Keeping the Muse Happy
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If we want to get this economy moving, the Urban Man knows we're going to have to sacrifice to the Muse of Excess Spending. We may have to burn some incense, sing some songs, and of course, buy a few presents to make her happy.
Me, I've had a picture of the Muse thumb-tacked above my desk for years. She appears in the ads for this jewelry store in Beverly Hills, a forty-something woman with streaked blond hair, a little plump in a tight-fitting sweater and cheap slacks, surrounded by diamonds. Maybe you've seen these ads: in every one, she throws up her hands with this weird and fearsome smile. "70% off," she cries with a kind of primitive triumph.
The one above my desk reads "Happy Wife = Happy Life," and it shows a fiftyish man kneeling on the ground as he holds up an oversized diamond to this Muse. Like most things Beverly Hills, it's both tasteless and sexist, but it brings me a strange comfort. When I'm not earning much, I look up and tell myself that unlike that suffering shlub on his knees, the Urban Man is pursuing art. When I am making good money I think, "Hey, maybe I too have found the secret to a contented life. Maybe you can buy happiness."
Last week I happened to be walking past this very shop. I knew it because through the window I saw dozens of these ads plastering the walls, all featuring that same woman. Again, I wondered: "What is that strange look in her eye? Is it joy?"
Thanks to the recession, the sign on the door read 82% off, so I couldn't help going inside, where the room was fitted with Greek pilasters and twinkly lights. And lo, here I beheld the very woman with the streaked blond hair, sitting in a corner doing her accounts. I felt like I do whenever I encounter a paradigm from my subconscious—both intimidated and let down. She was a tad older and a titch plumper than in the ads, and she did not appear cheerful, in spite of being surrounded by all those jewels.
Then again, how could she, at 82% off?
I thought, "I am in the presence of the very Muse of Material Wealth. If I can make her happy surely she will make us happy." And suddenly, I was seized with a desire to buy my wife a $5,000 tennis bracelet.
At first, the Muse did not deign to wait on me herself. Instead, she sent her demonic minion: a tall young woman with a terrifying bust, long pink nails, and an artificial tan. This assistant spoke to me with laconic disregard until I actually used the words, "five grand."
Out came a bracelet with a pricetag of $19,200, which she immediately discounted to $7,800 in order to, you know, find the true level of my eagerness. When I balked, the price dropped to $5,800 and she assured me that it was a classic, unlikely to be exchanged. "Not too personal," she assured me, "not a like a ring."
When still I hesitated, lo again, the Muse herself finally woke, and the price dropped to $5,400. The sales assistant leaned her terrifying bust across the counter to ask, "are you really serious?" And yes, in the name of the whole economy, of all its fallen heroes and recently-busted schlubs, I did want to please her. But then I realized that if my actual wife knew I wanted to spend five grand on a bracelet just now, she'd think me an actual idiot. So all I said was "let me think about it."
The Muse tried to smile, but it was a pale reflection of her ads. "$4,800," she said. Then "$4,500" as I headed for the door. "Not just now," I wanted to say, "But soon. I swear that soon the Urban Man will return to make you happy."
For KCRW, I'm Marc Porter Zasada.
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