The middleman, George.

January 13, 2011 § 9 Comments

When I was nine I yearned for, and saved for, a transistor radio.  It promised to be my passport to the late night airwaves, to rock and roll, my backdoor sneak into being a teenager.  It did all that, and more.

I carried that radio with its heady smell of new plastic everywhere, and at night hid it under my pillow, hoping my sister, Claudia, who slept in the upper bunk wouldn’t hear me listening to WABC and WMCA.  Speaking right into my ear, Cousin Brucie and Scot Muni welcomed me out of childhood.

George, the great middleman, makes a lot of promises, but I’ve rarely known him to deliver like that.  That doesn’t mean I haven’t been fooled plenty of times.  Bet you have too.  Capitalism depends on all of us falling for the middleman’s slick line of talk, believing we can buy glamour, status, youthfulness–perhaps even a place in heaven.

A purchase rarely delivers the intangibles you thought you paid for–but there’s always the next time…or the next.  The more often you get conned the more money you need, while the payoff remains just one purchase away.

I watched a QVC program that should have been titled “The Adoration of the Sheets.”  Two attractive women tag-teamed each other lauding the thread count of the Egyptian cotton, the “new” color (a grey-lavender) that was both soothing and (as the women pointed out ) required a discerning shopper to appreciate.  The unspoken message?  Don’t miss this opportunity to exhibit your good taste!

But what would arrive after placing the order would be a cardboard box containing two rectangles of cloth that would most often be used in the dark.   They’re sheets for Pete sake!

It is not as glamorous to say, “I need a couple of cloth rectangles to cover my mattress,” but admitting the real purpose of a purchase can bring the cost down considerably–and it doesn’t burden sheets with unachievable expectations.

Repeatedly disappointed in my attempts to buy glamor, status, youthfulness and that assured a place in heaven, I now ask myself, what does this thing I need have to do?  Boiled down to function I usually find that I already own something that does the job–and George stays in my pocket.

Which brings up the concept of “need.”  I recently heard a man say, “Past a certain age, what do you need in the course of a year besides food ?  A six-pack of socks and a package of underwear.”

When I think I need something more than socks and undies I ask myself how I could fill that need without spending money.

Does everyone have to own a chain saw, a lawn mower, a barbecue grill–I have friends.  I borrow.  I share.  I check the curb (where many perfectly good items wait and hope for a second chance).

I’ve learned to do things that usually cost money–and knowing how to do things gives me some of the intangible rewards promised by as-seen-on-TV products.  Being competent is cool.

I couldn’t cut just any man’s hair, but I’m an expert at cutting my husband’s.  Over years of marriage the multiplication yields impressive savings–which come in handy.

Because once in a great while I can buy something that genuinely and truly makes me happy.

Like my new Blue enCORE 200 series microphone.  To quote the ad, “It will deliver the performance of a lifetime for a lifetime of performances.”

No lie, it really does!

Plus it’s lucky.  That wasn’t in the ad–even the middleman isn’t that shameless, but like my old transistor radio, it delivers, big-time, forcing me to concede, sometimes it pays to know George.


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§ 9 Responses to The middleman, George.

  • craig reeder says:

    The story you told of the transistor radio was my story too! The year was 1960, we had just moved to a new city, Miami, and I was just getting my first glimpse into adolescence. That radio was my entree to a whole new world and a whole new phase of life!


  • Sheila says:

    Compared to you, I was slow. I didn’t get my first portable radio until my 12th birthday. I still remember opening the package. It was a mack-daddy! Not like any I had ever seen, it was shiny white , the size of a wallet and sat on its own reharging stand that plugged into the wall socket. No batteries for this chick! Since my main activities at this time of the summer, revolved around the beach of Florida’s east coast, I was threatened with the radio’s destruction if I let sand get in it at the beach. The decision as to whether or not to take it was mine, but I knew there wouldn’t be a 2nd one if something happened to this one. Thinking now, I can see how my parents taught responibility. It went to the beach often, but never had a problem with sound or water.

    I,too lay in my bed on the screened sleeping porch in Florida with my new little radio trying to find that special dj. I don’t remember a name, but if the night was clear and the stars just right I could hear the voices from WLS in Chicago bringing me the memories of the fun July nights I had spent in a little town on the banks of the Mississippi spying on the joys of being a teen-ager.
    I wonder if my grandchildren will remember their first i-phone with such clarity and warmth.


  • Judy Ransom says:

    I remember my first and only transistor radio when I was 12. It was white, and the speaker on the front was aqua-green. Now I could finally keep up with all the music my friends knew so well … and Cousin Brucie showed me the way!!!


  • I feel deprived, bereft! Where was my transistor radio? I didn’t get one when I was a budding teen … Oh, I remember … when I was 11 THERE WERE NO TRANSISTORS! Yikes – am I THAT old? Yes, it was the Baby Boom generation that got all the good stuff! Of course, if I’d had one I would have been listening to the Saturday afternoon Met Opera broadcasts – not rock and roll. I was a strange teen! – Mary Lois


  • Your life as a kid was so exciting you didn’t need a transistor radio. Leave something for those of us whose biggest move was from New York to New Jersey.

    By the way, opera was big in my family as well. My Italian mother loved it and as soon as my father’s job was the least bit lucrative she became a supporting patron (although not a huge one)of the Met.

    She absolutely loved Placido Domingo and would argue with anyone who favored Pavarotti whose voice she thought sounded pushed and not nearly as lyrical. I never told her how absolutely thrilling I found Pavarotti’s “Nessun Dorma.”


  • We had a friend named Marge. She was exuberant, excitable and impuslive … to a point. We would go shoping at a department store with her. She would run around the store pulling things of the shelf, thrilled that she found another item that she always wanted.
    As we would approach the cash register, she would start having second thoughts. One by one she would reconsider each of her purchces and logically decide that each item was not really necessay and then go back and return it to the shelf.
    My wife and I go “Marge” shopping all the time. You get all the excitment of the hunt and buying and then the reward of sensible thinking. And you leave the store with all your money and laughing.


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