html xmlns="" xml:lang="en" lang="en"> From the archives: Ratchet

Monday, October 01, 2007


I didn’t want to leave Chris’s house all weekend. For the first time in many years, Chris isn’t living in a beatdown rigged-up shamble of a group house. As you may have guessed from the view, he’s renting a room in a gorgeous house up in the Berkeley hills. This weekend was a rare occasion, where I am reminded that money could buy you a really nice way to live. A way to live that would always be so beautiful that it is constantly worth the money.

I tend to discount a lot of the options a lot of money would bring me. For now, the combination of medium income and low demands gives me a very high quality of life. My house is little and just right; I don’t have to work long hours to support it. I don’t trust that expensive houses are worth working hard for; some are, but some are poorly-designed, wrong-scaled monstrosities. Some are beautiful, great spaces, but my sister and I have exactly the same reaction to a big house. We walk by those gorgeous old mansions and our shoulders sag at the thought of keeping one up. We haven’t internalized the notion of paying someone to do that, so just the thought of the work of a big house is a burden. (Remember that we grew up in a much bigger house than the ones we’re in now, although still no mansion. Not worth it.)

But Chris’s place reminded me that you could have a right-sized house, and for a lot of money it could have a view that always makes everything better. Money can buy access that kind of beauty. Oh man, tasteful money is so nice. I’ve seen that before, in Westport, CT. Westport is rich, rich, rich. I’ve been in super-rich neighborhoods out here, but Westport was different because nothing was ugly. Nothing was ugly, anywhere. No overbuilt yucky houses. No tacky signs, anywhere. No bad choices of font, no cheap lights glaring, no blocks with one building that you had to overlook, no sea of parking that kills a street. Nothing anywhere was ugly. I don’t know how they pulled that off. Money alone doesn’t do it. But if someone can enforce the good taste, you can pay for it with money. The result just resonates, feels natural and soothing and right. Coming out of it reminds you that it sucks to have ugliness flashed at you, that you’re constantly screening it out.

At Chris’s place nothing is ugly and you get a huge dose of beauty every time you look out. It was utterly compelling and I stayed and stayed. If I got used to it, I would start to covet and re-think trade-offs.


Anonymous Mitch said...

"Ratchet" is right. Wealth is a nice place to visit, but you wouldn't want to live there.

Or at least, that's what I tell myself.

At any rate, the credit flood is slowing slightly, China may (knock on wood) start to rely on internal demand rather than trying to keep our interest rates low, and the alt-energy unicorns may reduce the amount of petrodollar recycling going on. So I've got my fingers crossed for decent housing at non-insane prices. Which is probably a species of optimism-unicorn closely related to the alt-energy one.

12:52 PM  
Blogger Tom said...

I frequently wonder why it is so often the case that simple and good = expensive. I would think that simpler would be more economical, but no: everything must be dunked in glitter and deep-fried.

3:59 PM  
Blogger Chris said...

But if someone can enforce the good taste, you can pay for it with money.

Those neighborhood association restrictions cut both ways. For every Westport there are five Orange Counties. The atmosphere is tasteful, but stifling. I'll take the ugliness over Wisteria Lane any day.

4:11 PM  
Blogger dcw said...

Take it from someone on the other side of that divide: it's not worth it!

In my current life, I make lot of money, live in a nice house in a nice neighborhood, and occasionally take luxurious vacations in exotic locales. I also check email every wakeful hour, work 12 hours a day (including weekends) on whatever needs to get done, whether or not it's particularly interesting. I rarely see friends outside of work.

In a previous life, I was an academic research scientist. I made little money and shared a little appartment. To conferences, I traveled more often to exotic locales than I do now (although the accomodations weren't as luxurious). I worked 12 hours a day on whatever I was interested in. I had an active social life.

I have a kid now so I can't go back. Enjoy the academic life while you can!

1:31 AM  
Blogger Megan said...

I'm not in the academic life. I chose working for the state in a cheap city.

8:00 AM  
Blogger JRoth said...

I would think that simpler would be more economical, but no

But for simpler to work, it has to be right. And that's hard, and expensive - better design, better execution.

Tiny example, right before me: I have a Mac Mini - elegant, simple, small. At least somewhat more expensive than the same bundle of stuff in a big beige box. It sits atop an external hard drive (must back up!) designed to match. But not only is the tone of the aluminum sides wrong, but also the actual size - it's slightly smaller on every side! All they had to do was match an existing bit of hardware, and they couldn't do it. They didn't want to spend an extra few bucks per unit to get it just right. This thinking is ubiquitous in our society, and it's at least half the reason for everything being crap.

12:20 PM  

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