# # The Necessary Year - Day 13: Knee-Jerk Consumer

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Brother, I Can See Your Skull. - The Coreyshead Blog

The Necessary Year – Day 13: Knee-Jerk Consumer


(this post is part of an aborted 1 year experiment in material abstinence I called The Necessary Year)


And I thought cutting back on fluids was hard.

Zappa.com just announced a new CD and I’m sitting over here having a hard time with the reality that I’m going to have to wait a year to order it.

I’ve never done that before. Waited, I mean. Not for a new Zappa album.

Well, okay: I have waited before when I had to -but it’s been years since I’ve had to. Over a decade. What I should have said is that I’ve never chosen to wait before. Hell no. Why would I?

The farther I get into The Necessary Year, the more I realize how much of a spoiled, knee-jerk consumer I have become.

What’s that?

A knee-jerk consumer is a person whose only thought when it comes to purchasing something is “do I want it?” A knee-jerk consumer is someone who buys things out of momentum: “I have two of these, I’d best get the third, even if it is ugly.” A knee-jerk consumer is someone who will shop out of boredom – and that’s me.

So, if I’m so opposed to being a knee-jerk consumer, how the heck did I become one?

I can’t blame my parents. They certainly didn’t raise me to be one. I very rarely received new things as a kid and I was fine with that. Not only was that the way my parents operated, they also just didn’t have the money.

My brother and I improvised many of our toys and, though we were incredibly destructive to much of what we did have (aerosol flame-throwers, anyone?), much more of it we treasured as dear, no matter how old and beat-up it became (or even was when we first received it).

I knew many kids who got a heckuva lot more than I did on a regular basis and sometimes I was jealous but mostly I felt that they were kind of (or totally) spoiled. Many of them could bully their parents and loved to do so in front of their friends. Most of my friends weren’t like that, though. My pals were the kind who, money or not, could have fun with dirt and tree branches. The landscape was our favorite toy.

So what the hell happened to me?

I think my metamorphosis into a knee-jerk consumer started during my teens when, like most folks, I felt the overwhelming need to appear cool – or at least what I thought others thought was cool.

You remember being a teenager, right? How who you were was often defined by the pop icons you associated yourself with?

I felt sure that my lack of popularity was due mainly to the fact that I had no concert t-shirts, no walkman, no cassette tapes of cool music to put in my non-existent walkman, and no Levi jeans. Of course, on top of this I also acted like a complete space-alien but I was convinced that, if I at least looked the part, I would win half the battle towards social acceptance among my peers. Then I could get with the ladies – my ultimate goal.

So I went to a few rock concerts (my first was Iron Maiden’s “Powerslave” tour – an album I didn’t really like but, hey, check out my ├╝ber-cool new concert t-shirt!), shop-lifted myself a large collection of cassettes, and got my mom to buy me Levis by freaking her out with my endless and pathetic self-loathing.

Did it work?

Not really. I ended up changing into a more controlled version of myself and looked a little like a member of a peer sub-group (the druggie rockers – I guess I thought “tough” would be easier to pull off than “rich” or “athletic”) but I still hung out with the same old group of misfits and remained as invisible to girls as they were visible to me. The main change in me was that I became obsessed with music and the sense of belonging it gave me.

Even if the bulk of my peers rejected me, at least I had my favorite groups and musicians – and they liked me. They had to, right? I mean, I risked my neck to steal their music, I worshiped them from afar, they even wrote songs about me (they had to be about me. the lyrics just, like, totally fit, man, y’know?).

But there was more than music.

There were posters, t-shirts, buttons, etc. that, if not embossed with a group or performer’s logo, looked like something they might have approved of me wearing. And there were concerts and movies that you had to attend to be “in”, to attain that state of knowing who your people were and where you fit in with them.

And then there is the fact that the group I hung with was all about playing Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (told you I was a geek). Getting into that little universe at the appropriate level required at least a $100 investment in books, dice, and other seriously goofy crapola. I was lucky enough to be gifted the books and dice at Christmas the year I got involved in the game (oh my god, the boy made some friends -let’s support this!) and then I discovered that there were figurines you could collect and customize: little lead castings of monsters and heroes that you bought and painted with model paint. Oh, yeah. I was hooked.

And, of course, we cannot forget my first obsession: reading. Always for me the books. My fantasy as a kid was not to be locked overnight in a toy or candy store but a library or book store. Though, as a kid I had to rely upon the school, public library, or my parent’s leavings for new reading material, once I began to have a little pocket money, much of it went towards books.

The more money I had, the more it burned a hole in my pocket. My first steady, paying job was as my dad’s construction gofer and I have a very distinct memory of sometimes not even seeing a paycheck, I’d spend it so fast. Come quitting time on Friday, dad would tell me my total and, when we stopped off at the grocery store for dinner fixins, I’d dash over to the magazine section to pick out books.

And so I lived.

Out of the house as a young adult and gainfully employed, I’d project my expenses and my net – then, with all of my bills paid, I’d cast that remaining net out and pull back beer, cigarettes, books, cds, and more. If an emergency came up it had to wait until my next paycheck. Period.

Eventually my life and thinking grew more complex and I became a little better at not spending absolutely everything but I was still living paycheck to paycheck and continued to do so even during this last decade when money was plentiful. I’d blow my paychecks and then rely on my credit card to get me through.

Say! Now there’s a plan!

So now, when I walk through a store, thumb through a catalog, surf the web, talk to people on the street, or even just listen to my inner thoughts, I get bombarded with cues that mean “go buy it NOW” – and I’m used to listening to those cues:

“Ho-hum – I wonder what’s new at HobbyLinkJapan?”
“I’ve had a rough day, I need a beer.”
“Say, there’s a bin of pre-viewed, $9.99 DVD’s for sale … ”

Earlier this week, an online friend mentioned that he had a double of a rare, Japanese toy for sale that I’ve long wanted. The price was outside my means but I was seriously tempted and even spent a few minutes trying to figure out how I could pull it off – both financially and so as to skirt the moral requirements of The Necessary Year.

Yes, you read that right, just a day ago I was ready to compromise my stated goal for something the likes of which I already have dozens of examples.

And now this Frank Zappa cd.

The other things on my “frivolities” list I can wait for -but Frank Zappa and the R@@@RE, mint Bullmark Angilas?

In some sick, insidious way, it feels like it is somehow my duty to buy these things, like I am lying to myself about who I am to hold off and even potentially lose the opportunity to buy them (well, the Angilas, at least).

These troubling thoughts bear a striking resemblance to how I used to talk myself into one more “last” cigarette back when I’d slowly fail to quit smoking. That’s an addict speaking, folks – and all the more reason for me to hold fast to my convictions.

The other thought I keep having, the one that makes all my blind-lizard urges so much easier to resist is this: if I’ve lived my life just fine without these things so far, what is the desperate imperative to get them now?

Guess I’ll just have to content myself with one of the other 80+ Frank Zappa albums I already own … =P

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2 Responses to “The Necessary Year – Day 13: Knee-Jerk Consumer”

  1. Me says:

    I feel ya. If music is a big chunk of your life it almost seems necesary to have it.

    Of course I’m sure you know that music is like air for me– without it I would just die! lol. It’s not that extreme but it’s up there right next to hygeine.

    But, you know once this year is up Zappa will still be there waiting for you with er’ open arms?

    • cae says:

      > Zappa will still be there waiting for you with er’ open arms?

      But what if I *sharp intake of breath* go deaf, die, or suddenly turn christian before then?

      The mind reels!

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