by Rebecca Drake
Thanks to a long-standing family tradition, we spend a week every summer in Stone Harbor, New Jersey, which has gone from being a preppy little beach town to a preppy little beach town on steroids. Gone are the small summer cottages, shingles worn gray by the damp sea air. They’ve been steadily stripped away to build vast, multi-storied vacation homes with tiered balconies, gourmet kitchens, and manicured lawns kept uniformly green by water expenditure that must exceed the annual usage of some sub-Saharan nations.
My husband and I look and lust and tell ourselves that even if we had the money to afford these multi-million dollar properties, we wouldn’t buy one. Or, we would, but only if we shared it with family. This despite the fact that living with extended family for more than a few hours makes me feel like committing seppuku and forcing them to watch.
God forbid that we should even fantasize about an extravagant purchase without coming up with some moral justification for it.
Neither my husband nor I are comfortable with conspicuous consumption. We became friends because of a shared commitment to social justice and certain political and spiritual views that favor an outward eye and compassion over absolutism and personal gain.
We are not, however, at all immune to the desire for more, for better, for bigger things. Both of us are gadget junkies. (I read Wired magazine just to see the latest products and skip over the technical bits I don’t understand.) I like good shoes. He likes good wine. We both want to remodel our outdated kitchen and bathrooms and not on the cheap.
What this dichotomy means, at a practical level, is that we hold on to things far past their usefulness (my husband has super-glued his broken Razr cell-phone five times) and do not purchase anything over $75 without having done extensive research showing it to be a superior (and thus worthwhile) purchase.
For example, when our son desperately wanted a TV gaming system we justified what we considered a dubious purchase (i.e. it’s expensive and turns active child into couch-spawn) by finding numerous articles highlighting the educational benefits of video games (i.e. we’ll be the parents of a budding genius).
So we really, really want one of these mammoth vacation houses even as we mourn what’s happened to that sleepy little beach town and laugh at other people’s extravagance. Our own extravagance, of course, would have some sort of greater purpose attached to it.
I just have to figure out what that is.
I’m sure we could turn the 10th bedroom into an ashram for visiting monks or operate a soup kitchen in the 30-foot breakfast “nook.” Hmm…I’m sure we could even design a whole separate wing for the in-laws.