How I Became a Scum-Sucking Yuppie Materialist

by Philip Greenspun

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"It is a kind of spiritual snobbery to think one can be happy without money." -- Camus
It all started when Starbucks moved to Melrose. For twelve years, I'd shared a big old family house in Melrose, Massachusetts with my grandfather. He was born in Melrose in 1902 on a dairy farm and bought this house in 1939. Melrose is only 15 minutes from downtown Boston and yet we were living without any of the benefits of modern retailing. All of the stores in Melrose were dusty old relics like the hardware store my great grandfather started, where my grandfather worked since he was 12. Nikon F4, 24/2.8 AF lens, Fuji Velvia, tripod. Melrose Hardware had everything you'd ever want, in whatever quantity you wanted, at a price usually lower than a chain store. The presentation was sometimes a bit lacking and the goods might be dusty but we liked it that way!

Urban watering holes were generally discouraged from expanding into Melrose by the fact that we are a dry town. There are no liquor stores in Melrose. There are only a couple of restaurants allowed to serve alcohol. Nor did we like fast food. No drive-thrus. No Golden Arches.

What did we get for all of this? Boston Magazine listed Melrose as one of the 10 lowest crime suburbs of Boston. We were the only one of the 10 that wasn't stuffed full of rich people and flotillas of police stopping anyone who doesn't look like a country club member.

It was July of 1996. I'd been at home for a month recovering from an Achilles tendon operation. I ventured out of the house and, to my shock and horror, noticed that there was a Starbucks on Main Street. A Starbucks! Nobody was in there, mind you, but the writing was on the wall. Melrose was going to become yet another outpost of ersatz cafe society. So I decided to join real psuedo-intellectual cafe society and move to Harvard Square.

"Not being a materialist in the U.S. is kind of like not appreciating opera if you live in Milan or art if you live in Paris. We support materialism better than any other culture. Because retailing and distribution are so efficient here, stuff is cheaper than anywhere else in the world. And then we have huge houses in which to archive our stuff." -- me
If you are unfortunate enough to recall that greed is a Christian sin then perhaps you'll want to read Travels with Lizbeth. I recommend it.
Top Photo: I don't really own a Porsche. I just had one for five days in New York for a photo shoot.