Envy, Part I
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Here in L.A., people often seek my envy. Neighbors add 30-foot Doric columns to their front porches and pass me in 30-foot Hummer limousines. Perfect strangers mention shoes they found in Italy, and drop the names of their landscape architects.
Today, for example, I'm at a backyard party, balancing a paper plate on my knee, when a fellow Angeleno takes a seat at my side. I don't know his name, but I soon know he's wealthy, because even though we at first discuss the pleasant quality of the sunlight filtering through a nearby willow, he somehow brings the conversation around to his condo in Tokyo and his ten acres in Kauai. I hear about his small plane: "Just a Piper for local hops."
And yes, within five minutes, he succeeds in conjuring my envy. I envy his acreage. I envy the Piper Cub.
And of course, I begin to dislike the man himself.
Okay... right away, I chastise myself. After all, envy is one of the seven deadly sins, and surely I should enjoy this other urban man's success the way I enjoy any glittering flight of the human spirit. Surely, I should be glad when anyone tastes the sweet frosting on the cake of civilization.
Still, when he starts in about Italian shoes, I think, "At least he has a double chin."
They say that in New York, the only important thing is having money, while in L.A., the only important thing is looking like you have money. Still, it's hard to understand why anyone deliberately sets out to inspire envy, even here in the third wealthiest city on earth.
I mean, by now, every Angeleno must realize it's not a pretty emotion.
Just watch the news. We may love our flashier celebrities--but we most love seeing them take a fall. We send photographers to cover the bad hair days of beauty. We relish the least drunken bout and the slightest traffic ticket given to wealth. And of course, every now and then, we get a poorly executed homicide.
Surely, as someone once said, if inspiring envy produces happiness, it is a solitary kind of happiness.
Today, as I look closely into the watery eyes of the man sitting in the dappled light of the willow, I do sense his need for affection. So at last, like the generous Angeleno I am, I offer him a gift.
I say, "I love Kauai. Tell me about your acreage."
At once he lights up--and I see that as I suspected, the ten acres were purchased for this very moment, just so they could be described to a stranger at a backyard party in West L.A.
Briefly the man launches into a poetic description of palms and windswept beaches. He mentions his cantilevered deck.
But soon he turns to annoying zoning regulations and persnickety neighbors. It seems he tried to secure a certain view, and got in a lawsuit. Then he tried to divert a local river without success.
Indeed, as often happens in such conversations, my new friend ends up presenting his wealth as a kind of burden, an endless hassle.
And I realize that this is his generous gift to me. Like the traffic tickets of Paris Hilton or the marital problems of Brad Pitt, this man's heartaches are a sincere donation to the public.
Really, it's a kind of bargain we have made, he and I. Me to offer him my envy, and he to let me see him suffer.
I smile in appreciation and understanding, and before we part, we share a moment of deep local bonding, Angeleno to Angeleno, here in the third wealthiest city on earth.
Copyright © 2007 Marc Porter Zasada. All Rights Reserved.
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