We loved this mini-series (of which, it is revealed below, there are more), “Three Must-Haves,” from Steven Casimer Kowalski in the March Issue.
1. Why would anyone spend so much money on objects?
I donâ€™t know if Bruce Robinson wrote it for the movie or if he pulled it from someplace else but there is a quote from his film Withnail and I that goes, â€œFree for those who can afford it, very expensive for those who canâ€™t.â€ To me, to most people, $1500 is going to be a bit much for shorts. But to smaller, more privaledged group $1500 isnâ€™t a great deal of money. And this gets even more complicated when the amount is universally recognized as â€œtoo muchâ€ but the product itself, its status, its quality makes it â€œworth it.â€ There may or may not exist in the world things called Veblen Goods which are things we want to buy simply because they are expensive. Thatâ€™s just a theory floated by a late 19th century economist named Thorstein Veblen and it might seem an odd thing until you realize that people are spending $225 on cotton shirts. But if you have the money and it wonâ€™t hurt your budget either way, why not ignore the best things money can buy and just buy the most expensive things money can buy?
2. Where else does dignity not reside on our bodies?
Armpits, groins, anything that drips or auto-dampens. There is a probably a really entertaining project somewhere in the idea that some parts of us are valued as more dignified than others. The eyes, for instance, are always going to be valued and described as elegant while pubic hair is so alien to everyone that we need to use the clinical term â€œpubicâ€ just to talk about it without becomes sick to ourselves. And those are just the universals. Each of us has a dozen pieces of ourselves we hate. In fact, youâ€™re probably lucky if itâ€™s only a dozen. And we spend lots and lots of money trying to augment them for other people. And not all of it is a bad thing. But it can certainly become a bad thing.
3. Where did “Three Must Haves” come from?
They started as humor pieces inspired by Esquire Magazineâ€™s Big Black Book. The Big Black Book is essentially a style guide for men and before I trash it Iâ€™d like to first say there is some really useful stuff in there. It taught me how to iron pants, for instance. But along with useful information there is plenty of hogwash. In an older issue they list some â€œessential items,â€ one of which was a pair of sterling silver tweezers that cost something like $100. And I am sure they are very nice tweezers but they cannot be so nice they justify a price twenty times higher than I might pay at a corner drug store. It just seemed ridiculous so I started to look up other high end goods and they did not disappoint. I have dozens of â€œMust Havesâ€ written now including one about a Chess set that costs $9000â€¦Are you curious why itâ€™s so expensive? Well, itâ€™s because THE FUCKING IVORY FOR THE CHESS PIECES IS FROM AN EXTINCT WOOLY MAMMOTH. I remember reading that for the first time and just saying â€œholy shitâ€ over and over.
4. Are you a brand man, generic, or a mix of the two?
I certainly have brand loyalty. I know what sizes fit me nicely from what manufacturers. Knowing that kind of thing can at best help me budget and at worse rationalize dropping a bit more on shoes than I planned. Honestly I wish I had more money to buy nicer stuff. I donâ€™t want anyone to think that simply because something is expensive I am opposed to it. A bespoke suit is always going to cost more than something off the rack but it will fit and it will last. Itâ€™s when prices start to really inflate beyond the cost of skilled labor and quality materials that I become suspicious. Thatâ€™s a good deal of what these pieces are all about. What is the extra thing that makes these things worth it? Is it some kind of magical property we endow them with because they give us confidence or stature? Is buying something tremendously overpriced a demonstration that we can provide? Did we make it too easy to kill lions and whales so now we create the next difficult thing to do by making something financially exclusive? Am I full of shit? Is that worth something?
5. Do you really get what you pay for?
Almost never. If you did there wouldnâ€™t be a thing called buyerâ€™s remorse or a phrase like caveat emptor. The upside is that while you wonâ€™t always get what you pay for sometimes youâ€™ll get much more than you paid for and thatâ€™s always a really nice surprise. I just bought my first smartphone yesterday and it is certainly a total waste of money. It was expensive to buy and it will be expensive to maintain but now I can be on Twitter at the airport. Awesome. For the past 24 hours Iâ€™ve been vacillating between being really happy with my new gadget and feeling totally abused by the company that sold me this product. And it is only now, as I write this, that I realize thatâ€™s pretty much how I feel anytime I spend more than $50 dollars on anything. I think I need to lighten up.
6. Is it possible that our possessions can possess us? Has that happened to you?
It is an addiction like any other. It definitely happened to me with record collecting. Iâ€™ve seen it happen to other people with clothes, cars, amps, computers, guitars. It might be a bit much to say they â€œpossessesâ€ us but it can get pretty close. But again, it usually has to do with what you sacrifice in order to get that next thing. Record collecting can be really great because you can find some wonderful stuff that will cost you a couple bucks. There isnâ€™t much harm there. But when the next piece in your collection costs a monthâ€™s rent and you buy it, then there is a problem because you gave a lot to get it. And the consumers of these Must Haves arenâ€™t really working in that mode. You donâ€™t buy $1500 blankets by cutting the budget someplace else. You buy them because you have 10 beds that need them and havenâ€™t looked at a bank statement maybe ever. Thatâ€™s an unfair generalization but I am sure someone with that kind of money can take it. Theyâ€™ll sleep just fineâ€¦probably because their bed is made from the bones of their enemies.