taking the passive out of passive-aggressive

Saturday, March 15, 2003

Tonight, I was entertained by two sets of people. The first set, parents of my daughter's friend, live in a band-new, gigantic house in the suburbs; we went there for an early dinner. Their yard is still sod, and their bed looks incredibly small in their gigantic bedroom. The mother fed us dinner while the children ran around, and of course this is the way it's supposed to be. You're supposed to, you know, go to people's houses and aspire to something that they have. "Honey, where's OUR master bedroom suite, hmmm?"

The second set of people are my lovely friends Bob and Teresa, recently married, who live atop a great cliff in a tiny house where everything in it looks as if it grew there. It was Teresa's birthday, so they had a party. Their slotcars hadn't been reinstalled, but they'd acquired lots of new art and had hung some cast-iron pots up, installed an ancient fan above the door. The whole house could have been decorated by a grandmother.

I'm left with uncomfortable ambiguity. On the one hand, I like the suburban people in spite of their decadent house, in spite of my frothing rage against American status-climbing and incessant, childlike hopefulness. This particular couple, they're very nice. Their children are very nice. I'm happy for them with their new house and at times, I wish I had a nice big new house. But on the other hand, at Bob and Teresa's, I'm completely comfortable. They collect atrifacts without irony, and their lives aren't dictated by status and comfort.

It's so easy to disdain the bourgeoius--our tastes are so middling. In moments of complete honesty, I have to admit I'm one of them; although I've never been in with those people, really. So which is the charade--my pretensions to the upper-middle class, or my pretensions that it's otherwise?

Faced with true abundance, I'm baffled. What should I do when people I actually like are leading lives I find morally repugnant? Suburban sprawl, SUV, the whole nine yards? Mitigate my political beliefs to accommodate them? I've done worse, after all; I live a dual life every single day, propagating a capitalist system I ultimately find empty and destructive. But like everyone else, I still want stuff, massive amounts of stuff.

This paradox keeps me up at night. I grew up in big houses and nice cars; and I've spent my twenties repudiating all of it with one hand, while building it back up with the other. I hate the materialism of my childhood, feel actual shame about it. At the same time, I want the best of both worlds: the money along with the aesthetics, the money and the life I used to lead.


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