Thursday, October 25, 2018

I Don't Understand Status Symbols

I'm not normal, he said, and people snickered. No kidding.

The first time I realized I wasn't normal, I think I would have been four or so. I was wondering why the people in the TV were laughing while other people were being hurt and things were being destroyed. To this day, I still struggle with this: why are you laughing? That's not funny. How can you possibly find that funny? All the while people are laughing hysterically and asking me how can you NOT?
Then, as I started to socialize, other differences became very clear. Ambrose Bierce, in his Devil's Dictionary, defines "boy" as "a noise with dirt on it". Excessive noise has always bothered this boy (hey, kid, why are you screaming?) and he LOATHES the feeling of dirt on his skin. It's hard to describe, because it feels so alien: it's like my pores are suddenly larger and the dirt is finding its way inside. Ugh.

My aversions to noise, dirt and violence marked me for "special" treatment involving lots of noise, dirt and violence. I've been picked up, upended and shoved head down into full garbage bins, thrown into muddy puddles, and  had countless gunkballs thrown at my head. I've honestly lost track of how many pairs of glasses have been broken for me. I'm intimately acquainted with toilet bowls and other places most of you never see up close and personal.  At Navy League Cadet camp, somebody thought it would be a laugh riot to insert a large dead fish in my sleeping bag with me already in it. I moved six times between grades three and nine and no matter where I went, there I was: a stick-figure nerd whose face just begged to be rearranged.  I could go on and on and on, but you get the point: I stuck out like a cockroach on a wedding cake, and I was treated accordingly.

If that wasn't enough, though, I differed in other critical ways. I had (and have) an extremely vivid imagination, deeply coloured by a fierce streak of literalism. I've explored this before in a post about the floor being lava. That one's worth reading, including the comment from Eva.

I did play as a kid, but my playing was cerebral, sedate, and almost entirely solitary. Like most boys, I had a huge collection of dinky cars...unlike almost all of them, I never deliberately smashed one of them into each other, for the same reason I never pretended the floor was lava. Later in childhood I would design cities (I was very proud of McCallumston, which took up something like twelve pages of my scrapbook), as well as floorpans for houses and shopping malls. Play with other children? They didn't want to play, they wanted to be noisy, dirty, and violent.

When I was a child, I didn't understand the point of costumes. Again with the literalism: I don't care who or what you think I look like, that's still me under there, so why pretend to be something I'm not? I have since been schooled in the immense value costumes can have, most recently by Jade, for whom I can see a future as a professional cosplayer should she wish to pursue it. Some people, I am given to understand, learn a great deal about themselves by dressing and acting like others. I grasp that logically, but it's not me. I am who I am. Take me or leave me.

I never went through a "girls are icky" stage. My first kiss was from Alison Edmed in grade one, and by grade three...well, you all know about grade three. I sometimes wonder what might have happened had I stayed in Bramalea at least through high school. From Laura, Anna, Sonia and Catherine in 1980 to Sandy in 1990, no girl would look at me twice (or once, if they could help it)...but in the way of all normal growing boys, I never stopped thinking about them.

Well, maybe not in the way of all normal boys. The outer shells of women never registered with me: I was just as likely to fixate on a girl everyone else considered ugly as one that guys circled like flies, if her personality was attractive. If it wasn't, no amount of "hawtness" would move me. Still the case today.

There are other differences, huge ones that only really manifested once I was "all grown up". I asked my mom at the age of seven why it was called "making love". "Isn't the love already made?" I asked. That question was a clue to my adult self, unable to really grok the idea of sex without love pre-installed. Unlike virtually every man alive, I get at least as much out of cuddling as anything else that might transpire, and would be overjoyed to just cuddle.

And then of course there are all the little things, things you normies take for granted that I will never, ever be able to do. Like blow a bubble. Like touch my toes. Like solve a Rubik's Cube (it's easy! say people who are not me).

Like drive a car.

My driving phobia has differentiated me and marked my life more than almost everything else put together. I'm still very sensitive about this, even as my state of licenselessness (hey, that's almost as much fun to say as 'uteruslessness'!)  becomes more and more normal with each passing year. Every now and again my independence is thrown into question. It hurts enough when I do it. When others do...

