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What the McCourts lack

The divorce case gives a glimpse of the couple's rarefied lifestyle. It also reveals one thing they've had to do without: the pleasure of longing for more.

April 08, 2010|Meghan Daum

If you're following the divorce proceedings of Dodgers owners Frank and Jamie McCourt -- in which Frank's lawyers allege, among other things, that Jamie lived in one Malibu residence and used the property next door as a laundry room -- you've probably been wondering some of the same things I have. First, is having an entirely separate house to do the wash a good thing? Isn't that actually a huge pain? Isn't it pretty much tantamount to having to schlep to a Laundromat? I mean, even the hand-to-mouth likes of me has had a washer and dryer at home since my mid-30s. At the very least, I hope Jamie has one of those metal laundry baskets with wheels.

The other McCourt-inspired quandary I've been chewing on is more fundamental. It's one of those existential questions for which there may seem to be many answers but which, upon mindful consideration, may guide us to one great truth. That question: How should a person accurately measure his or her "lifestyle"? Furthermore, what does "lifestyle" (a word as overused in the contemporary culture as, well, "contemporary culture") mean anyway? Does it refer to the quotidian facts and rituals of our real lives (the dollars in our bank accounts, the location and convenience of our laundry facilities), or is it something more fantasy-based? Does lifestyle refer to the thread count of our actual sheets or the thread count of the ones in catalogs that we pore over while lounging in a bed made up with the begrimed and burlap-like products we bought at Wal-Mart? Is it a literal state of being or ultimately a state of mind?

I raise these questions because Jamie McCourt has requested just under a million dollars a month in temporary support, an amount characterized in the legal filing as "wholly consistent with the parties' marital lifestyle." This lifestyle reportedly included a personal hair stylist and makeup artist, private jets and monthly mortgage payments on seven homes -- all in her name -- of about $415,000.

Before you jump to the standard conclusions about acquisitional zealotry of the female kind, bear in mind that, according to attorneys, Frank spent as much as $80,000 on a recent vacation and bought $52,000 worth of clothing since last November. (I know; these two must have been matched by E-Harmony based on 29 compatibility points.)

Meanwhile, on top of the soap opera details, there's the core issue at stake in the McCourt wrangling: Are the Dodgers community property and is Jamie entitled to half-ownership in the club?

But what somehow remains most compelling about this case isn't the prurient details -- Jamie McCourt's alleged affair with her driver, for example -- or even who gets the Dodgers, it's the emotions stirred up in us ordinary citizens when we read about people who receive daily home visits from hair stylists. Schadenfreude may come first, but then it's also easy to feel sorry for the McCourts. Not for all they stand to lose now but for something they lost long ago: the pleasure of salivating over what you don't have.

I don't know about you, but this is a pleasure I enjoy daily. Though the lifestyle to which I've become accustomed isn't lacking the essentials (food and shelter) or even a lot of non-essentials (far too many magazine subscriptions), I'd be lying if I said what I'm accustomed to doesn't involve thinking about having more. By that I mean not one Malibu house to live in and one in which to do the laundry but, say, a house with more than one bathroom or a car with functional air conditioning.

In fact, what's most satisfying about my lifestyle may be, ironically enough, the fantasies that result from its being less than entirely satisfying. In other words, while I wouldn't refuse a set of 800-thread Egyptian cotton sheets, something in me suspects it's as much fun to look at them in catalogs as it is to sleep in them as a matter of course. Likely-to-be-unfulfilled longing is, in many ways, central to what it means to be human, especially an American human. And if what you're accustomed to precludes that kind of desire, doesn't it also deny you a certain kind of humanity?

Which may be the real undercurrent playing out in the McCourts' nasty divorce. That and all the laundry schlepping. If Jamie needs anything, it's a trip to the household appliance department at Sears.

mdaum@latimescolumnists.com

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