The hubby and I are becoming what we once despised.  I’ll never forget Sugar Daddy’s first day of work with the Microprocessor Industry Leader Which Cannot Be Named.  We were nine months into graduate school when he got a paid internship that saved our bank account.  I knew it would mean lifestyle changes for us because 1) his intern salary was three times his graduate student stipend and 2) he had to buy new clothes.  I believe that fateful Monday morning was the first time I’d ever seen him in khakis.  Honestly, it’s a pretty creepy feeling going to bed with a Pure Scientist and waking up to realize you’re married to an engineer.

The best thing about having discretionary income for the first time in our marriage was walking down the aisle at the Safeway and thinking, “I can buy whatever kind of breakfast cereal I want.”  An especially sweet feeling in contrast to the despair I felt eight weeks into my pregnancy with Mister Bubby, when I was convinced that a pint of decent Chinese food was the only thing that would relieve my morning sickness, but I didn’t have the money to spend on Chinese food, and even if I did, there was no decent Chinese food to be had in the Pacific Northwest.  But I digress.

The worst thing about having discretionary income was the temptation to spend it on things we didn’t really need, as opposed to saving it for our eventual return to graduate school.  Suddenly we found ourselves in a very money-oriented culture–at work, in our neighborhood, even our church–and we felt very out of place.  Our most frivolous purchase during this time was a modern video camera (as opposed to the one we inherited from my mother-in-law–one of those dinosaurs the size of a Buick that you have to plug into the wall).  Aside from that, we were pretty well-behaved, and we returned to live in semi-poverty with a little extra grocery money and a renewed determination not to engage in the conspicuous consumption that is
America‘s favorite pastime.

Growing up, I was used to not having every little thing I wanted–not because my parents were poor or stingy, but because they were in debt up to their eyeballs (graduate school will do that to people).  Let’s just say we got our first color TV in 1987, and that was only because a lady from church left us all her furniture in her will.  (That was random.)  S.D. grew up in a single-parent household and was also used to doing without certain luxuries, so we thought we fit in nicely with the paycheck-to-paycheck crowd.  I must say, for Republicans we had some pretty mean class-warfare issues.  I admit that we were a bit arrogant in our  shunning of every new gadget that came along.  “Who needs a digital camera?  Digital cameras are for chumps!”  “Who needs a cell phone?  Cell phones are for idiots!” “Who needs a DVD player?  DVD players are for the Man!”

Then S.D. finally earned his doctorate and got a proper job.

As luck would have it, our CD player (one of S.D.’s high school graduation presents) broke right after we got the job offer from the Big Satan, so we used that excuse to buy a CD/DVD player.  We even bought a DVD to play on it.  But we didn’t start buying them willy-nilly at the Costco because Costco was for Overfed White Women.  (S.D.’s term; direct your hate mail to him.)  We were saving money to buy a house.  We were responsible citizens.

Not long after we bought the house–which was way less house than our realtor wanted us to buy–we bought a computer.  Which we deserved, by the way.  Well, I deserved it, as I had effectively lived without one after our printer died in 1999.  (How does a professional writer survive without a computer, you might ask?  Well, obviously she sacrifices her career for the greater good until everyone, including herself, forgets that she ever was a writer in the first place–but she doesn’t become the least bit bitter about it.)

But then S.D. announced that he was getting a cell phone.  That’s right–one of those little things people carry around on the bus and in the Target so they can chat with their friends and family about the fact that they’re sitting on the bus or walking around the Target.  S.D., of course, was only getting one because the Big Satan would reimburse the cost (like they reimburse the cost of our high-speed internet) just for the privilege of having him at their beck and call 24/7.  Never mind the fact that the phone he got (which was essentially free, with the rebate) had gaming capability–because that’s just what you need in a telephone, gaming capability–he was only going to use it to return pages.  And for emergencies.  And possibly for shopping at Target.  (Did I mention that he doesn’t ride the bus anymore?)

As ridiculous as I feel answering something that plays the theme from “Alias” when it rings, I didn’t feel too ashamed of myself until S.D. came home from Best Buy on Saturday with a web camera.  Okay, so his mother sent him money for his birthday and told him to buy a web camera so she can see the kids when we’re instant messaging.  He swears it’s something he would never have bought for himself (if only because he knows I would say, “You bought a webcam?  Are you out of your effing mind?”), but last night he spent an inordinate amount of time making home movies on the computer, dubbing funny voices over our kids’ antics and creating text graphics that paraded the phrase “UP YOURS” across the screen.

It’s times like this when I hate myself.  A couple days ago my older sister called to tell me that her husband had lost his job for the second time in three years.  The last time he got laid off, he was unemployed for almost a year.  They were finally able to dig themselves out of that hole and bought their first house last year–after 13 years of marriage and three kids, who had been squeezed into one bedroom of an 800-square foot apartment for the last decade.  Now it looks like the hard times are starting all over, and my sister is, understandably, freaked out.  And so am I, because I can’t believe how much luckier I have been than she has.  It isn’t fair.

Dennis Prager says that if you don’t ask the question “Why me?” during the good times, you have no right to ask it during the bad.  Well, I do ask, “Why me?” quite a bit these days.  S.D. and I have worked hard to be where we are, but my sister and her husband have worked at least as hard, if not harder, and they may never be where we are.  We’re a supportive family, but that doesn’t make it easier to look at your younger siblings with their cell phones and their webcams and not want to throw up.  I’d like to throw up myself right now.

“…she said, as she typed on her Pentium 4 PC with the flat-panel monitor.”

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