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?


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.


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.




Ftrain.com is the website of Paul Ford and his pseudonyms. It is showing its age. I'm rewriting the code but it's taking some time.


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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.

If you have any questions for me, I am very accessible by email. You can email me at ford@ftrain.com and ask me things and I will try to answer. Especially if you want to clarify something or write something critical. I am glad to clarify things so that you can disagree more effectively.


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© 1974-2011 Paul Ford


@20, by Paul Ford. Not any kind of eulogy, thanks. And no header image, either. (October 15)

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