(All photos are taken by me, altered by me, uploaded by me, and licensed GFDL.)
"Whoso has sixpence is sovereign (to the length of sixpence) over all men; commands cooks to feed him, philosophers to teach him, kings to mount guard over him, -- to the length of sixpence." -- Thomas Carlyle, Sartor Resartus
"All progress is based upon a universal innate desire on the part of every organism to live beyond its income. " -- Samuel ButlerThe natural state of life is want and unrequited desire. I got paid yesterday, after a summer of working at a job that had been uncharacteristically capricious hostile lately (see yesterday's mordant meditation on anger), so I have been characteristically despairing over my lack of significance and security and the way the whole world obeys no single set of rules. Therefore, I approached payday with a set jaw and glaring eyes. I would get paid, dammit, and I would get my payback in my paycheck.
It's a stupid idea, of course, but we're not talking about a reasonable universe, so expecting a reasonable response is... is... unreasonable.
One of the rules of the world, enforced more often than others (like "work hard and you'll get ahead," which is obvious nonsense) is what we can call The Geogre's Law #1: Debt Rises to Income. Let's suppose that the money fairy shows up one morning, calls you into your boss's office, and announces that you are about to make an additional $10,000 a year. (I'm no expert on the largesse of fairies, but it's the explanation that best satisfies Occam's Razor when you consider the amount of money some people make.) If that were the case, your first response would be, of course, to shout woo-hoo. Your second response, though, would be to think about all the outmoded objects you have in your life, like your wife, your child's school, your television and car. You would immediately think, "I shouldn't have to drive a ratty old Tercel. It's obscene that people see me in it. I can afford a new Corolla." After all, you can handle it. You think, "My apartment is far too small." You think, "My suits are all old and smelly." You think all sorts of things, and you committ every penny of that ten grand to debts or purchases.
The upshot of The Geogre's First Law is that all of us, no matter how wealthy, strive to live in poverty, strive to live in want. It isn't that we can never reach financial security, but we will find ways to make sure that we have to worry about every month's check. We will find a way to give ourselves anxiety and pain at the very thought of a business downturn, an OPEC upturn, or the income tax. This is necessary, you see, to keep us firmly convinced that we are "middle class."
Some study or other (another blogger would link you to it, but I'm lazier than they are) showed that 70% or thereabouts of Americans believe that they are in the middle class. Further, it showed that most of those making below $30,000 a year thought so and that people making above $200,000 a year thought so, too. Among people who thought they were in the upper class, quite a few making 50,000 thought they were in the upper 5% of income. This explains, partly, why poor people don't vote for candidates who say that they'll get tax cuts and programs for the poor, as they say, "Those poor people? They're nasty! Now me, I make $15,000 a year. I'm middle class." The people who say that they're going to tax the upper 5% of income don't get votes, either, because the lumpen voter says, "Oooh, that might be me. I make $60,000 a year, and I can't afford more taxes."
Most people explain the delusion of the "middle class" by saying that peoples is stupid. Well, people are stupid, and make no mistake, but that can hardly explain it. No, I think The Geogre's First Law explains it. The person making a mite and the person making a mint alike committ their funds, embrace debt, and purchase until they have anxiety, until they have sweat bead on their foreheads when "tax" or "recession" (there will never be another depression, by the way, because no one can use that word without being shot by the political class) come up. They are always needing more money, always needing every penny, and are, in fact, middle class. It's the natural level all monetary liquidity seeks.
Therefore, even possessed of wisdom and genuinely among the poor, I put the check in the bank and headed for a store. It didn't matter which one. No matter what store, I could think of something it sold that mine was too old. As it happened, the big purchase, the equilizer, the item that would again allow me to weep in fear and rage every time I go to pay for a tin of tobacco, was a guitar amplifier. Decades ago, I was a musician. I was successful enough that a good analogy might be someone who plays triple A baseball. I.e. I never made it to the majors, but I was at the top of the minor leagues.
I was a bass player, but that had to end. Apartment complexes don't house bass players. Therefore, I sold all my stuff for rent back in 1988 and got a home made Telecaster in 1994. In 1995, I got a used Marshall Valvestate from a bewildered French man who thought he could sell it to me for the same price he paid. After some disillusioning negotiation, I got it for $150. Eleven years with a dropkick amp is enough, except that it still works. I don't actually need a new, professional grade amp, but, damn it, it's my paycheck, and I'm going to show them all that I deserve it by spending as much of it at one throw as possible.