Monday, August 20, 2007

Vacation Lust

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 We both want to remodel our outdated kitchen and bathrooms and not on the cheap.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.

14 comments:

Annette said...

Or create an artists' colony for poor, starving mystery writers!

Gina said...

Shame on you, Annette! The proper use of any seaside mansion is to host free week-long workshops for your Sisters in Crime!

Lee Lofland said...

Rebecca, I knew we had more in common than a great appreciation for the circus...

Before my wife and I make any large, expensive purchases we conduct mass amounts of research, which my wife reduces to a spreadsheet (she's a scientist so spreadsheets come with the territory).

Even then, it's only after comparing and examining all angles and aspects of the item that we finally purchase the object of our desires - usually a new blender or can opener.

lisa curry said...

Becky, your blog post is funny and definitely strikes a chord. My husband and I were made for each other when it comes to being frugal. He is a yard sale shopper and finds some amazing deals. Several years ago he got our kids' Playstation 2 for $40, a nearly brand-new Craftsman lawn tractor for $40 (carburetor was plugged with dirt -- he cleaned it and has been cutting the grass with it ever since), and a lovely chandelier for over the dining room table that still had the original price tag on it ($175) for $25. Those are some of the most memorable bargains, but he also finds all kinds of stuff for the kids. A couple of weeks ago he got our older son a brand-new Nike baseball glove with the price tag still on it ($60) for $15. I'm glad he likes to get up early Saturday mornings, because I don't! He also shops on ebay a good bit, mostly for automotive / motorcycle stuff. Maybe some day he'll find us a luxury vacation home at a bargain price, but I kind of doubt it. :-)

Kristine said...

My husband and I are also very frugal when it comes to big purchases. (That's what I get for marrying an accountant!) Honestly, it's one of the reasons why I married him. We both watch our pennies and get pleasure from the little things that sometimes money can't buy.

But you know...a writer's colony on Stone Harbor would not only be a good idea but also a tax deduction!

Rebecca Drake said...

Oh, my God--you're all so right! A Writers Colony is definitely the way to go and then I'd be morally justified in leaving family completely out!

Okay, now all I need is 4 or 5 million dollars...

Yes, Lee, we are so alike. Joe and I do the spreadsheets, too! What's really great is to foist all this information on unsuspecting and uninterested sales people, as in: "Actually, Jethro, the Weed Whacker 6X received only an average rating from Consumer Reports..."

I love the yard sales, too, Lisa! Nothing beats getting a bargain! Never overlook driving through wealthy neighborhoods the night before trash collection day...

kathy haines said...

Ah, trash picking! I got the sofa in my office that way (since reupholstered), and a number of other wonderful finds. I can't believe the stuff people throw out (and yet I'm constantly grateful that they do).

Lee Lofland said...

Shopping at Dumsters R Us can be fun!

Joyce said...

Sorry to chime in so late, but I was in Kent, Ohio all day helping Andy move into his apartment, in the pouring rain, no less. Do you know how hard it is to put one of those metal futons together???

Count me in to the frugal club, too. Jerry is an accountant, so of course he's spreadsheet whiz. And I'll admit to picking things out of the trash. The best thing was an antique Singer sewing machine that I refinished.

I also want a vacation home. We have five acres on top of a mountain in Somerset (3 miles from where Flight 93 went down) and my dream is to build a log home there. I would definitely make it a writers' retreat. Anyone want to pitch in?

Rebecca Drake said...

Poor Joyce, but what a good mother you are!

Your mountain retreat sounds very nice, but I want the ocean for boogie board--I mean, deep reflection on my work. ;-)

jody said...

Joyce, a quiet mountaintop retreat ? Count me in. I'll even let you 'borrow' my contractor. This guy is so wonderful. It's been raining hard for two days and he called to see if his roof repairs had done the trick, or - if the roof was still leaking - did I want him to come over right away and check it out. I *really* need to bake him some more cookies.
Oh, and if you need any recessed lighting or distressed lumber (for, you know...ambiance) - we've got a barn full of it.

Tory said...

I've been told where flight 93 went down is now a "power spot." Maybe help with the writing? :-)

Joyce said...

Jody, if I tell my husband you have distressed lumber, he'll be at your house in record time. He builds furniture in what little spare time he has.

Although, it would also be nice for flooring in the future cabin...

Becky, something tells me you'd get A LOT more writing done in a mountain retreat.

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