Who will buy this wonderful feeling?

Consuming Interests

September 25, 2005|By DAN THANH DANG | DAN THANH DANG,SUN REPORTER

The best things in life may be free, but don't be so quick to discount what money can buy.

Before anyone starts howling, consider this an appreciation for all the things that we, as consummate consumers, have bought over the years that tickled us in some way.

Good salespeople know we don't just spend out of need, but that we also spend purely to fulfill some emotion. More often than not and right or wrong, we spend to feel good. Whether it's derived from something big or small, ridiculously expensive or gratifyingly cheap matters not. It's only pertinent that the object brought a smile to our face, triggered some sort of fuzzy feel-good memory or made life easier somehow.

For Ron Hultis, pleasure came with the first fishing pole he ever bought for $2.98 on Long Island 45 years ago. He packed his love for fishing with him when the roadways construction worker ventured south and bought a house in Fells Point -- Upper Fells Point, he says to clarify, because "There's a difference, a $150,000 difference."

These days, the 68-year-old retiree shares several fishing poles with his four grandsons. They can be found casting a line into the Patterson Park boat lake for trout every couple weekends each month. Even so, Hultis will never forget that first rod because "I saved my soda bottles to get it, back when gas was 20 cents a gallon."

Now some of us might say we thrilled at the purchase of a first home, a mark of achievement. Others might point to the first time we discovered the Swiffer Duster. Don't laugh. Hundreds of "love my Swiffer" postings can be found online in praise of those simple, yet convenient, electrostatically treated sheets that attach to a mop stick.

Ask Joe Praglowski and the Baltimorean can name all the cars he has owned in his lifetime, but he still relishes the memory of a 1959 red Chevrolet convertible he once bought for $300. In 1963, it was the ultimate symbol of freedom to a 19-year-old guy working at a Baltimore plastics firm.

We all know love can make us crazy. Bonnie Brobst plopped $1,000 on a Baldwin Spinet Piano in 1975, despite making a city school teacher's salary, because "playing it gives me a way to express my joy, sorrow, frustration or anger. It's an outlet."

Then again, spending out of necessity has its merits. Mia Kelley, a 20-year-old bartender at Larry Flynt's Hustler Club, said it was absolutely worth $16.99 for two Disney's Greatest Hits CDs. "My daughter won't whine, cry or scream while it's on," Kelley said, smiling.

But spending for pure entertainment is justifiable, too. Brendan Finnerty figured $5 was a bargain for the inner tube he used to float down the Gunpowder River recently. "My life is all about cheap thrills," said the 34-year-old co-owner of the Idle Hour bar in Federal Hill. "It was probably my favorite day of the summer."

Now, that's bliss.

So don't get all bent out of shape. This isn't about selling our soul for a flat screen TV. Nor is it an endorsement to live a life of rampant consumerism. It's recognizing that there is nothing trivial about attaining happiness, even fleeting moments of happiness, at a price.

Me? I've found little bits of joy in all sorts of things I've purchased over the years from my Starbucks 16-ounce stainless steel Lucy Travel Tumbler that keeps my coffee (black, no cream, no sugar) hot for hours on end to my Aztec green Honda Civic that's journeyed thousands of miles with me over the last decade of my life.

But the one thing that still makes me grin is the Black & Decker power drill I bought for less than $30 nearly three years ago to take the hinges off doors, screw in fixtures, disassemble furniture and launch other little do-it-myself projects in the tiny rowhouse -- my first home -- I bought in Baltimore.

Money well spent, I must say.

dan.thanh.dang@baltsun.com

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