The other evening I was reading one of my favorite authors, Peter Mayle, a quirky collection of essays called Acquired Tastes. As I read along I came upon this passage in the introduction:
I am not sure at all that [people of extraordinary means] enjoy themselves as much as we think they do. And Why? Because, damn it, something is always not quite right.
Expectations tend to increase in direct proportion to the amount of money being spent, and if you’re spending a fortune you expect perfection. Alas, life being the badly organized shambles that it so often is, and with so much of it dependent on the behavior of erratic equipment (servants), perfection is rare. After a while, the rich realize this, and then they start looking for trouble. I’ve seen them do it. Details that we would consider trivial assume enormous significance: the breakfast egg is inedible because it is marginally underboiled, the silk shirt is unwearable because of a barely visible wrinkle, the chauffeur is insupportable because he’s been eating garlic again, the doorman is either insufficiently attentive or overfamiliar –– the list of maddening blots on the landscape of life just goes on and on. How can you have a nice day if some fool hasn’t warmed your socks or ironed your newspaper properly?
I remember a fact-finding mission to a luxury hotel in Venice, a magnificent establishment with an equally magnificent chef. Impossible, I thought, to fail to enjoy dinner in such a place. But I was wrong. Sitting at the next table were four resplendent examples of old money from Milan. They were not happy. The white wine was not chilled exactly to their taste. A finger was lifted, but the waiter took longer than thirty seconds to arrive. Good grief, what is the world coming to? Throughout the dinner, I could hear totally unjustified mutterings of discontent. NO matter how delicious the food, how splendid the surroundings, things were not quite right. And this atmosphere –– almost suspicious, poised for disappointment –– pervaded the entire room. There wasn’t a jolly millionaire in sight. It was the first and only time I have ever eaten in a subdued Italian restaurant.
After a few experiences like this the thought of living permanently among the rich doesn’t appeal to me at all. But I have to say that some of their minor investments … are extremely pleasant and potentially habit forming…
It’s entirely possible that this is the best illustration of why I no longer care for the trappings of wealth.
There was a time when I was crazy mad about a career. I wanted to advance at work (before I turned to my photography), to get money — lots of it — and to make a name for myself. Things did not go according to my plans and my first few jobs put me in positions right near the owners of several businesses. Having the chance to hobnob (on a small scale) with business owners it didn’t take long before I realized that these guys (and in those days they WERE all guys) weren’t very happy at all. What’s more, they worked so hard they hardly saw their family, or their spouse, and they surely weren’t happy about money: they worried about it, the horded it, the wanted ever more no matter how much they had. All this while I was poor as a church mouse but I had a wife I loved, and eventually Kathryn came along and I was delighted to have a family.
In short order what I wanted out of life changed; it changed dramatically. I still worked hard — usually harder than other employees in whatever department I might have been — I was never afraid of hard work. But advancement wasn’t exactly what I wanted. Peg and I learned to live below our means — finding it much easier to be happy when we weren’t up to our eyeballs in debt. We got to the point that I’d balance the checkbook every few months, I knew there was money there because we simply didn’t spend every penny we made. I probably shouldn’t have been quite so cavalier about money — but that’s me. We scrimped and saved to do things others on our sort of income didn’t seem to do, or couldn’t afford to do — but it was possible because what other people though of as necessities we valued as luxuries; and we didn’t have all those toys that we might have easily been convinced were essential.
I have no regrets at all. Our retirement may not be as plush as some of our friends. Our RV is 10 yrs old, our car is 8 yrs. We go out to dinner a few times a month but no longer at the posh places we might have chosen 40 years ago. We are comfortable because our expectations are lower and we can afford to be delighted with almost anything that happens. We can enjoy our life. And our retirement.
It’s possible to live with so much less than we U.S. citizens think. I love this old image from the London Blitz — not for all the rubble and damage but for the simple smile on the Milkman’s face. All we need to is keep calm and carry on.
I’d like to think that we’ll get a buyer for our house in a few hours or a few days at most…. but I don’t know what will happen. All I do know is that if you want challenges, then this photo is a challenge….. and all you need do is
Keep Calm, and Carry On…
- Calm (whatdoyareckon.wordpress.com)