Monday, April 27, 2015

The Embarrassment of Having

I'd have a serious problem if I were rich, I think. I'd be in a constant state of embarrassment.

The other day, I was driving behind a really expensive car and it had some kind of flamboyant license plate: "LOVINLIFE" or something like that. It got me thinking about having and having not and about how far I would go in exhibiting my wealth externally were I to suddenly jump up another few income brackets.

I have never been too interested in status symbols; never interested in impressing people with what car I drive or what clothes I wear. That is not to say, though, that I don't sometimes covet expensive things. I save for and spend money on musical equipment. My thinking is always about the joy these things will bring me in the doing, not in showing them off to others. Mostly, anyway.

A year or so ago, after a long time playing on the same, old, tired drum set (since about 1992) and making-do with some cracked cymbals, I decided it was time to upgrade and replace stuff. I bought a beautiful new kit and shiny new cymbals. Sure, I showed some it off to my friends on Facebook and, as I have said before, I am a great gawker at the aesthetics of drums, so I do take some pleasure it how they look. It may even seem contradictory to ths piece that I have posted pictures of my drums in order to illustrate that very point. But, there are differing circumstances...

One night my band was playing and we went on break between the first and second sets and I was standing off to the side enjoying a pint. I saw two younger guys -- in their twenties -- walk up to my drum set. They were pointing and nodding, wide-eyed and good naturedly covetous of the drums that sat gleaming under the stage lights.

I was, for some reason, overwhelmingly embarrassed. I thought of myself in my twenties, working my way through grad school and barely able to scrape together enough money to buy drum sticks. I empathized with those guys. I mean, it took me until the age of 46 to be able to afford a kit like that, but you can't really open a conversation with that... I chose just to disappear...

That said, I am certainly not going to put a personalized bass drum head on there that says: LOVINDRUMS. It would feel the same, to me, as living in an ostentatiously expensive house or driving a Ferrari with fire painted on the side. There is an in-your-faceness about external shows of wealth that I could never be comfortable with. I might want a mansion, but I'd rather it be set back in the woods, on a thousand acres, than on display somewhere in Hollywood.

This isn't me railing against the wealthy. I feel people have a right to make as much dough as they can. They can even flaunt it if they want. It just feels weird for me to have when others have not; it would feel even weirder to, in some way, take pains to point out what I have even though it it sitting in plain view.

When I have something nice or have gone somewhere nice, I even find myself compelled to mitigate. For instance, whenever I go to Cape Cod with the family, I tend to feel the need to explain that it is cheaper than the closer Jersey shore.  (It really is.)

My dad always used to refer to himself as "a peasant." By this, he meant he enjoyed the simple things: a simple loaf of good bread dipped in gravy; an evening on the porch on a soft summer night. Maybe it runs in the blood. Some of us are used to having not and then, through hard work, we wind up having. Those us us who are, at heart, peasants, have a harder time with it, I suppose.

I am, in the end, a fan of finely made things. I would buy a $20,000 Bosendorfer grand piano in a blink if I had the money. I am just not a fan of prancing about with my acquisitions. So, I'll keep polishing my cymbals, but I won't try to blind people with the reflection.


  1. Very hard to prance about with a grand piano, but, yes, agree. Flash things are for flashy people. What's admirable about a big bank account?