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Money For Nothing And Your Kicks For Free

As I was tooling around the net today, checking real estate trends in Queens, NY, I stumbled upon this Co-op for sale in Jamaica Estates. Go ahead, take a look, and examine all of the pictures. I pride myself on my keen eye for details, and thus, I can tell the following things about the current owner evidence of this Co-op:

1) He’s a “minority” of some kind, most likely Black. Evidenced by the outrageously enormous painting of some Nubian queen hanging over the headboard. Plus the fact that the apartment is in Jamaica, a neighborhood consisting of a 25% Black, a 28% Hispanic and a 16% “other” population.

2) There is more than one adult person living in this apartment. Evidenced by the two toothbrushes and two robes hanging in the bathroom. To be fair, one of the toothbrushes looks a little smaller than the other, so it could just be one guy and one kid. But not likely.

3) These people have a child. Evidenced by the pictures, the teddy bear and the Hello Kitty cushion on the stool in the bedroom.

4) Despite having a child, the owner smokes dope. Evidenced by the water pipe on the TV in the living room. Don’t bother asking me how I know what this is.

5) This man has made some really stupid choices throughout his life. How do I know this last piece of information? Take a look at this picture here:

Notice what is stacked up against the north wall? Sneaker boxes. 68 sneaker boxes. I counted. Plus, there are three pairs of sneakers sans boxes perched on top. That means that this man, despite currently living in a 562 square foot studio apartment with a child owns at least 71 pairs of sneakers. And that’s how I know the owner is male, by the way.

Let’s see if I can break this down into financial terms:

Average price of a pair of hip, happening sneakers like Air Jordans: $130 + 8.25% Sales Tax = $140.72

Total sneaker expenditure, (not including the pair currently being worn or any not lucky enough to get into the picture): $9991.47 give or take.

$10,000. This man has spent $10,000 on sneakers (made in a sweatshop that pays its employees about $130 a month). For sake of argument, that comes out to $833 a month spent on sneakers.

The maintenance on this Co-op is $330 a month, and assuming a 30-year fixed mortgage at 6.625%, the monthly mortgage payments are $415. Every four weeks, in order to put a roof over his and his child’s head, this man must lay out $745 dollars, not including gas and electric which average about $60 a month in a space that size.

So, not even taking into account credit card, car, or insurance payments (something tells me that this guy isn’t burdened with having to pay back Sallie Mae), he has to spend approximately $800 a month just to live. His sneaker outlay on the other hand is $833.

Now, most likely he didn’t buy those sneakers all in one year; it’s not practical, or even economically viable. Even if he collected them over a period of say, 6 years, by setting aside a portion of his paycheck and purchasing one pair of sneakers a month. This makes sense: placing $35.18 in a piggy bank, or under the mattress, or inside an empty mayonnaise container in the fridge and saving up little by little until he could run out to footlocker and buy these these objets d’art.

Now, let’s instead hypothesize that instead of buying 71+ pairs of sneakers, our friend decided instead to open a Citibank e-Savings account with an APY of 5%. He then, hypothetically, places the same $35.18 per week into that account instead of buying yet another pair of shoes. After the same 6 years, instead of having a collection of hideously ugly footwear, he would have accumulated $13,065.30.

And that my friends, is what separates the rich from the poor. Not entitlement, not corporate thievery, not capitalist greed. Wealth is accumulated through simply studying the fundamentals of economics and using common sense to make them work for you. Chances are, this guy was never educated on the rudiments of fiduciary responsibility; no one living in a studio apartment with his child buys 71 sets of anything except maybe Spongebob videos. But he can’t be a complete and utter moron (unless that chessboard in the living room picture is merely ornamental), and think that sneakers are going to be the road to a better life for he and his progeny.

Why did I feel it necessary to mention that he’s a minority and quite possibly black? For the simple reason that minority groups (and guilty white liberals) are always going on about the “unfair distribution of wealth” in this country. You know, there’s a reason why wealthy white guys continue to stay wealthy: their forebears didn’t blow a bunch of cash on worthless consumer products. And there’s a difference between being “rich” and being “wealthy.” Wealth comes from making intelligent financial decisions over an extended period of time until assets are amassed. Rich is a result of guessing six numbers in a state lottery. I think Chris Rock put it best: “Shaquille O’Neal is rich. The guy that signs Shaq's check is wealthy.”

I can’t tell you how many people I’ve met who live in rat-infested shithole apartments in Washington Heights with three roommates, but own all the latest gizmos, gadgets and electronic diversions. I have a friend that couldn’t afford a car until he was 29 years old, but manages to have an Xbox, a 60 gig iPod, and a flat screen TV. And when he finally bought his car, a $1200 beater, he spent another $1000 on a car stereo so loud that you can actually see the lyrics of his awful Reggaeton music floating in the air over his trunk. Another person I am acquainted with (notice how I danced around the word “friend”), is 33 years old, has no savings account, but spends $1500 a month in rent for a two-bedroom apartment, claiming she needs the extra space for her “studio.” I thought artists were supposed to be “starving,” not “stupid.”

“That still doesn’t explain why you had to make a big deal over this guy’s race, Valannin.” Sure it does. In the examples I have just presented, both people happen to be Hispanic. Or Latino. Or Boriqua. Or whatever the fuck they are calling themselves nowadays. The Caucasian friends that I have simply don’t do these things. Although they do watch poker on TV.

