The other day my wife sent me a link, because that’s what you do when you’re married: you force each other to read crap. The link in question was this Karen Heller story in the Washington Post’s style section about how our wealthiest—perhaps along with our most debt-enthused—citizens are treating themselves to outdoor living spaces that mimic the interior of your average cul-de-sac McMansion.
Sean McAleer completed the dream deck in June for $350,000; (Bill) Paliouras’s entire outdoor extravaganza including landscaping, pool, waterfall, slide, hot tub and grotto, totaled $550,000. “Why would you want to go to the beach when you can hang out on a beautiful deck with a TV, day beds and refrigerator?” asks McAleer, owner of Deck Remodelers. “It’s all there.”
Now that’s a lot of goddamn money for a fancy patio. In fact, both those decks cost more than the median price of an entire house in the United States. So this is some pretty gaudy shit. That’s why my wife sent me that link. Your standard “get a load of THIS” forward. And of course the filthy liberal in me was superficially outraged in all the showy, futile ways that white suburban liberals like me are superficially outraged. The nerve of these people! They could have given that money to SCHOOLS! For just a moment, I turned into a bumper sticker.
But that moment soon passed, and my main takeaway from reading Heller’s story was that I wanted all of that shit, too. After I read it, I looked out at my own backyard and found it wanting, which is INSANE because it’s a luxury to have a backyard at all. It’s a crime against the Earth itself to have a goddamn lawn. But now I was thinking about all the potential, wildly expensive upgrades I could strive to impose upon that expanse. We had an inflatable hot tub I bought on the relative cheap to liven up quarantine. THAT COULD BE AN INFINITY POOL. We had a fire “pit” I bought from Home Depot for $120. THAT COULD BE AN ACTUAL STONE FIRE PIT, WITH MATCHING PIZZA OVEN. We had deck chairs from Target. THOSE COULD BE DAY BEDS.
Did I want all these things because someone else had them? Of course. Do I tut-tut “ugly” athlete mansions while also coveting them for myself? Yes. That’s just boilerplate devotion to materialism. Most Americans have that. More important was what I planned to do with it if I had the baller outdoor space and the Kliff Kingsbury abode: NOTHING. Absolutely fucking nothing.
That’s the dream, right there. That’s what you’re sold in any bit of aspirational marketing. You’re told to save money so that you can retire to a life of long days sitting on a porch, sipping lemonade and jerking off. You’re sold expensive countertop appliances in the Williams-Sonoma catalog that can bake perfect bread FOR you, without you having to do any of the annoying shit. And you see ads for luxury cars, luxury hotels (sometimes not even luxury ones), and luxury services that absolve you of worry, of toil, and even of complex thought. All so that you can relax and dick around forever.
I want that. I wanna dick around forever. I dick around plenty NOW, but there’s still some actual, irritating responsibilities mixed in there. I have to raise my kids. I have to work. I have to fill out forms. So annoying. If I could earn my way out of having to address ANY of those responsibilities—so that I might then munch on some robo-smoked brisket while lying in a hammock that rocks me using a motorized swinging mechanism—I would. I want my life to be that effortless and boring. That’s what you hear celebrities say all the time. They try to establish their down-to-earth cred by being like, “My life is boring, actually.” Motherfucker, that’s because you can AFFORD to have a boring life. You can afford to not work and to sit out on your lanai all day, sipping rose and watching your landscaper plant new rhododendrons.
Regular-ass people can’t do any of that shit. A lot of normal people’s lives are absolutely fucking wild. They gotta get up at the crack of ass and then deal with their hyperactive children, and then eat old pizza crusts for breakfast, and then sit next to an angry hobo on the bus to work, and then tape up Amazon packages while keeping a canteen strapped to their waist for urinating, and then pop a SHITLOAD of pills they can’t afford to keep despair at bay, and then fuck their co-worker in the parking lot after their shift is over just to get a thrill, and then watch police set an elementary school on fire on the way back home, and then drink all the cooking wine in the cabinet because there was no time or money for a proper beer run. That is not a boring life. It’s not a FUN life, but it’s a life worth talking about.
Rich people, by contrast, DON’T have lives worth talking about, unless they were caught embezzling from a hospice center for kicks. Now you’ve heard me and the rest of this staff make this point plenty of times. And it might come across as wishful thinking to say, “Well these billionaires are billionaires but they have no CHARACTER like we do.” You can say that because it’s true. But also: IT DOESN’T MATTER AT ALL. Because once you reach that tax bracket, you don’t have to have character! You can afford to be a vacant dipshit. You can even afford to be a criminal. Everyone else will suffer for it but YOU won’t. Our rich people live strategically uninteresting lives. But they’re very fun lives, and you ain’t kicking that life out of bed. I know I’m not.
