Friday, September 16, 2011

A Woman of my Acquaintance

This is a woman I know, whose name I will not mention. She does not live here in the small town where I currently live but in a large city where I once lived. She and her husband of thirty years live in a fine house in an “upscale” neighborhood, a house they purchased years ago for somewhere around $150,000 that is currently worth a million or more. She is well, if modestly dressed, has her hair and nails done weekly, occasionally has a “facial,” tries to look as young as possible, and is in general quite a nice lady, rather like F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “…’good sports’ preserved by an imperviousness to experience and a good digestion into another generation.” She and her husband have “made it” and are living the American dream. I like her very much, although I do not share her apparent philosophy of life.

She is a woman who truly believes that “shop ‘til you drop’ is a serious credo, and that “he/she who has the most toys toys wins” is a major philosophical position. The frightening thing about this is that there are thousands, perhaps even hundreds of thousands just like her. Her first question when she calls her sister as she does almost daily is “Did you go shopping.” Her second question is “Did you buy anything?” I like her, but I feel sorry for her at the same time. Her life, it seems to me, is impoverished. She has nothing to do but shop and watch motion pictures. Her taste in motion pictures seems to be whatever is playing. It is obvious that to her shopping is the symbol of success. She acquires and gloats over her material possessions just as a miser does with his/her gold, but not quite, because she doesn’t hoard her possessions. She gives them away to her friends, knowing full well that they will reciprocate. They all end up with more or less the same hundreds of dishes (for Christmas, Easter, Halloween, the Fourth of July and etc.), towels, cute little figurines and wine glasses and Christmas decorations and kitchen gadjets and shoes and blouses and candlesticks and aprons and hotpads, thimbles, spoons, pitchers, cocktail glasses, cheese knives, nutcrackers, teacups, earrings, thank you notes, and what it was all the others had, while at the same time striving for that little edge that keeps them in first place. I was never able to adequately inventory their seemingly inexhaustible possessions.

She and her friends are true believers in the American dream. But what a dream it is, a nice home, two cars, and just get, get, get, accumulate, accumulate, accumulate, a never-ending shopping trip on the way to nirvana. Never mind the starving masses, the poor and the miserable, the famines and starvation. “It’s not my problem, what’s mine is mine.” “Oh, isn’t that cute,” “I found the most marvelous strawberry shortcake dishes,” “They wouldn’t appreciate these things anyway.”

What I always found the most fascinating about this is that these women are not truly greedy, nor are they ungenerous (at least among themselves). They, or at least the one I know best, exist in their own little world, they read only the latest novels (if they read at all), interact only with others like themselves, know little or nothing about others and have no interest in doing so. In their own way they are just as “culturally impoverished” as children in Appalachia or the inner cities. Their entire experience is one of tea parties, birthday parties, holidays, country clubs, dinner parties, and restaurants, daytime television, sans news, and perhaps a bit of tennis or golf, face and tummy tucks, along with endless diets. Of course they go on occasional cruises where they dress for dinner and go ashore to shop. They are indeed living the American dream as they understand it. They (more likely their husbands) worked hard for what they have and share it with others like themselves. “Others” are just that, foreign people that live somewhere else, anywhere else, but not with them. The closest they come to another culture is if they have a maid with whom they do not socialize or ever even see, apart from their working hours. Traditional conservatives, they always vote a straight Republican ticket, nice people, but I wouldn’t want my daughter (or son) to marry one.

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