The Costly Objects of Our Affection
by Ryan Bradley
Several months ago an editor at a fancy magazine with a name that rhymes with “honey” contacted me about writing an essay. The essay was supposed to be about a something that I bought, and that I love. It was (as past columns proved) an argument for occasional extravagance, or at the very least acts of good and conscientious capitalism. The pay for the column was quite good, and the prompt seemed fine, so I set to work thinking about just what it was I loved the most out of all the things I owned. I looked around and saw my rocking chair.
This rocking chair was — is — the most expensive and adult chair I own. When we found it, squirreled away in the back of a warehouse, the man who eventually sold it to us said he had hidden it there, because he wanted to hang onto it. He already had two at home. His very pregnant wife was almost certainly sitting in one and rocking now. The chair was at least 60 years old, and Danish. The man switched out the cushions with a pleasing sea-green, and we bought it for $650, cash. The very top of it has a crack, I noticed, months later, while I was considering writing about the chair. But damn are people impressed. They sit down, rock a little, and say something about how this isn’t some Ikea deal, and I feel more adult than I ever have before.
The editor, very kind, extremely patient, said no, this wasn’t quite right. Try again. So I did.
The second thing was a hat. Like the chair, it was expensive — but, I mean, it’s a hat. It was about $90. Anyway it’s not at all hip and sort of embarrassing, this hat, but good lord is its brim wide. Plus it’s slightly waterproof. I wear it to the beach, on hikes, a lot of the time when I’m outside, for extended periods. I think I wrote this nice editor something about all the money I’d save, because of this hat, in possibly cancerous mole removal. My future dermatology bills alone made this hat a thing to admire. It took her a while to write back and, haha, she wasn’t sure this was it, either.
Next I tried something I didn’t even own and hadn’t even done yet, but wanted to: a helicopter ride. Have you been in a helicopter? I haven’t. I hear them all the time now, living as I do in the northern middle section of Los Angeles. There’s one rumbling overhead, far away, at this very moment. I can’t yet tell if it’s coming towards me or away, and I can never tell it they’re full of tourists or newsmen or police. I want to be one of those tourists. I will be. But wouldn’t it have been nice to have this fancy magazine with a name synonymous with cash pay for that experience?
The fourth thing was a cat, which again was a stretch because I didn’t buy the cat: it was a package deal. But I sure did spent some money on the cat. Recently I had purchased a rather elaborate, well designed, tasteful cat tree that cost nearly $400. Before that, I had purchased a light blue cardboard box at a pet boutique in Beverly Hills for $30.
I told the kind editor who was almost certainly done with me forever that the cat had crossed my mind as a thing that might be worthy of this column while shouldering a very large, very heavy, very expensive bag of all-natural kitty litter. The bag was purchased from another boutique store, not in Beverly Hills, called The Urban Pet. My exact thought at that moment, which I shared with this editor in an email, was, “I can’t believe I just paid $45 for some stuff for the cat to poop in.” Followed by: “I wonder what Mittens is doing right now?” (Mittens is the name of the cat, obviously.) I then wrote to her that, “It’s a pretty common line of thinking I’ve come to lately: shock and a little awe at the expense of the things surrounding this little creature, then sheer wonderment.
“We are coworkers now, Mittens and I,” I continued in my email. “I work from home and I spoil my coworker rotten. She has a drinking fountain, a tree, a colored cardboard box…[you already know about the box, so I’ll skip past this part]. She doesn’t use the box much anymore, because on top of the box is a very soft bed, with various catnip toys inside. She sleeps there all day. We call it her office. So I go to work in the next room over, and check with Mittens in her office every so often, just to make sure she’s not working too hard (she never is).
“Freelancing, working from home, can be a lonely existence if you let it. Doubly so in a new and spread-out city. But I’ve got this funny furry office mate who doesn’t care about me too deeply and still, occasionally, seems interested enough to jump up on my desk, sit on my keyboard, and nibble on the corners of my stacks of paper. It’s completely and utterly illogical, all the money I’ve spent on this cat I never wanted. And it’s the greatest bargain in the world.”
I never heard from the editor again. Still, I think about this prompt every so often, when my apartment is still and Mittens is off in her office: What is the thing that I own and love the most? It fucks me up, this question, because I have no answer. I don’t even have an idea of what that thing would be anymore. I suppose I could reach for a lesson here that sounds sweet and true, that you can’t love objects, or anything you own; that love can’t be bought. But that’s not it, because I loved a bunch of stuffed animals, once. I loved them so hard their faces are nearly gone. Where are they now? I don’t know. I don’t love them anymore.
Maybe it’s that I used to love recklessly and ridiculously, and now I don’t, now that I buy expensive chairs and practical but unfashionable hats. And I want to go back, but am not sure how, or even if I can, or should.
Ryan Bradley is a writer and editor living in Los Angeles.
Support The Billfold