Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Day three hundred and seventy seven ... The absence of value.

A few weeks ago, while I was at the tailor, changing into what would be the stunning Hugo Boss suit I wore at my housewarming/holiday party, a woman came in with a lovely dress on a hanger.

"How much to have this hemmed," she asked.

"Thirty dollars," said the woman with the pin cushion, in a heavy Greek accent.

"But ... but that's more than I paid for it," said the lady, incredulously.

"Das too bad," said the tailor with a shrug ,"iss what I charge."

I heard the woman pick up the item off the counter and wheel around, yanking the door open, and rousing awake the rusty, stainless steel bell that hung over the threshold. She left with her clothes, more than likely to go to another tailor, only to be told again that she was going to have to shell out more than she paid for something in order for it to fit her.

I am a Yankee, true and true.

What does this mean?

Well, first and foremost it means that I come from a type of people who only pay in cash. They do not extend debt beyond what they can pay for by week's end. Yankees usually have one credit card if they have one at all. Its primary purpose is to buy concert tickets over the phone. Its secondary purpose is, surprisingly enough, to build a healthy credit score. Its full balance is almost always paid off no more than a week after receipt of the bill.

I am from a clan who cut coupons (to use as double coupons where and when applicable). We buy 2-for-one on many items. We collect pennies in jars for use only in emergencies. We compare circulars, manufacturers warranties, value-appreciation (and depreciation), and consult with Consumer Reports on almost any purchase over ten dollars.

And we hate to pay for alterations, even though most clothes that are stylish are made for people who are tall and thin, and the majority of New Englanders are short and not thin.

We are religiously frugal. That's why New England has been spared much of the fallout from the recession the rest of the country is embroiled in. Don't believe me? Believe me. I know.

But sometimes, that frugality really rears up and bites us Yankees on the ass.

Take the woman with the dress:

She bought something--probably on clearance--at a phenomenal price; it's worth much more than she paid for it I'm sure. And, I'm guessing, it was on clearance, partly because it was the last one left in an unusual size. So, she knew when she bought it that it didn't fit her, and she knew she was going to have to have alterations done, but she rationalized in her head that the fix wouldn't be more than ten or twenty percent of the price--it couldn't be. All she knew was how much she was saving; the reason she was saving so much was unimportant. 

Sometimes it all happens in a blur. 

Anyway, that didn't stop her from putting up the money--in cash--for a lovely dress that didn't fit her.

And that brought her to the tailor, who told her how much it would cost for her to do what needed to be done to it, in order for her to wear what she was so happy she bought on sale, and have it look like it belonged on her frame.

But she was a Yankee, and so she couldn't bear to part with more money than she paid for the item--regardless of how much it would cost at regular price--to make it work.

She saw it as a rip-off.

The nerve!

I may be a Yankee, but I won't fall into this trap.

I see the tailor's price as part of the deal.

I see almost everything as part of the deal.

Because almost every single thing we do in life is a deal. Someone gets something in exchange for giving something back. Do this enough times and you have a life.

I don't like intentional quid pro quo, but a lot of times it just happens anyway, even if it's subliminal.

Both my lawyer and my financial adviser have said to me--independent of each other--this phrase: price is only a consideration in the absence of value.

My aunt always hated that phrase.

Because it was usually said to her when one of the two of the aforementioned important people in nice suits were trying to explain why she had to pay certain fees for certain services.

I mean, if she could have typed up her will with the Smith-Corona using my mom's rainbow stationary, and it would have been legally binding, she would have.

But she couldn't, and, thankfully, she didn't.

This is how I see a lot of things in life these days. Especially seeing how everywhere I turn I am witness to examples of how life can so quickly be taken by any random act of fate ... and a few instances which hit close to home and seem to follow a distinct pattern.

I have a few boxes full of boots--used boots. Boots that were never new to me. My mother bought them for me at a store called Savers, which is like an indoor tag sale filled with stuff bought at T.J. Maxx. A few of the boots I actually ended up wearing for extended periods of time on tours or out on the town. Sometimes they were worn solely because the looked good. As I have written about before, I have very wide, very flat feet, and most shoes which are not sneakers are uncomfortable. A few pairs of these used boots ended up getting brought to a cobbler where--you guessed it--I paid way more to have them fixed than they cost my mom to buy. This example is a bit different from the lady with the dress, because it was rare that I actually found a pair that I felt like I could wear in a practical capacity. In this case they became worth way more to me than even if they were bought new. Because now they fit and they were broken in. But more often than not I'd end up pulling on the latest pair of boots my mom lovingly bought for me for ten bucks and, not wanting to disappoint her, I'd say thanks-a-bunch, give her a hug and a kiss, and put them in my closet where they stayed until the day I moved.

I couldn't part with them, and so I now have a basement full of boots which at one time were very expensive, then were used by their original owners losing most of their value in the process. After that, they were donated to Savers to wait for my mom to come along and buy them when they were finally marked down under ten bucks. Then they were given to me, further reducing them in value to less than zero, as I could only wear any given pair for a couple of hours at a time.

And every time she'd show me the new ten dollar or less pair of boots she got me (bless her soul) I'd say, "Ma. Why don't you stop buying me all these old boots and lets go to a boot shop and we can get a new pair made just to fit my feet."

But cowboy boots, to a Yankee, are a frivolity. They are a cosmetic item and should only be purchased used. The soles are usually hanging on by a thread, as the boots were usually well worn and loved and were probably resoled a time or more before they ended up at Savers.

Sneakers we bought new. Socks we bought new. Raincoats, umbrellas, underwear, belts, and gloves we bought new. These things should start out fresh and untarnished--esthetically or structurally--by either the elements or the form of their owner.

But cowboy boots? Those we acquired at the very end of their lives in a general state of uncertainty. They were graciously--albeit reluctantly--accepted, and therefore were continuously bought.

And so, I have a basement full of boots that at one time fit somebody's regular-width, regular-arched feet. They probably each cost a fortune new, but I can't wear them because my feet won't let me. They take up less space in the basement than they used to take up in my closet ... but they're still extraneous, and they'll never see even a block of pavement on my fat farmer feet.

Price is only a consideration in the absence of value.

If you can't hem your own clothes, don't be surprised when the tailor gives you the bill.

Remember, she's not going to let you walk out of there without looking your best ...

... at least from the cuffs up.

Thanks for reading.


No comments: