Disposable Pleasures

When my children see a movie they like, they want to see it again. Immediately. And again. Same with stories and books and most of life’s pleasures.

“Read it again!”

I love going to the movies. Always have. There is something about the whole ritual of movie-going. Add to that, I can afford to go, and get a drink and popcorn if I want to, when not too long ago I couldn’t.

This is what being rich is for me. Able to eat out and go to movies. Order pizza. Fishing, when it’s warm. Bookstores, in moderation.

All of this, as time permits. It’s nice to be rich, sometimes. I could go broke being rich.

*

My eldest son needs glasses. We found out yesterday. I saw it coming, but tried to deny it until then. I was sentenced to glasses around the same time, in first grade, and he’s been cursed to be like his father in every way.

I became almost neurotically protective when it was time to choose frames. Glasses, especially when you go to school as I did, can be an albatross. I was projecting my entire past as a four-eyed creature on my son, who was quite excited to pick out a set of frames. His brother clamored that he wanted a pair, too.

This is being rich. Being able to afford children’s frames at Costco.

*

To some of you, these economic notes may ring of vanity, pride, or tackiness. Please be gracious. Let me explain.

A few weeks ago, the Sunday of the Gospel of Lazarus and the rich man, the homilist asked the congregation if anyone was rich. No one raised their hand. It was an awkward question to ask. My impulsive response was to raise my hand. I didn’t, of course, but I really wanted to.

When you grow up poor — or at least when I did — there is no such thing as a middle class. The middle classes are the rich. But when you meet the poor, the classmate in Mexico who’s home has a floor made of hardened, daily swept dirt, you suddenly become rich.

It’s one or the other. Rich or poor. This binary is relative, but it is also absolute.

I think this is why Jesus never had much to say about the middle class. He never commanded the rich to become middle class, he told us to be become poor in order to understand what it is to be truly rich.

The obsession over the middle class is quintessentially American. An ideal state of modern mediocrity. There is something noble about the moderate middle, something pitiable about the poor, something risqué and enviable about the rich.

A middle class paradise can only boast, modestly, of its well-paved streets and unobjectionable dentistry. Flattened peaks and filled valleys, no dimensions, virtuosos, or beggars. Every grace and atrocity and miracle reduced to reasonable gas and milk prices. All suffering and pleasures gone, in a stroke of moderate genius.

If we must do all things in moderation, and I am not so sure that we should, then that includes moderation. The middle class seems to be immoderate about moderation. No excess or love. Only altruism and good manners.

*

I listen to the same music over and over. I have to force myself, artificially, to try new things. If I find something new that I do like, then, like my children, I get obsessed and stay there. Over and over, again and again.

There is a difference between repetition and redundancy, but the two can be very difficult to distinguish.

The issue is less about feeling the contours of a distinction. It is, more seriously, about the frightening, impossible task of integrating something lasting and worthwhile into everything, without losing the particulars.

In philosophy, this amounts to “the one and the many,” a constant problem and paradox. In real life, however, there are decisions to be made.

Not everything will get solved with good plans, some things need more or less than that. Everything we figure out and cure and fix today will only last till the year 2017. Then we’ll be looking again. All diets, how-to and self-help books, and marketing campaigns come with an expiration date.

When the poor get fed and abortion rates go down, there will still be an empty belly and a child to raise the next day. What will we have left, made, saved and kept for them then?

 

  • Maggie Goff

    Oh, thank you for this. Oh, God love you. I identify so deeply with what you are saying that I am typing through tears. And I am a few generations ahead of you. Oh my.

    • SamRocha

      Thank you, Maggie. The internet could use more tears, I think.

  • arty

    I think the right way of thinking about the middle class is “enough” as in, “have I got enough?” That leaves the people with too much and not enough, and so the task for those of us who have “enough” is to see if we are suffering from definition creep. I recall that, as a kid, we technically qualified for assistance from the food bank my church ran-and my father was the pastor…. I also remember my Dad ending family prayers by thanking God that we had plenty, and we did–enough to give quite a bit away, too. So, I tend to think that there’s plenty to admire about the idea of the “middle class”–but that in our current age where poor Americans have cell phones and bigger TV’s than I do, most of us could stand to revisit exactly how much it is that we think it “enough.”

  • Caroline Moreschi

    During the 2008 election it was funny to see how both parties claimed to be “for the middle class.” No one wanted to be for the poor, or to look like they were for the poor, and no one would admit that they were truly for the rich. But of course, all they needed was to shift the meaning of “middle class” to fit the audience….

    Beautiful post.


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