Tuesday, December 10, 2002

To Have and Have Not

Here's what I Have: I have no clean underwear. Here's what I Have Not: I have not got any excuse for having no clean underwear.

My friends who have to do their laundry in communal laundry rooms or commercial laundromats (or laundrettes, for my overseas readers), when apprised of how long I tend to go without doing any laundry, stare at me, aghast.

"But you have a washer and dryer right in your house! And it's free!" they screech in disbelief, thinking about how good I must have it — not having to hoard quarters, or schlepp my laundry around in baskets with miniature bottles of Downey and Tide shoved in the corners, or have strangers look at my soiled panties, or sit around in those hideously ugly Waiting Rooms of the Damned waiting to spring into folding action the second the dryer stops so that nobody else comes along and throws my clean laundry on the ground. I can put a load in, get the soap out of gigantic supercheap boxes that don't have to be moved until they're empty, then go watch TV or have some lunch or take a nap or masturbate in the shower or dance the merengue in the living-room, and then change the load at my leisure, luxuriating in the second-rinse and refluffing my dryer-load whenever I want.

I know better than to ask for sympathy from less-blessed people. They are blinded by their own Have-Not situations. They don't realize that, nice as it may be to be able to do your laundry in the house, one still has to do a lot of work to get the clothes from a filthy pile on the floor to a folded pile in a drawer. No, I don't have to have a jar of quarters, and I don't have to have tiny bottles of Downey, and I don't have to get dressed and go waste a day in the laundromat. But I still have to pick the clothes up (I hate that), sort them into colors and fabrics (boring), cart them all the way across the house (it's not exactly Versailles, but it's still a pretty good walk), wash them (and wait), dry them (and wait), fold them (I hate folding clothes so much), schlepp them all the way back across the house, and then try to find room in my drawers for them (I never have as much drawer as I have clothing).

The upshot of my laundry aversion is that I usually wait until all of my clothes are dirty before I wash any of them... which takes five or six weeks. Sometimes, like this last week, I don't have the time or energy or inclination to do the laundry when I am out of a staple, like socks or underwear, so I go to the store and buy a few fresh plastic-sealed pairs of one or the other to last me until I do.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, I prefer Calvin Klein midrise briefs (which they don't make anymore, the bastards) and boxer-briefs from either Hanes or Calvin Klein. I generally wear the boxer-briefs first, except when I have drag to do, when I must wear the briefs (it's very uncomfortable trying to get the legs of boxer-briefs into the legs of panty-hose); when I run out of those, I wear regular knit boxers (I keep a few pairs around for sleeping and for end-of-laundry), then I resort to swim trunks and jockstraps, and then I buy new underwear, and then I do the laundry. And I have so many pairs of white Hanes crew socks that I don't even have to mate them... they're all the same, it's mix-and-match heaven. I have other socks, of course, mostly khaki casuals and grey boot socks, again all in sets of pairs that don't have to be separated, and loads of dress-socks that match my dress-shoes or my suits or my ties, but I wear them so seldom that they don't really factor in (I never wear dress socks with casual shoes, no matter how long I've gone without doing laundry... I'd just rather go without socks).

As fascinating as I'm sure you find this, it is not exactly the topic I was planning to explicate... my point is that when you don't have something, you tend to think that the people who do have it are much better off than you are — little realizing the perversity of the human soul, which always desires something more than it has, and disdains that which it does have already. The truth is, no matter how much stuff or privelege or advantage you have, there is always something else you lack, some problem which is not solved by, or even that comes with, Having.

Yes, I have a washer and dryer... but I still have to do the damned laundry, and I hate it. Another friend of mine, who lacks his own washer and dryer, leaves his clothes at a laundry service that washes by the pound and dry-cleans by the piece and is on the way to work; he simply takes his hamper out every Friday and picks it up again on Tuesday, and that's that. I envy him a little in this (except that I don't like the idea of strangers handling my underclothes). And he probably envies somebody who has someone come in and pick up the laundry and return it. And that person will envy someone who has a live-in who does the laundry there in the house. And that person will, in all probability, envy people who do their own laundry in a laundromat, for some perverse reason.

It's the same with other things... I have always envied people who were terrifically good-looking. But being good-looking does not solve everything; in fact it comes with its own "problems," troubles and woes that we lesser-blessed types don't ever experience. Beautiful people are often not taken seriously, nobody seems interested in their intelligence or their abilities; they are often treated as unfeeling objects, as if their sole purpose were decorative; they are often envied and sniped-at, simply because their advantages show on the surface, unlike less visible virtues like intelligence and compassion. People pursue and make much of and are generous to beautiful people... but physical beauty fades with time.

Sure, I'd like to be really hot-looking, an Adonis with perfect smooth skin and a big liquid eyes and thick curly hair and a perfectly proportioned body. On the other hand, nobody ever looked at me and said "He's too pretty to be trusted." Nobody has ever pursued me as a trophy and discarded me as soon as the novelty wears thin. Nobody has ever assumed I was stupid or conceited because of the way I look. I know that the things that people like about me will still be with me when I'm seventy.

The same thing goes for rich people... why bother envying the rich? Sure they have power, sure they get to do fun things, sure they have cool clothes and super accessories, sure they have access to luxuries and pleasures that I will never be able to experience in this life. On the other hand, I know that when people like me, it's not for my money and the chance that I might give them some of it. I know that nobody will ever kidnap me for ransom or break into my jewelry box or throw rocks at my car. I know I shall never tire of caviar, never be bored on a yacht in the Mediterranean, and never get chiseled by a gigolo.

And like beauty, wealth is one of those things that comes and goes... and it's only a surface. It's visible. So it's easy to envy, because I can see somebody else having something that I don't have. I wonder sometimes if the beautiful ever do envy the homely, if the rich really envy the poor. Probably not... or at least not for the right reasons. But I do know that the beautiful and the rich are very seldom beautiful enough or rich enough... that happiness cannot be granted by beauty or by wealth.

I've always said that the person who claimed "Money can't buy happiness" simply didn't know where to shop... and that is still true, though for a different reason than I thought when I first said it. Because I once believed that you could buy enough things to make you happy. But now I understand that it is because it is the enjoyment of the object or action that must come first, before the ability to obtain the object or act on the action. The ability to fill your house with Fabergé eggs has little meaning if you don't get a lot of joy out of Fabergé eggs. I love diamonds, but I love them because they're beautiful, not because they're costly. I don't think I would mind having a gigolo in my house, so long as I understood that he didn't love me... but he can still give me the pleasure of his beauty.

And my ability to enjoy things, while it might be enhanced by an ability to obtain them, is not diminished by my inability to own. I can enjoy looking at the jewels in Sak's Fifth Avenue... while it might be even more fun to wear them around and play with them all the time, I don't have to own them to enjoy them. And similarly, you can enjoy so many things... happiness is in the enjoyment, not in the possession. Sunsets are free, birds flying above are available to us all, there are trees in every part of town, and beautiful people and things are all around us to look at and enjoy. For the cost of a stereo system and some CDs, you can revel in the glories of music; for a not-very-exorbitant price you can wear beautiful costume jewelry and pleasurably comfortable clothes. Yes, poverty is unpleasant, when you can't afford staples, much less luxuries. But poor people can be (and often are) happy, despite their privations... because they can enjoy things that are there to be enjoyed by all... nature, sensations, emotions, and the company of those most miraculous and fascinating creatures, our fellow humans.

My God, that sounds sententious. I will now return to wishing I was rich and beautiful as well as all the things I already am, and with all of my abilities to enjoy things. What the hell... dreaming is free, too.

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