Lent IV: Conspicuous consumption

Our topic for today, class, is Class. Hatred, that is. Envy, if you like.

It’s there. On that point Rush (“OxyMoron”) Limbaugh and Sean (“Tennessee Hennesey”) Hannity are correct. Which is one of the reasons that so-called progressives will never win in this country: they are incapable of hitting their adversaries with garbage can lids, and of admitting their worst selves to the discussion. Conservatives have nothing but worst selves, so they have nothing to sacrifice in the name of true disclosure.

There’s a reason for this, yes?  Yes.

My zip code, 07760, is shared by two towns: Sea Bright and Rumson, New Jersey. Sea Bright historically is a working class town, a town of not terribly well-off citizens. There once were 20 bars along Ocean Avenue, and none of them went broke. Sea Bright was where other towns used to go to get drunk. Of course, lately it’s turned into the same collection of gentrified ticky-tacky condos as any other sprawl area, but for the sake of history let’s look at Sea Bright as what it used to be: a fishing and tradesmen village where a lot of people got drunk a lot of the time.

Rumson, however, is historically posh: plaid golf pants, Der Dau or Vogel handmade shoes, and Maybach automobiles.

Set aside the fact that portions of the Rumson populace are quietly going under because of the current economic payback (which is hell).

The point is that I get a lot of the wrong mail.

I get catalogues from upscale poshy-chic companies that include me because of my zipcode. If I’m 07760, I’m Rumson. Ergo I have a lot of money, ne c’est pas? So some of the mail is almost funny.

Yesterday I got a catalog from a company in Michigan called J. L. Powell, subheaded “The Sporting Life.” Now, pardon my ignorance, but I thought Sporting Life was a grifter and devil-dust peddler played by Sammy Davis, Jr. in the film of Porgy and Bess. I opened the catalog, skimmed, gaped, and laughed.

J. L. Powell makes the more famous J. Peterman sound like a Salvation Army thrift shop.

I’m not sure I think this is bizarrely funny except I’m probably the descendant of a guy who would have stood at Tyburn in 1550 watching some guy having his guts cut out. I like gallows humor.

Powell’s catalog? Anyone here want a pair laced paddock boots? Powell’s are only $1,498. That is not a typo and it’s not even a joke. The shoes are not even custom-made. If you go to a bootmaker like Der Dau in Brooklyn, or Vogel in lower Manhattan, or if you send for their kits, they will measure the critical dimensions of your feet, and make boots or shoes around them. In both cases you’re kissing goodbye between $500 to $800, but at least you’re reasonably certain the damn things will fit. Powell shoes are off the shelf, out of the box.

What else do we have? We have a $395 cartridge belt that holds up your pants as well as holding 20 12-gauge shotgun rounds. I’m sure the shotgun has to be a Browning or Biretta to make this actually work: it won’t work with a J. C. Higgins from Sears. We have a $998 suede jacket. Did they beat the suede into submission?

Do I need to say more or do you get the idea?

Conspicuous consumption still lives. What in the world can possible justify $1,500 shoes except a total lack of empathy? I know, you can’t fix everyone’s problem, and nobody is asking that. But decency suggests not waving your wealth in the face of someone who is looking at a Sheriff’s Sale notice on his house while he’s wondering how he’s going to keep his family in a school district where the kids won’t have to carry a shank to get through the day. Right: somewhere out there are people who haven’t been and won’t be touched by the decession that has fallen upon us.

It must be nice to have a lot of money. More than a lot…a LOT. Nobody can stop you from wearing cartridge carrying leather belts or wearing those $1,500 shoes. But conspicuous consumption runs just a bit ugly at a time like this. Class hatred makes people do some really foul things.


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