>>> Bang for Your Buck
By staff writer David Nelson

October 1, 2006

Essential New Word of the Week: yahyah (definition hint: affirmative!)

Sometimes, I look around my apartment and think to myself, “I live like a goddamn Trappist Monk.” I know that’s a weird analogy for a larger-than-life Jew, but it’s apt. For me, a vow of silence would last no longer than the next time I stubbed my toe, or needed to use my awesome, voice-activated blender to make a delicious mojito. Maintaining the vow of chastity is equally improbable. It's the vow of poverty that sometimes makes me forget I don't live in a monastery.

I make decent money, but I just don't own a lot of fancy stuff. No sports car, no X-Box 360, no leather bean bag chair. Actually, I lied about the voice-activated blender, too. It might be some form of mild neurosis, or it might just be ambient cheapness, but I really have a hard time buying luxuries for myself, even though I can afford them, theoretically. I would just prefer to save hundreds of dollars by going without, say, 1000-thread count sheets. Twenty years ago, nobody knew or gave a fuck how many threads their sheets contained, and yet we all still slept through the night… probably on a set of totally kickass Star Wars sheets that were way cooler, had pictures of C3PO, and hid embarrassing pee-stains better.

“For children of the 80's like me, G.I. Joe and Transformers are like the plastic and metal rungs of a social ladder. “

Seeing crap like this in stores has got me thinking about status symbols, and how they change as we get older. “Status,” however you might define it, is one of those nebulous concepts that everyone buys into, even if they don't admit it. For example, if you ever owned those rad Reebok sneakers with the air bladder that could pump up, you'll agree that it's your status that improved, not your jump shot.

Status symbols don't even have to be possessions, necessarily. Depending on your age, you can attain the rank of Grand Poobah in many different ways, such as the ability to snort coke off a hooker’s chest without spilling any. With this in mind, I spent some time considering status symbols of days gone by, so that in the future I might be able to satisfy my delusions of grandeur.

As children, the journey from diapers to training pants to big-boy underwear is a status symbol of a sort, but your parents are the only ones who will know or care. No, for kids, status is all about toys. And the ultimate toy/status symbol for the toddler set is one of those motorized Power Wheels car that kids themselves can drive. If you're able to score your own sweet ride while in kindergarten, you're obviously doing something right.

The commercials for these cars know it, too. You always see some random boy behind the wheel, driving over tiny hills, with a little girl sitting next to him, looking at him dotingly. Slut. Actually, I'm pretty sure that they're making miniature pink SUVs now so women drivers can get a much-needed head start.

It's sort of depressing when you do the math and figure out that these kids are, proportionally speaking, way cooler than you are. By the time they hit their late 20's, they'll probably be piloting rocket sleds down Mount Everest. Well, they don't seem so cool when one of them gets high on Pixy Stix and crashes his adorable little car into a tree at four miles an hour.

Fast forward a few years, and one's taste in playthings evolves dramatically. For children of the 80's like me, G.I. Joe and Transformers are like the plastic and metal rungs of a social ladder. And just like disappointed women always tell me, bigger is better. For example, owning five Transformers makes you pretty cool. Owning the special five that combine to form Omega Destructicus basically makes you the Emperor of your stupid friends by default.

In the years between childhood and adolescence, status is still defined by possessions, but it's more a matter of what you're able to acquire for yourself. A few years ago, you would need help to pay for toys that combine, and if your parents were cheap, Voltron’s left leg would be awfully lonely. Once you have an allowance or a paper route, you can't wait to start contributing to the local toy-and-candy economy.

So, it's only natural that status symbols for this age are higher-ticket items; things one has to save up for. These days, babies pop out of the womb clutching PSPs, but there was a time when only a select few managed to acquire a video game system, ever. And they were elevated to the status of kings.

I'm talking about systems like Coleco Vision or Atari. Most often, you controlled a heroic polygon, sworn to do battle against other, differently colored polygons. If you were lucky enough to own a racing game, your car was undoubtedly a rectangle with four little black squares for tires. But as shitty as these games were, you'd have gladly taken over your friend's paper route for a week just to play for five minutes.

At last, puberty hits. For many, sprouting breasts and/or pubic hair is kind of a status symbol itself. I don't know, do schools still make students shower communally? If so, it's probably schools in Alabama, hoping that the awkwardness and humiliation of displaying your wiener will somehow disprove the theory of evolution.

This is an age of rebellion, so social status is often defined in terms of what you can get away with. If you challenge authority, you're likely to be popular among your peers. If you're able to score cigarettes or alcohol, your position is assured. In a sense, it's remarkable how that remains true throughout college, albeit for different reasons.

