Wednesday, November 7, 2007

buy less live more

In the last post I talked about the obsession my co-workers have with buying stuff. I figured I'd follow up that post with another, because the shopping obsession of one co-worker in particular is turning out to be even crazier than I realized. He's been working a part-time job at Williams Sonoma, on top of the full-time position he has in my office, in order to get the employee discount. I'm guessing he averages upwards of 60 working hours a week. He sees a therapist once a week, and he's taking prescription anti-depressants, and he's still miserable. Yesterday he was feeling particularly low, ranting to another co-worker about how he thinks his roommates aren't pulling their weight in the household, and how the pills and therapy aren't working, and how he doesn't know what to do. At one point he yelled: "Oh god, I just want to go shopping!" (No joke.) At lunch he walked over to Williams Sonoma and bought three cookbooks and a margarita maker. The grand total of money in his bank accounts: $800. The cost of those books and the margarita maker: $380. And he says he doesn't even like margaritas; "Tequila is the devil's water."

This guy is using shopping like a junkie uses heroin.

It made me think of a favorite quote of mine, by Sterling Hayden. The quote was posted on the wall of the head on the Schooner Californian when I worked aboard her as a deckhand. It follows below.

"To be truly challenging, a voyage, like a life, must rest on a firm foundation of financial unrest. Otherwise, you are doomed to a routine traverse, the kind known to yachtsmen who play with their boats at sea... "cruising" it is called. Voyaging belongs to seamen, and to the wanderers of the world who cannot, or will not, fit in. If you are contemplating a voyage and you have the means, abandon the venture until your fortunes change. Only then will you know what the sea is all about.

"'I've always wanted to sail to the South Seas, but I can't afford it." What these men can't afford is not to go. They are enmeshed in the cancerous discipline of "security." And in the worship of security we fling our lives beneath the wheels of routine - and before we know it our lives are gone.

"What does a man need - really need? A few pounds of food each day, heat and shelter, six feet to lie down in - and some form of working activity that will yield a sense of accomplishment. That's all - in the material sense, and we know it. But we are brainwashed by our economic system until we end up in a tomb beneath a pyramid of time payments, mortgages, preposterous gadgetry, playthings that divert our attention for the sheer idiocy of the charade.

"The years thunder by. The dreams of youth grow dim where they lie caked in dust on the shelves of patience. Before we know it, the tomb is sealed.

"Where, then, lies the answer? In choice. Which shall it be: bankruptcy of purse or bankruptcy of life? "

- Sterling Hayden (Wanderer, 1973)

[The organization that owned the Californian eventually went bankrupt and had to sell it, so maybe the quote should be taken with a grain of salt.]

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