In the mid 1950s, my grandparents bought a 700-square foot two-bedroom, one-bath, summer home in western North Carolina. They paid $5000. Their first visitor considered the shoddy construction, the 25-foot wide lot, the peeling paint, the obscure location hundreds of miles from Brooklyn and the rest of the known universe. He asked, “what did you pay for this, four thousand dollars?”
It would be difficult to exaggerate my grandfather’s outrage and disappointment. The suggestion of overpayment was the quintessential insult to a man who had lost his clothing store to bankruptcy in the depression. And to add violent insult to bone-shattering injury, polite people don’t talk about money, my grandfather sputtered after the guest had left—never to return.
Indeed, money was only one of the things polite people never talked about. Sex was never discussed. Certainly not when I was in the room. I believe that 70 years ago, women got married with only the vaguest insights into where babies came from. Nor did death come up in conversation. Religion either. The weather was a safe topic, maybe the only acceptable topic. Money, income, purchase price, interest rate were closely guarded.
I suspect my grandfather would have appreciated the transparency regarding prices today. It's easier to make an informed purchase with information. Websites let you know how much comparable neighborhood homes sold for.
Speaking of homes, have you noticed the recent proliferation of signs on the lawns of your neighbors?
Congratulations, Susie! 2020 Graduate! Carnegie Mellon University!
I am as proud of my kids as the next fellow. My adult children frequently condescend to play Rummikub with me when they could be out with peers inciting insurrection or whatever it is that young folk do nowadays. That I have never won even one round of the Mah Jong wannabe game and that the children are a resounding 13 on the ten-point snark scale--Dad, are you even trying?--is a subject for another essay. When my older daughter trounced me in a word game recently she enquired without blinking whether or not English was my first language.
The love language of our family is competitive games, has been for generations. Can outdoor advertising also be a love language? What is being communicated by yard signs attesting to the private college destinations of recent high school graduates?
If you said, proud parents gently showing their respect and affections for the accomplishments of their progeny, I am going to push back. A private dinner, a pat on the back, a hike up a mountain, an extravagant gift if you must, would convey, way to go! A public display is another kettle of social interaction. Why a sign in the front yard? What else is being said?
What about, we have money to pay for private school? Or my daughter qualified for a merit scholarship? Shouldn't this information be kept private? How is the person who mows that lawn supposed to feel? My daughter will be attending the local community college because when we immigrated to this country five years ago, the fascist dictator who had overthrown our democratic government forgot to give us back our wallet when we escaped under cover of darkness with the clothes on our backs.
There is something to be said for humility. There is something to be said for privacy. Just because you could post a photo of the endangered species that you ate for dinner doesn't mean that you should. A banner on your porch proclaiming I earned a two-million dollar bonus last year on top of my impressive salary package is inappropriate. What's next? A guy with a sandwich board, My wife and I had great sex yesterday? in 72-point type?
How much you paid for your home is available on-line. Your house guests shouldn't be making insulting guesses about the purchase price. You wouldn't brag to strangers about your income or physical intimacy. Is it similarly in poor taste to post a sign on your lawn bragging about where your kid is going to college?