Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Money Matters

Dr. True's Soup and Read's film reviewer, JK Zokeler, and I are in the midst of a project to watch all of the Best Picture Oscar-winners that neither of us has seen. These are:

All Quiet on the Western Front (1931), Grand Hotel (1932), Mutiny on the Bounty (1935), The Great Ziegfeld (1936), The Life of Emile Zola (1937), The Greatest Show on Earth (1952), Ben Hur (1959), Patton (1970), Dances with Wolves (1990).

Each time he visits, we tick one of them off the chronological list. This year we managed to consume Wings, The Broadway Melody and Cimarron, the first three award winners (1928-1930). It's been fascinating to see the change in film-making techniques that occurred during this time. Wings, a movie about WWI pilots, is silent and jumpy, but has a functional plot. The Broadway Melody, camcorder-ish-ly amateur, has nothing to recommend it, but it does include, as you'd expect, lavish musical numbers that must have blown the folks away back in Hoover-times. And Cimarron is both a talkie and a technically astute, if terribly flawed picture that has an impressive stage-coach action scene.

Watching all of these is a chore, a history lesson. They proceed. We feel like we're finishing our homework.

Exponential improvement came in a movie like It Happened One Night, during which there's no hint of silent-era over-acting or technical growing pains. And it seems like movies made after 1934 or so, even though they can be culturally laughable and somewhat foreign have at least a tenuous connection to what we now recognize as coherent visual storytelling.

All of that is to say that during Cimarron, which has been mostly discredited because of its casual racism, we had time for some other discussions. So while the actors blithely overran Cherokee territory to get their hands on prime property, J.K. mentioned that he'd just bought a new bed, and I was curious what he did with the old one. He'd gotten rid of it and I suggested that it could have been donated. He agreed but wondered whether much good--altruistic or practical--comes out of passing along our outworn things, especially items as personal as that.

"I'm not sure that anything you get for free works out in the long-run," he said, in as many words. We'd previously agreed that giving away used stuff can be iffy. Sometimes one man's trash is trash.

But before he'd even finished his talk about long-runs, I countered that my washer and dryer had been attained for exactly zero dollars and that they have been a constant blessing. As the actors laughed patronizingly at their poor, black servant, I thought I had won the argument.

But last night Megan was drying some slippers and our hand-me-down, we-beat-the-system dryer vociferously broke. Estimates suggest it will cost nearly $200 to fix, precisely the amount of the modest raise I secured yesterday on the phone while the actors railed against inter-marriage and its deleterious effect on proper society.

Must all of what I too-confidently profess be undermined by sneering, expensive coincidence? Can't I once outsmart the kind of conventional wisdom Zokeler was repeating? Was there really a joke about watermelons in Cimarron?

(I believe this is our model.)

The dryer, and the effects of my thriftiness, got me thinking about how often I pat myself on the back for beating the money-game, getting a good deal on hummus, skimping on a plane ticket, delaying the purchase of a car and counting that delay as slowly-accruing savings. For me, and maybe for most people, knowing the rules of this game and playing the game well are more than just a hobby. This game becomes an identity. The savings of 40 cents is so marginally important to our well-being, and yet we talk about it because those savings mean we're winning, constantly grinding out the tough yards in our pitched battle against, what, caring a little less about money? (This goes only for the people for whom, like me, 40 cents really doesn't matter. I cop to my lite-elitism on this matter).

But as much as I don't want to be a person who greedily saves on secondhand junk-appliances, I don't want to greedily give up on the idea of making-do, don't want to let my standard of living run away with itself so much that I look cheap-stuff in the mouth and buy spanking-new because I've been duped into believing that's the only proper path.

That I'm always somewhere on this aggravating continuum means that I've lost, doesn't it? That thinking about the proper value of stuff is my real pastime?

The answer may come in one hour when Tri-State Appliances (which states?) arrives at my apartment and determines for me how good an American Consumer (or Resister) I am. Will the repair be cheap? If so, I've won. Something.

Enough to rent Grand Hotel maybe. Though Grand Red Roof Inn would probably be a better deal. It doesn't really matter. I'll talk through both of them.


UPDATE: It was Tri-County not Tri-State. But they couldn't tell me which counties. Meanwhile, $106.69! Free Dryers for everyone!

Curiously, both Mikes who fixed the dryer are in a band called Station Break Psycho Blues Band, and will be appearing at Abrio's in Athens with Conan O'Brien's trumpeter, in March.

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