Delayed vs. Instant Gratification:
Letting the Recycling Build Up
I have a sister, along with her husband, whom I currently live with, and thus have been afforded a front row seat at the way she lives her life.
Though she has clearly chosen the former, rather than the latter, in the gratification department, her decision was not arrived at intellectually. In fact, I’m convinced she is not conscious of any decision at all. And I don’t think she’s unique in that respect.
I think she lives in deathly fear of the appearance of self-indulgence, or worse, selfishness. She is the least “flashy” person I know. Nothing she does is over the top, or overtly ornate. She would be quite happy to remain below the radar of almost everyone for the rest of her life. Hardly a heinous sin, I will acknowledge, but it occasionally leads to a stylistic clash with her more, ah, shall we say, unconcealed brother.
She insists, for example, that the only way the three of us can have a night on the town, defined as two or three drinks at Happy Hour prices at a local pub, is through earnings generated from turning in recyclable materials. An admirable thought, a goal even. Until I realized that the first time we cashed in, we walked away with about $35.
“How long has that stuff been building up?” I asked her.
Almost a year, she said proudly.
Let the record show, with tip, two drinks each came to exactly $35.
I resisted the temptation to say to the bartender as we left, “See you next year.”
My beef (eater?) is not about someone embracing the concept of frugality. If my sister chooses to employ recycling scratch to finance the occasional cocktail, it is not, in my opinion, and in spite of her sales pitch otherwise, born out of her instinct for fiscal prudence. We can afford to do this more often, and should. Her reluctance is due to her inherent uneasiness with self-benevolence. Or even the appearance of indulgence. This is likely tied to her other semi-fatal instinct of caring too much what other people think.
As I sit back and watch this unfold, sans cocktail, I am overcome with a frightening vision. It came to me in a dream sequence late one night.
I’m lying in my open casket and people are streaming by. Ok, I hope it’s a stream, because a trickle would constitute an editorial comment on my life that’d make Ebenezer Scrooge wince.
People are leaving things alongside my body. There is an Oakland Raider flag, a copy of a Dennis Miller book, some knowing soul puts a framed photo of Natalie Wood in a bikini across my chest; my brother, a good lad, lays a Paul Newman movie on top of the photo, and finally, my sister sidles by and places a bottle of Bushmill’s Irish Whiskey in the crook of my arm.
“You look thirsty, Bill. This will help,” she says softly, with a knowing nod.
And in my dream, I jackknife to a sitting position, point crazily toward the back at a half-filled recycling container and scream, “Well, I wouldn’t be thirsty if we didn’t have to wait for THAT to be full before having a drink!”