And when the college years do roll around, priorities change once again. It would be insane to think that every college student in America sees the same things as status symbols, but there are a few constants. Cars, for example. The same social forces that applied to kids on Power Wheels also apply on campus. If you’re driving around in something, and it’s not a pink Mazda Miata, there should be a girl by your side.

Having one’s own place is also a critical status symbol. Roommates equate to negative points on the status meter. Also, they steal your spatulas. At any given time, you might come home with a girl, only to find your roommate sprawled out on the couch in his underwear, watching America’s Funniest Home Videos and guffawing like a pack of howler monkeys. I know this because it’s happened to me. The day I got my own place, I celebrated my upswing in status by wearing a robe and crown, and hiring a team of naked girls to arrange my furniture and serve me lemonade.

After college, you begin to see social status a little differently. Guys who were once cool because they drank a lot are suddenly targets for an intervention. Girls who were popular because they slept around suddenly become unappealing because they have chlamydia. And in the midst of all this chaos, your job somehow becomes your next meaningful status symbol.

People who study useful subjects like engineering or biology often find themselves making good money out of college. But that’s not necessarily the same thing as an increase in status. Those same engineers are still going home to crappy apartments and eating Chef Boyardee for dinner. And not the premium X-Treme OverStuffed Ravioli, either.

I’m generalizing, of course, but your social status in those post-college years is largely based on how well you’re doing compared to your friends. Sure, you might have studied 18th century Flemish basketweaving. Now, your job prospects all involve wearing paper hats. Keep your head up; you’ll be supervising a crack team of English majors within six months!

Unless you write for PIC, there’s a better-than-average chance you’ll get married someday. When that day comes, your social status will be inextricably linked with that of your spouse. Girls can improve their status by marrying someone rich and/or powerful. Sorry guys, marriage won’t actually improve your social standing unless you find a stripper who’s actually a virgin, and her nipples squirt magic beer that gives you temporary super-strength.

Married guys envy the status of their single friends. Surprisingly, the reverse is often true as well. Marriage is like an all-you-can-eat sex buffet, but with only one item on the menu. Bachelorhood is more like a supermarket that stocks everything you might ever want, but is too big for you to actually find it.

I’m only speculating here, but as you navigate your way through middle age, you’ll probably realize that you’ve already peaked on every personal, physical, and romantic level. And when that realization sets in, status symbols immediately revert back to possessions. It doesn’t matter if you’re trapped in a loveless sham of a marriage, you can own a really kickass stereo if you want to.

After you’ve collected all the subwoofers, massage chairs, and robotic vacuums you can, there’s not much left but to grow old and wait for the inevitable. I suppose we all reach a point in our lives where the ability to pee more than a dribble can be considered a status symbol.

That’s not the only one, either. For the second time in your life, the ability to drive will separate you from your peers, if you can avoid Alzheimer’s, cataracts, and Legionnaire’s disease. However, if you’re one of the many elderly readers who enjoys this college humor site, let me implore you: don’t get behind the wheel. Just walk around wearing goggles and driving gloves; it’s much safer for all concerned.

Unless Pepsi commercials have lied to me, there are a lot of grannies out there who enjoy surfing and rap music. Truthfully, having any kind of a hobby at an advanced age is pretty impressive. My own grandmother regularly cleans up at the poker table. Granted, she plays against half-blind Hungarian immigrants for a nickel a hand, but I still like to think her skill lends her a certain status among her group.

The only status symbol we can take with us into eternity is our quiet dignity at having led a meaningful life. Sometimes it’s possible to score a deluxe lacquered mahogany coffin too. Whatever works for you. I won’t really mind if all I take with me is a pine box. As long as I leave behind a lot of kids riding Power Wheels to carry on my legacy.

Essential New Word of the Week:

yahyah (ja'ja) interj: Every day, we get asked dozens of questions. Some of them are genuinely necessary, and others are ostensibly stupid. But there's a class of questions that falls somewhere between those two extremes. Questions that aren't necessarily stupid, but nevertheless demand an emphatic answer in the positive. An answer that suggests the question itself was unnecessary. That answer is yahyah! For this interjection, it's all in the tone. The first syllable must be enunciated a little higher and faster than the second. It's not meant to be sarcastic, but rather a little self-deprecating.

“Do you want mayonnaise on that? Yahyah, mayo.”
“Would you like to see naked pictures of Natalie Portman? Oh, yahyah.”
“Wanna get high? Yahyahyah. Get high.”