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The Last American Consumer

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I don’t want to be known as a shopper. Actually I like window shopping and hate going into brick and mortar stores, really clicking on the Internet, or making the telephone call to place an actual order.

I shouldn’t have found myself in this position, and yet…

To keep it simple, I will say this began in March of last year when I put an apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan on the market. The weekend of the first open house was a disaster. Bear Stearns had imploded that week.

It was a small apartment. In most other places it would have been worthless. The granite foyer or kitchenette, the large marble bath, the “French” open city two exposure view were the only amenities.

It was a pretty apartment. At one time it owned my soul, but I had become obsessed with selling it and getting out of Manhattan. I was convinced that apartment prices were going to tank and there was going to be a recession that was going to hit Manhattan hard.

My own friends laughed at me. They put it down to one of my quirks such as my insistence on paying cash and buying a small apartment rather than a large one with the mortgage money that was constantly being offered to me, though I never applied for one.

I finally closed on the apartment in October at a reduced price (soon after Lehman Brothers went bankrupt). I got to keep the money that didn’t go to the realtor, taxes, or the building.

While the apartment was on the market, I had been living in a friend’s townhouse in North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. I was going to buy a condo; then I decided it should be a townhouse. From a townhouse it was a natural progression to a house with a deck, a sunroom, and outdoor space.

I found the perfect one in the ideal location. It was a FSBO (for sale by owner) and they wanted more than I was willing to spend, though less than I had made. I had other resources, though. After a lifetime of not listening to stockbrokers, I had begun to listen and was regretting that more and more each day.

A house in North Myrtle Beach — a nice, small city with friendly people and fewer foreclosures than Florida — seemed like it would be a solid foundation for a new life.

Where would a resident of Paris who left during the war want to be during the liberation? I felt that way about New York during the election. I went there and partied as if it were 1999 because really those were the last great days in the city. It was the best New Years in November I have ever celebrated.

An ambulance was going around blaring its siren as people cheered. My Goddaughter got so into answering peoples’ screams she almost fell out of the child guard that had been installed 18 years earlier for her. I took all the champagne bottles and made everybody run out. On the way we picked up more and more people from the building and on the streets.

While I was in the city giving champagne to homeless people, the owners of the house I wanted gave it to a broker and cut the price by a third. Due to my obsessive scanning of the multiple listings, I was the first to spot it. Thank you President Obama. Due to people’s absurd fear and ignorance, I was able to buy the house I wanted.

My dream home was now my home. There were just a few problems. I hate carpet and there was wall-to-wall carpet everywhere including the bathrooms. The kitchen had a narrow opening and the original cabinets and appliances. I loved the house. I wanted it to be my house. I came from the world of too small co-ops and rent-stabilized long-term rentals.

My parents bought a house and spent the next 40 years expecting the super to walk in and fix everything without my parents mentioning the problems. I, the least handy person in America, wasn’t going to be like them. I was going to solve every problem before it hit.

A new hot water heater? One that won’t run out of hot water? And it’s only__? Sure. My new five different kinds of tile (designed by me, and very spectacular if I say so myself) with multi shower jets, shower appreciates that. I was going to go for plain fiberglass, but I got an offer I couldn’t refuse. My kitchen cabinets, made by real Amish people, are much cheaper than they would have been last year. Everything is cheaper than last year.

The kitchen appliances – ha! I have seen that fridge itself go for the price of a fridge, dishwasher, stove and microwave. Paint – I can get it wholesale and the painter charges a price last heard in New York 30 years ago.

My contractor, Eldin One, is dedicated to getting me the best prices, and doing the woodwork. Soon, I hope, I will have seven-year growth bamboo floors in Miso and Bamboo everywhere but the bathrooms. The staircase will be unlike any other.

It’s dizzying thinking of all the work the plumber, electrician, tile man, Eldin One and Eldin Two, or Jimbo the painter have been doing. It’s even more dizzying thinking of the checks I have made out and the checks I will be making out. I have been paying my Amex bill once a week – and that was before I knew about their crackdown.

I call them the Eldins to their faces, as they have begun discussing how to best landscape my property. I know exactly what I want to do with my tenth of an acre only four short blocks from the beach. They can do it.

Furniture, artwork, and things? I have plenty of things as I collect glass, but the made-for-me wall unit wouldn’t go in the house, and I had a bare minimum of furniture for a 600 square foot co-op. I gave away my old televisions on the theory that one was so old it wasn’t worth it, and the other – well, I did give it away before I knew how much money I would be losing in the stock market.

Excuse me. I have to go to Best Buy and negotiate for a washer/dryer and two flat screen TVs. I have furniture to buy, lighting to get, and there’s a faucet with my name on it next to the black acrylic kitchen sink.

It’s not easy being the last consumer in America. Each purchase is fraught with guilt and doubt. Then I think, “Damn, I can afford this. I didn’t buy a house I couldn’t pay for. I didn’t fall for a false economy.” Still, it was my disbelief in life as it was that got me this far. But I have begun to think of the stock market as a place you put money in order to lose it.

I want my home renovation to be finished, and the furniture to be bought and paid for. I want to give this title I neither want nor like to the next person who is crazy enough to buy and renovate a house during these difficult times.

Everything really is a bargain. There’s just so much everything.

Once I move into my house, I’m going to grow fruit and vegetables, go off the grid, and never spend another cent in my life. I dream about being a survivalist without all the guns, politics, and Idaho.

If anybody can write, in 500 words or less, why they deserve the title and will proudly wear the mantle of “The Last Consumer in America,” please let me know.

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About piaSavage

  • I think you are not alone. There are plenty of people buying things, houses, stuff for them. I liken it to fiddling while the place burns down.

  • JST

    I felt really guilty buying an SUV last year. Even though it was a 2004 and gas prices had started to plummet.

    Of course now, gas prices are rising again.

    At least your purchases aren’t harming the environment.

  • I think the title shall be yours. Someone has to support the economy. It might as well be you, if for nothing else than you write about it so well.