I'm still bringing differences to light at 46 years of age. I stumbled on one yesterday. Status symbols.

I don't get it.

Oh, quality I understand. And respect, and choose every time, money permitting. Some so-called 'status symbols' are high quality items, and I won't hesitate to own one. Would I believe it says something special about me, let alone makes me a better person than you are? Not on your life.

The ones I find most perplexing have nothing to do with quality and everything to do with supposed rarity. Case in point: license plates.

In certain places, like the United Arab Emirates and Massachusetts, people can and do pay astronomical sums of money to secure a plate with the lowest number possible. This supposedly earns "respect". Not from me it doesn't. Oh, look at you with the number 1 on your license plate. Way to go, you have a plate that's different from every other plate!...uh...wait a minute...EVERY plate is different from every other plate. And even in the highly unlikely event that you were the first person in the country to be issued a license plate, that doesn't make you special, it makes you old. 

We're told short numbers are easier for children to remember. While undoubtedly true, I refuse to believe for one second that this is a primary or even secondary motivation here. No, people are buying low-number license plates at huge expense in an effort to appear special. And others are indulging them. Baffling.

The world is obsessed with status and its symbols. Those symbols are completely arbitrary and can change over time. Exhibit A: these 'rich' foods that were once anything but. There once was a time, and not all that long ago, when your average snooty-snoot wouldn't be caught dead eating lobster, foie gras, escargot, or caviar. And I hope current trends continue and diamonds go back to being rarely thought of before a single brilliant marketing campaign convinced most women in the civilized world that their men "owed" them a big fat diamond.

I think what bothers me about these things the most is the notion that they somehow "rank" you. The guy (you just know it's a guy) with the "1" license plate is that much better than the guy with the "2". Bullshit. Contrary to very popular wisdom, your bank account and your baubles don't signify when it comes to specialness. He who dies with the most toys is, alas, still dead.

Another kind of so-called 'status' I detest is that of royals and celebrities (much the same thing nowadays).

I have no special animus towards the British Royal Family. Well, Charles is a bit of a dolt, but you won't find me criticizing him regarding Diana/Camilla (unlike most of the rest of the planet). From everything I've read, that marriage to Diana was all but forced, and it's been clear since 1970 that Camilla has Charles' heart and vice versa. (By the way: any derogatory remarks at Camilla's appearance will not be taken well here.)
And I respect Queen Elizabeth II almost enough to agree she should be called Her Majesty. Almost.

My problem with royals is more fundamental. The notion that they can rule, even ceremonially, because of an accident of bloodline is just abhorrent to me. Somewhat related is the inexplicable idea that one can be "proud" to be Canadian. Really? I'm enormously GLAD to be Canadian, at the moment I consider myself LUCKY to be Canadian,  but pride is reserved for personal accomplishments--or for helping others with theirs. It's not a personal accomplishment that my parents had sex here. I didn't help them do it, either. (Ew.)

I can understand collectibles, and why someone might shell out for a rare one. But when it comes to memorabilia, I'm often mystified. Why would anyone even think of paying US$5300 for a used snotrag? Is Scarlett Johansson's mucus an aphrodisiac or something? What are you planning on doing with that handkerchief?  Using it? Framing it? Behold, a square of cotton with the dried nasal secretions of a Hollywood actress prominently displayed! What kind of reaction are you expecting when you interrupt dinner to announce to everyone present that you have just spent an Antarctic cruise worth of money on a used snotrag? Ooooohs and aaaaaaaahs? Me, I might retch.

Moving this into a field I know and love: musical instruments. Should a Stradivarius violin be worth almost $16 million? Certainly I can see why it would be expensive: it's around three centuries old, and made by a master. But a decent violin today goes for between $1000 and $2000.  Even going with the higher figure, is a Strad eight thousand times better than a modern violin? Really? EIGHT THOUSAND TIMES BETTER? That's nuts.

And unless you're a master yourself, you're not buying that Strad to play it. It will just sit there looking pretty, and you'll tell all your dinner guests that's a late Stradivarius and they'll ooh and ahh and think you special when in reality all you are is just monetarily wealthy.

I gotta tell you, I feel like I'm winning this game by not playing it. I am just an ordinary man, and nothing I have makes me any more or less special than you are.


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