Monday, January 23, 2006

Don't Congratulate Me

What would you say if I told you I just bought $17,000 worth of stock that was guaranteed never to increase in value? And what if I said it would only be worth a few hundred dollars in a decade? First you'd ask me what I've been smoking, then you'd probably tell me to sell it (the stock, that is, not whatever I was smoking).

So why do people congratulate me for buying a car?

Does it have to do with the auto-centric nature of our culture? Am I to be congratulated for contributing to traffic congestion and pumping out greenhouse gases? Or is it about our rampant consumerism? Should I be lauded for accumulating goods? It's not much of an achievement; there are nearly six million cars in Illinois alone, so there's nothing special about owning one. Does anyone congratulate me for buying a television? Come to think of it, my TV has outlived my wife's car, so my $420 investment is looking better than her $15,000 investment now, isn't it? I haven't spent a dollar repairing my TV or performing any routine maintenance on it either. Plus it came with a free cordless phone, which we still use.

My family was disturbed when I told them I was selling my car after I moved downtown 10-1/2 years ago. Living without a car seemed to be more than their suburban mindsets could handle. My parents later said they were just afraid I was going to lose money on the deal, but they should have known me better than that (isn't it funny how people brand me as cheap without recognizing me as fiscally responsible?). Worse was a ridiculous comment from my grandfather about why I shouldn't sell: "A car is an investment." Huh? How is a depreciating asset an investment? We weren't talking about an antique, classic, or limited edition, just an ordinary car. There's only one context in which his statement made any sense. My grandfather was an insurance agent. So whenever a customer bought a car, it was an investment... in my grandfather's retirement fund!

I don't see why I should be congratulated for buying a car -- it's just a matter of spending a lot of money. At my wedding, did people congratulate me for getting married or for spending a bunch of cash on the nuptials? Jeez, I could have bought a car for that kind of dough.

When my mother-in-law saw our new car, she said something even worse: "That's a cute car you have." I suppose she was waiting for me to graciously respond to this supposed compliment. But instead, I stared blankly at her in silence. No guy in the world wants to be told his car is cute. In fact, if another guy said it, those would be fighting words. At least I bit my tongue; what I wanted to say was, "Cute? No, my Focus could kick your Buick LeSabre's old-lady-car ass!"

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