Cool Has a Cost

David Gartland

I’M SITTING ON MY patio drinking coffee, as I do every morning before my wife and son wake up. I go to bed early and wake up before sunrise, so when I’m drinking my coffee, it’s still dark. This is a great time for me to think.

This morning, I’ve been thinking about Jordache jeans. For those of you too young to remember, Jordache jeans were the thing to own in the late 1970s and early 1980s if you were a teenager or in your 20s. They were tight fitting and expensive compared to other jeans, and they had Jordache printed in large letters on the back pocket, so you couldn’t help but know what jeans somebody was wearing. There have been other jeans since, but I don’t believe the impact of owning these particular jeans has ever been duplicated. It was magical. All you had to do was own these jeans and you were one of the cool kids.

I was introduced to the phrase “cool kids” by a woman I worked with. I think it describes perfectly those people in our lives we either wanted to hang out with or wanted to be.

I’d venture to say everybody in the world has known or currently knows their own version of cool kids. These folks are all different, but in our eyes they’re cool. I don’t think it matters how much money they have or how good looking they are, they just have that thing we want. It could be the popular jeans, the car we’ve always wanted, that house we admired growing up or the number of goats they own, assuming that’s the measure of wealth where you come from.

There will always be something we desire. We might buy it, it might remain on our “must have” list forever or we might move on to something new. Whatever the case, we feel we must have this particular item to feel good—and I think that’s fine, as long as our desire doesn’t end up doing severe financial damage.

When you’re a kid and the status symbol you want can be bought by your parents, that’s a good deal financially because you’re using OPM—other people’s money—to satisfy your desire. But once you’re off the parental payroll and have to spend your own money, pursuing status symbols can get you in trouble. These status symbols don’t get cheaper as we get older. In fact, they tend to get ever more expensive.

I grew up on Long Island, New York. There’s a section of Long Island where the cool kids live. It’s called the Hamptons. This is a group of towns that are on Long Island’s South Fork, at the far end of the island. The most famous of these towns is Southampton. It’s not a gated community. You can drive through the town, but you probably won’t be able to drive up to any of the houses, because those do have gates.

But the non-Hamptons town I’d put on my personal bucket list is Sag Harbor. It’s an old whaling town that became an artists’ community. But it’s no longer a struggling artists’ community, but rather a rich artists’ community. People like the late Jimmy Buffett, of Margaritaville fame, have lived in Sag Harbor.

I first heard of Sag Harbor when I read John Steinbeck’s book Travels with Charley, which tells the tale of Steinbeck buying a new GMC pickup truck, along with a camper body to sit on the truck’s cargo bay, and then packing up and taking his poodle Charley on a cross-country road trip. Reading about this adventure made me want to travel across America, which I first did the summer before my college junior year and then again when I traversed the country on Lincoln Highway. Lincoln Highway is the road conceived in 1912 and which went from Times Square, New York City, to Lincoln Park in San Francisco.

For me, the interesting thing about Travels with Charley was that Steinbeck started in Sag Harbor. Why would he want to live on Long Island? Steinbeck was born and raised in California. Being a kid who was born and raised on Long Island, I always thought the cool kids lived somewhere else—like the Beach Boys did.

I first became aware of the Beach Boys thanks to a friend of my brother, who came to our house in 1963 with a new 45 RPM record of a song called Shut Down. From then on, the Beach Boys became my ultimate cool kids. California must be the place to live, I thought, since that’s where they lived. Apparently, all the good-looking girls lived there, everyone surfs and they have year-round tans. What could be better?

Years later, I traveled to where the Beach Boys’ Wilson brothers were raised, only to find out they grew up in a Long Island-style Levittown-type house far away from the ocean. They sang of surfing, hot rods and the party lifestyle—but what they sang about wasn’t how they lived. I was crushed.

Advertising and marketing can convince us that the thing that others are selling is what we need. Sometimes, it is. But not always.

David Gartland was born and raised on Long Island, New York, and has lived in central New Jersey since 1987. He earned a bachelor’s degree in math from the State University of New York at Cortland and holds various professional insurance designations. Dave’s property and casualty insurance career with different companies lasted 42 years. He’s been married 36 years, and has a son with special needs. Dave has identified three areas of interest that he focuses on to enjoy retirement: exploring, learning and accomplishing. Pursuing any one of these leads to contentment. Check out Dave’s earlier articles.

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