to have it is completely lost on me.  I don't replace my own sports equipment until it breaks, and it's always with outdated models because fuck it if I'm spending more than $70 on a goddamn hockey stick.  I almost never go to movies in the theatre, and tend to buy video games on a delay of a few years.  I don't need the status of having them right away, of being on the cutting edge of a culture based in vanity.  Most of the clothes (including every single pair of pants I own) that I buy are used and lacking in designer labels.  I don't need the status of emblazoning some corporate insignia across some part of my body.  Almost everything I buy is because it's comfortable and best suits the purpose for which it will be used.

I guess some of it comes from confidence.  I don't feel the need to boost myself with artificial things.  A former coworker of mine based his choice of car on what kind of image it projected for him.  I just don't get that.  I feel like I can turn heads and endear people to me well enough with my personality.  I always got along beautifully with a variety of people when I worked as an engineer.  Construction guys loved me, Highway guys loved me, Clients loved me, the support staff loved me, the drafters loved me, people from other groups loved me.  In fact the demographic that I fit in with the least was my own, other engineers.  Engineers have a reputation as know-it-all rich folk puttering around in their SUVs and flaunting their Country Club Memberships.  It's a stereotype, but it's one I saw ring true more often than it should have.  It was amazing how quickly non-engineers warmed up to me when they saw how I valued their input as much as, and at times more than my own (after all they spent their lives in our clients' municipalities, not me).  I never wanted to run the show without regards to anyone elses opinion like a modern day Marie Antoinette.

I don't know what the point of this entry is.  As I said before, my intention isn't to brag about my upbringing, nor is it to brag about any perceived moral superiority.  It was to explore something in writing that I've found, and continue to find inexplicable.  When I ponder what luxuries I "need," I can only come up with two.  High speed internet, and access to Sabres games.  Anything else is just gravy.

1 comment:

  1. Word. I like to buy nice stuff because my family was poor and I rarely got anything anyone else had. I was basically working from middle school age on with my dad during school breaks to save up money so that I could get new school clothes that were "decent" enough that I would be singled out for wearing them.