Valentine’s Day, Easter, Mother’s Day, Memorial Day. These cherished holidays give us a chance to renew vows of love, to celebrate Christ’s resurrection (or, for us pagans, the return of spring), to honor our mothers, to show a little gratitude for our brothers and sisters in the armed forces. Mostly, though, these holidays give us a chance to spend money.
I try to resist the impulse to blather on about consumption—about the insatiable beast into whose maw we pour all of our natural resources, including our own working lives—and out of whose ass come glittering new things, things we continue to hold more dear than the air we breathe and the water we drink. Because, you know, who wants to hear it?
Plus, it’s a losing battle. We can’t help ourselves. There’s something about spending money, about buying things, that satisfies us deeply—more deeply than, say, eliminating poverty or protecting endangered birds. Why?
Let’s take women first. There are roughly 3.5 billion women in the world, and all of them like to shop. I’m not saying just that they shop—everybody shops—but women enjoy it. Women spree. But take a look at what comes home in those pretty bags and boxes: clothes, including and especially shoes, jewelry and related adornments, beauty enhancements like soaps, lotions, and scents, not to mention the package herself—manicured and pedicured, waxed and buffed. It is an incontrovertible law of nature: The woman wants to be desired; therefore, she shops.
The wise man bows to this truth and, like me, will hold his tongue even when the woman complains about the chore of “reorganizing” her closet. The wise man knows that the female waxwing likes to spruce up her nest, maybe even weave a piece of found ribbon among the twigs, and he knows why. The wise man has learned to caress the linens and silks appreciatively, to nod over the new fragrance like a connoisseur, to grin happily at the $300 color job. It’s all for him anyway—or might be.
Now, how about us men—wise or otherwise. Men are different; it’s categorical that they don’t get excited about the prospect of a day of shopping with the guyfriend. Sometimes out of necessity they do go shopping with their wives, but these excursions, for most men, can be endured only with the help of a nice, fat Percocet. Here’s the thing, though: When men do shop, they go big. Cars, boats, beach houses, Rolex watches, vintage Martin guitars, a new bag of Titleist golf clubs. Why? For exactly the same reason women shop: To make their existence known to members of the opposite sex—not excluding their wives and not necessarily younger women, but women, dammit. In the case of golf clubs and vintage guitars, such items are of course penis extenders intended to intimidate and oppress other males, which comes to the same thing.
The monogamous relationship is on solid ground when the two partners go big together: first-class airline tickets for that week in Paris, August in Bar Harbor, the long deferred dream of the complete kitchen do-over.
Wait. What’s happening? Am I, your erstwhile advocate for the health and longevity of Planet Earth, seriously countenancing consumption on a colossal scale?
No, not exactly. I’m just saying that birds do it and bees do it and Father’s Day is right around the corner.