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DVD Player

Buying a thing, and what it gets me.

I had just purchased a DVD player with karaoke function for $70 at J&R Music World. On the way back on the train, my friend and I began to talk about being middle class in New York. He is a senior programmer for a financial services firm, upper middle class. I work for myself in a variety of fields, mostly advertising, lower middle class.

I'm not going to be able to give my kids the life I had, he said. I make a lot of money, but we live in a three room apartment. I don't see any steady improval. If something ever went wrong.

Well, you're a father. Fatherhood is going to be a state of constant and perpetual terror. A crushing sense of obligation worsened only by a desire to escape. Do you have much debt?

$15,000.

That's not bad with two kids and [his wife] at home.

We're hiring a new junior programmer. They want to pay him $65,000. I couldn't figure out why they wanted to be so cheap, so I went out and researched the going rates. And that's about the middle of what's going.

Well—

And I realized that I am at the absolute crest of a career wave that began during the boom, and if it ever crashes I won't get back onto it. But my entire life is built on the idea of that wave continuing.

I made my peace with the fact that my entire life is bounded by my 250 square feet apartment. I am not going to own property or be able to afford something new any time soon. Not to mention health insurance.

Are you off it?

I think I can get back on by December. I was over at [major financial firm] a month ago, trying to get $3000 worth of work, 6 hours of meetings and 6 hours of demo work to be told that I seemed great, but internal politics made it impossible to bring me in. But while I was there for all the meetings, everyone looked nice, these clean offices. They had one of those automatic coffee makers, but it made tea too. I thought, I could do this, I could definitely come in here and sculpt web-based applications for hedge fund trading. I mean, I'd like to just go to the doctor when I felt sick. That is what I want. I'm a fucking American, I work hard and make good money, but I can't go to the doctor. I mean, they have that in fucking Canada. My mother is paying literally half of her retirement income to health insurance. I mean, thanks for the tax credit, that's what, one bottle of antibiotics? Then I spent all of August writing in a spreadsheet. 5 to 10 words per cell. The work didn't mean anything to me, but it paid okay, and I found myself thinking: well, could I do this for the rest of my life? And if I hadn't set up my life so that I have absolutely no responsibilities to other human beings, my answer would have been yes. But instead I've decided to sustain my adolescence further. And the one time I tried to be a grown-up, serious, and maybe get married, I failed totally. If I was a woman I'd be losing my mind wondering about my womb.

I think we need a good prescription plan for seniors.

United States of Merck. Then again, it's not as if this is real suffering. I am usually a positive person.

Yes. But in relative terms to what you learn in school, it still really sucks here now.

I pointed to the DVD player. That said, it is remarkable how inexpensive consumer electronics have become.

Which does take the sting off.

This thing has two microphone jacks and a reverb unit built in, for $70. Chinese slave prisoners built it with love, right before their organs were harvested. So, you know: we live in the best of all possible worlds.

.  .  .  .  .  

That night I excitedly played all of my DVDs, and several CDs. I hadn't owned a new consumer electronics item in well over a year. I opened the disc-tray door, and closed it, opened it again, and stepped through the myriad of menu options. $70, I thought, satisfied. This is at least fun. At which point a smell of ozone filled the room, and the machine died, absolutely impervious to my best attempts at resurrection, whether I shook it lightly, or cajoled it, or beat it with my fists yelling obscenities.


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About the author: I've been running this website from 1997. For a living I write stories and essays, program computers, edit things, and help people launch online publications. (LinkedIn). I wrote a novel. I was an editor at Harper's Magazine for five years; then I was a Contributing Editor; now I am a free agent. I was also on NPR's All Things Considered for a while. I still write for The Morning News, and some other places.

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