Point is, there is a disturbing trend going on, chiefly among minorities, (although white people are far from immune from my judgment), of people spending freely and above their means. As an enthusiast of both anthropology and psychology, I am significantly interested in human motivation, that is to say, the reasons why people have chosen to do what they do. Of course, I can only base my conclusions on observable data: I make inferences based on statistics that I have read and the actions of the people that I know. Not the most accurate sample, I’ll admit, but good enough to write an article and post it on a website that 11 people read.

So my question to you, loyal readers, is why? What makes people, particularly American minorities, spend thousands of dollars on periphery and playthings thereby sacrificing a secure financial future?

The reader with the most cogent argument gets a pair of these.


Moni said…
"What makes people, particularly American minorities, spend thousands of dollars on periphery and playthings thereby sacrificing a secure financial future?"

The media.

If you take into account that it is human nature; instinctual design, for us as a species to desire things that are astetically pleasing; societal enforced standards, then immitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

Every day we are bombarded with celebrity, be it minority or not. Professional atheletes, rappers, movies stars, all reminding us how we should act, dress, and what we should possess in order to be successful. A sham that is perpetuated by mass media and fueled by Madison Avenue, teaching us how to be happy.

Unfortunately, it's a skewed view and any one who is not free thinking is apt to fall into this trap.

Buy this bling, these sneakers, own this piece of electronic equipment and even though you don't have any savings and live hand to mouth, you'll be happy.

I'm not much into Sociology, but I believe that our need for instant gratificiation plays a major role. We're a "I want it now," society; fast food, fast living, fast everything. Why should we slave our lives away and save a little bit at a time, when we can have it all right now with the magical swipe of a credit card?

Just my humble opinion.

Hey Val, if I'm the only one to respond to this post, do I get the sneakers by default? I could really use a pair of shoes, I spent my last Benjamin on bling. ;)
Valannin said…
Damn, Moni, great response! It's good then that the things that make me happy don't blink, whir, buzz or flash. They uncork smoothly and make little splooshing noises in my glass.

I'd like to wait until the other 10 people who actually read my articles respond, but I'm pretty sure the CyberKomodo2000's (or whatever the fuck those hideous things are called) are yours.

Virtually, of course. I have mortgage payments to make. :)
Moni said…
I like cyber shoes, I'm a shoe-a-holic anyway.

I just noticed your map...that's cool. I also noticed that I have a great big dot down here in Virginia. (oh like you or anybody else didn't know) ;)

Seems I can run, but I can't hide. ;P
Scott said…
Should I call you Sherlock Schwab, or Charles Holmes? I cannot begin to top Moni's answer, which reminded me of the way I used to be able to sink a sixteen penny nail with one shot of the hammer. Like the sweet mush of a well hit ball.

I don't know if you ever saw Boyz in the Hood, but there was a scene where Fishburne is postulating that the government wants blacks to kill one another. Observe, he said, there is a liquor store and gunshop on almost every corner. It does seem to me that traps have been laid, and your example is just one of them.

Way to make me think.
Valannin said…
"Sherlock Schwab" sounds like a housecleaning product from the makers of Swiffer and "Charles Holmes" kinda sounds like an adult movie star. Come to think of it, so does "Sherlock Schwab."

In any case, I was thinking EXACTLY of Boyz in the Hood while writing this, particularly the scene in which you describe. But my question now, as it was then is "But who is forcing you to buy those things?"

I watch the same athletes, listen to the same music (ok, no I don't, I have it force fed to me at work), and am aware of the same celebrities that the minorities do, and yet, I don't own translucent orange sneakers or anything else they're hawking. How come I buy a set of Alton Brown signature chef's knives, but not a pair of LeBron James sneakers?

I think it has something to do with self-awareness. I know that by buying expensive knives that I may be able to make my life easier in the kitchen; quality tools turn out a quality product. But Air Jordans don't make you run higher, throw faster or make you more accurate in the paint. They tell the world "Hey, look, I have $130 sneakers! I must be worthy!" but at the same time, coincidentally, they actually make you look like everyone else who bought the same shoes.

It's kind of like the "Hippy" movement of the sixties: "We're going to be non-conformist by wearing the exact tye-dyed shirt as every other self-proclaimed non-conformist."

Tune in, Turn on, Go Shopping.

And I do agree that there is some sort of trap being laid, but not in corporate-enslavement-tobacco-industry kind of way. Nike and Apple realize that their products are merely engines of self-esteem, and they are capitalizing on the fact that their products have moved far beyond utilitarian and into the realm of status symbols. Poor minorities FEEL less poor by purchasing multiple pairs of expensive sneakers, and yet, ironically, become more poor.

But I don't blame Nike or Apple; It still boils down to individual choice. I do, however blame the emphasis placed on material goods by a society that has long ago traded in its soul for a few shiny baubles.

That means YOU, Baby Boomers...
Scott said…
I don't think the government lays traps for anyone. Capitalism is at play here, the rules of supply and demand. Like attracts like, as witnessed by any major city: Chinatown, Japantown, etc. And mostly in the same financial bracket. A bright flashy pair of sneakers looks cool, especially to a teenager. And they aren't all that expensive if that's all you spend your money on. The exception of course being the person whose room is pictured. Clearly the man is obsessed, or owns a store, or jacked it from a truck or storeroom. I'm not sure what message was being conveyed by the movie, but I suspect it was that a conspiracy was in play. But it could also be that Fishburne wanted them to recognize and take control of their situation, instead of falling into the trap, regardless of the setter.

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