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Relics of the good old days

Dog gyms, hedge funds, stainless steel. What were we thinking?

January 16, 2009|JOEL STEIN

In the clear recessionary morning, all that stuff we've been binge buying suddenly looks gaudy and ridiculous. It's been a 25-year blur of fluorescent Frankie Sez shirts, logo handbags, Hummers and ring tones. We need to have one giant national garage sale and invite the world.

If there are pictures of you with any of the things listed below on Facebook, immediately remove them. Replace them with one of those stately, unsmiling group portraits our grandparents and great-grandparents took that made us feel like we came from important stock. You don't want your descendants to lose all hope when they realize that Great-Grandpa Jaden was flashing fake gang signs at Treasure Island while downing a Grey Goose and Red Bull before his "American Idol" audition.

Tasting menus: The idea that an appetizer, entree and dessert wasn't enough -- that you had to taste everything -- was a pretty clear sign we were on our way toward being a fat, indebted nation. If Morgan Spurlock had tried to follow up "Super Size Me" with a movie in which he had to go 30 days eating only tasting menus -- and accept the wine pairings if they were offered -- he would have died by Week 2. I went with four people to Per Se in New York, and two of them barfed as soon as we got home. To be fair, it was the most delicious barf they'd ever had.

Stainless steel: Every appliance we touched had to be covered in stainless steel, as if we were low-rent King Midases. How the lamest of metals became the way to show off your wealth is going to confuse the hell out of archaeologists. "No, they actually had gold and silver. And plastics of many colors. They were just easily distracted by cheap, shiny things." Thank God the recession came, because we were about two years from having to sit on cold stainless steel toilet seats.

The entire city of Las Vegas: Was the plan to base an economy on nothing but eating, gambling and strip clubs? What kind of insane utopian thought that would work?

Dasani: It's going to be hard enough to explain to our children that lugging plastic-encased, stagnant tap water from Costco was "more convenient" than drinking the better tested, fresher and free version from our faucets. But when Coca-Cola persuaded health-obsessed yoga moms to drink Kool-Aid, we'd fetishized the health benefits of "special" water in a way that would impress the residents of Bath.

Spas: We paid $100 to be rubbed with hot rocks, covered with mud and wrapped in seaweed -- just because we were curious about what they'd feel like; nobody did any of those things twice. It got so insane that the massages that gave you sexual satisfaction were actually the cheaper ones.

$50 T-shirts: Sure, most were made of pima cotton, the grandest cotton ever created. And, in a purely consumerist culture, paying as much for it as a button-down serves as justification for an adult to wear a concert T-shirt outside. But isn't it a little painful to know that you spent $64 for Trunk Ltd's reproduction of the Megadeth "Killing Is My Business" shirt from 1985? Sure, it's convincing when you read on the company's website that "Trunk LTD's tag of authenticity as an official luxury product is included with this shirt. Don't miss your chance to share in a moment of Megadeth history." But did you stop to ask yourself if killing is really a sustainable business model?

Crocs: Maybe wearing gardening shoes in public wasn't recession-related, but we will regret them.

Bravo: This cable channel was bold enough to argue that the very act of spending money makes you powerful: It called its viewers "affluencers." Ben Bernanke can try parsing out credit default swaps, but if he wants to figure out how we got into this situation, he needs to watch a Bravo marathon of shows about professional housewives, people playing poker, hairdressers, chefs, models, designers, personal trainers and house flippers.

Hedge funds: What exactly were you hedging against? It wasn't a recession. You had no idea what a hedge fund was, other than rich people had them so you wanted one. This is the same failed logic that led Ford to buy Jaguar.

Designer jeans: The memory is fuzzy, but did someone talk me into spending $220 on a pair of jeans? And I'm a guy? Who's married? Who's never once looked at his own butt? I believe God will keep me out of heaven for this even more than for not believing in him. Williamsburg, Brooklyn: Paying $3,000 a month to live near Manhattan? Exactly as near as the Sweathogs lived? You can wear librarian glasses, play in a band and go to readings in Iowa City too. Either way, you're not in New York. Dog gyms: We got so lazy, we needed people to motivate our pets to run around. Somewhere, I'm sure a chef was paid to prepare a dog's own poop for him.

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