Friday, December 14, 2007

I have to say that while working at Neiman-Marcus is a great gig (incredible employee discounts, private employee sales, etc.), it's a huge error to allow being surrounded by luxury items and the People Who Can Afford Them Before They Are Marked Down™ to turn one's life into an endless parade of envy. Yes, it's nice to have wonderful things, but it's idiotic to let the green-eyed monster cause one to lose sight of savoring life's true treasures which we all know money can't buy. It's also moronic to try to keep up with the fashionistas who have an indulgence budget of more money than most of us plebs earn in a year. There be dragons.

Fashion is illusory and trends are designed to delineate the haves from the have-nots. I say this is illusory, because there is a huge gulf between fashion and style. Fashion is all trends and turn-on-a-dime fads that one day will be regarded with the red-faced embarrassment they richly deserve, whereas style is a classic sensibility and not mutable or tarnishable by the fickle whims of popular culture. Fashion must buy the new thing and always be the first to wear that new thing, whereas style can put a new scarf with a nice, older handbag and a $6 skirt from a Wal-Mart markdown rack and look fresh and original all at the same time.

The great thing about style is its limitless applications - be it in the cut of a suit or the cut of a jib or the way you cut donuts in a snowy parking lot. A savvy person doesn't need evidence of an expensive label to recognize true quality, either.

I have my own style, a very few very nice things, and the rest is the bits wot I cobble together to emboss my own little chop-mark on my existence here. Very often, having that strong sense of self and timing comes of having a parent who knows how and when to garland the occasion with a distinctive flourish.

Here, from my archives (april 2006), is a bit I wrote about Dad and Mom which I felt the need to post again:
One of my favorite mom & dad stories is when I was a kid and we lived in West Memphis, Arkansas. A friend of dad's called up in the middle of the night - passing through town with a desperate car problem. Dad told him to come over and he'd fix it. Now, it just happened to be one of the most brutally cold nights of my life - the ground outside was completely frozen with an even colder wind chill. The next day, we were scheduled to get new carpet, but the guy with the car problem didn't know that. When he arrived, dad looked at the vehicle, figured out what needed to be done, and went back into the house with the guy.
Mom was up, probably sitting in a 3am haze. Knowing her, she was shooting eyeball daggers at this demanding inconsiderate lout for disturbing the household. Mom didn't so much as bat an eye as dad pulled out a box cutter and cut a huge square out of the living room carpet on which to lay on the ground under the car. Meanwhile, the guy is shitting himself, thinking that dad just butchered the nice family carpet to help him out, and boy didn't he feel like a jerk? He was sputtering and apologizing profusely to my mom, and she just stared at him intently. I don't think they ever told the guy, but I don't think he ever called in the middle of the night again. Wicked wit and a flair for drama. Yup, my folks have STYLE.

So that's part of it-- they can't bottle it and you can't come by that sensibility any way but honestly, so say I.

I was driving somewhere Thursday and heard on the news on the radio that a guy working security at the NorthPark Mall Neiman Marcus in Dallas was arrested for stealing something like $400,000 worth of jewelry. In 2004 and 2005, Manuel Alvarez stole at least 400 jewelry items and handed them off to accomplices who sold them on ebay. The irony here is manifold: you can't sell anything remotely related to firearms on ebay, but you can sell about a half mil of stolen luxury goods. Um, ok. Also, I'm betting that as a security guard(a relative had this gig, once), he made in the neighborhood of $40,000-ish/year. He's in jail for 10 years now, so whatever his friends made off that crap on ebay and then split with him, you know he didn't walk away from the whole deal with enough to justify the risk.

If there is any joy to be had--however fleeting-- from possessing fine things or a lot of money, what good is it to you if you know you did not earn same on your own merit? I would be embarrassed, unable to savor such bitter prizes. Better to have a life of simple, spartan appointments than to wallow in excess at the expense of one's good character.

To wrap this all up in a little bow, I'll finish by saying that style has everything to do with personal zest and enjoying life and exactly nothing to do with wealth. Remember that person I derided for the tiedye thingie about a week ago? Well, good on him- he liked what he had on, and what I think is utterly unimportant for his life. As for that NM guy who ruined his life over a few dollars, if exposure to all those mega-wealthy people did not teach him that mega-wealth is not a desireable thing in this life, then he just wasn't paying attention.


Lin said...

Agreed! I rarely made reasonable money but I never so much as pinched a postage stamp either. I was still able to fill my home with the antiques I enjoyed by buying or dumpster diving for hopeless cast-offs and teaching myself how to repair them. There is a great joy in looking at them every single day as a result.

Anonymous said...

I think a sample life is just what everyone needs, no flare or fancy crap. That way people would REALLY appreciate what they do have.

Your parents sound a lot like mine:)

brbiswrite said...

What a great essay! You have a gift of enriching your prose with some great images and phrases. I was ready to take you to task over this one, however: " a parent who knows how and when to garland the occasion with a distinctive flourish." I thought you had verbed another noun "garland,": and then I looked it up! Damn me, garland is also a verb!

Your posts are consistantly entertaining.


phlegmfatale said...

lin - I'm SO with you there - some of my favorite things came from someone else's junk pile on the side of the road. One man's trash... !!!

lainy - Well, I'll keep a teeny bit of my fancy crap, thank you very much *wink* but it's nice to know I could live just fine without it. So long as I can keep acquiring my (used, dogeared) books from the Discworld series by Terry Pratchett I'll have all I need, and can be satisfied with the flights of fancy contained therein.

brbiswrite - you pay me great compliment - I am honored. There's something grand about festooning prose with great, pendulous swags of gawdy bits, innit? I am so pleased by your compliment, and humbled. Cheers, m'dear!

Buck said...

I'll add my "well said, and true" sort of comment. Said with flair, too, as others have noted.

One's good name is about all that is truly lasting in life.

NotClauswitz said...

I'm a dumpster-diver and my wife hates it. I believe the whole point of working at an upscale joint like NM or Sak's is to meet those wonderful and splendidly appointed People Who Can Afford Shit Before Shits Is Marked Down™, and encourage them to spend more than they intended - either driving them into bankruptcy or at least spreading the shelves of Goodwill Industries with their early castoffs. But I've never worked retail, it's harder than that I'm sure.

phlegmfatale said...

buck - damn skippy!

dirtcrashr - you're my kind of guy. That's the best thing about driving a pickup, is being able to rescue stuff from the side of the road! Here's to cast-offs!

Lin said...

Damn right, Phleggmy - that is PERXACTLY why I bought a pick-up truck before they reached current quasi-acceptable social standards. Well, that and motorcycles. The Katlady ran around in a Ford van for the same reasons. I learned to never-ever go to a social function with her in heels and nylons because we WOULD have to brake for an appealing road-side cast-off pile. GREAT stuff though!

SpeakerTweaker said...

Some form of "Daaaamn Right!!!" is needed right here. Nicely put, Phlegmmy. Nicely put.

Now, tell all those folks who were talkin trash about my bowling shirts to go fly a kite!



phlegmfatale said...

lin - Fo' sho'! Anyone who's not driven through town with the pregnant potential of a pickup truck has simply not lived. Yup - good stuff - you've gotta love it!

speakertweaker - Thanks! And I think your bowling shirts are awesome!