Let’s say this new book I have coming out sells a zillion copies (and given what I’ve been through, it fucking BETTER) and I make a billion dollars in royalties. I’d like to think I’d still endeavor to be an interesting person. But that’s a lie. I’d give some of my money away, but definitely not all of it. I’d keep on working, but I’d have no unpredictable life to color that work. Eventually, I’d realize I have nothing to say and just fuck off to my lavish backyard, swimming up to my own private poolside bar to have my butler Concord serve me a virgin daiquiri and a shrimp cocktail. Than I’d buy ANOTHER home near the beach where I could do all of the exact same shit. I will have achieved all of my dreams and, in the process, become a useless sack of shit.
I have wanted to earn my laziness my whole life. I went to school as a kid so that I wouldn’t have to go to school again. I got a job after school so that I could make enough money to no longer need a job. I get my work done right away at my job so that I have no work left on my desk at the end of any given day. I save my money so that, when I stop working, I can do a bunch of shit that’s interesting to me and to NO ONE else, unless you really wanna know how I did in Everybody’s Golf last night (I shot -20). I wanna chill out so hard that my imagination turns to fucking DUST.
And I’m not alone. This is the established ideal for the bulk of Americans. Yes, I’ve read a zillion shitty profiles about how your average tycoon simply can’t sit still and just LOVES to be productive. And I’ve watched Mark Zuckerberg study the spear. These are all cosmetic flourishes from people who deliberately priced themselves beyond the need to be human. We should have sent a poet to space. Instead, we’re sending Jeff Bezos, who literally said he couldn’t think of anything to do with his billions EXCEPT to leave Earth’s atmosphere and laugh at us from his cockpit in the heavens.
The instinctive reaction to Bezos saying that is FUCK HIM, but it’s also to assume he’s lying when he says he can’t think of better uses for his dough. That he doesn’t want to actually pay his workers more, or help anyone else in general. But that’s wrong. I believe, in my heart, that Bezos is so wealthy that the creative part of his mind—not to mention the lobe housing compassion—simply ceased to function and that all he could think when his wealth hit 12 figures was DURRRR I WANNA SEE THE MOON UP CLOSE DURRRR. He bored himself into believing this really is the best use of his time and money. I can be like, “That’s capitalism for you!” but I also know that if I had Bezos’s money, I would ALSO go to space. Who the fuck wouldn’t? The temptation to be a shallow, selfish imbecile is too strong when you’re sitting on that much loot. It’s why even beatified rich dudes like Warren Buffet talk a big game but don’t actually pay any fucking taxes. It’s why Silicon Valley, as Twitter routinely reminds you, keeps reinventing things that don’t need to be reinvented. These people don’t really have to do anything, so they don’t.
And I would also like to not do anything. That’s my horizon, baby. It’s an ugly and horrible ambition, and yet there’s very little to make it unappetizing. If you aren’t a rich fucker, there are still plenty of tools around you to become as spiritually empty as, say, Dan Snyder. You can borrow more money than you can ever pay back to buy things you don’t need but feel like you do. You can order a sushi feast on your phone. You can have Uber bring a chauffeur to your door in a Ford Fusion. You can buy products that were made by slaves, and you almost certainly have. All around you are tools to live like a rich person, so that you want even more such tools, along with a backyard rollercoaster to boot.
I can’t resist the bulk of these temptations, and I suspect they’ve already deprived me of the chance to tell you, the reader, anything of import, unless you REALLY wanna know what kind of homemade pasta I cooked the other night (it was tagliatelle and it was sublime). But they’ve put me on the road to bliss, and I’ve come too far now to abandon my quest. I’m not gonna leave it to go live in a fucking abandoned shack out in the wild. I’m not built for that shit. I haven’t gone camping in 30 YEARS. As Bill Bryson once noted, comfort is a relatively new concept in the human experience. But that’s what makes it so addictive, and that’s why humans, despite having many other choices and resources at their disposal, are determined to engineer more ways of achieving it. And comfort is far too comfortable for me to dissuade my fellow citizens, or myself, from ever abandoning it.
And to finish off this dirge, I’m gonna commit the ultimate crime and quote Woody Allen, of all people. Allen made a movie once called Celebrity, where Judy Davis plays a woman who serendipitously becomes rich and famous. Davis ends that movie with a confession, one that sums up the American Dream nicely. “I’ve become the person I’ve always hated,” she says, “but I’m happier.”