Read The Suburban You Online

Authors: Mark Falanga

The Suburban You (5 page)

This is one way that your family will live out your suburban motto, “Unity Through Diversity.”

Listen to Your Wife Ask Others for Advice

For ten years, you have been a corporate executive at The Merchandise Mart, the world's largest commercial building, which houses the world's most comprehensive collection of furniture showrooms. Among other things, The Merchandise Mart is a building full of office-furniture showrooms. It is the largest and most comprehensive collection of office furniture anywhere in the world. Once a year for the past thirty-five years, The Merchandise Mart has hosted the world's largest trade show for office furniture. In addition to the three hundred office-furniture companies that have showrooms at the Mart, another seven hundred companies come from all over the world to set up an exhibit space just for the show.

You run all the office-furniture–related business at The Merchandise Mart. This is one of the four business units you are responsible for running and the business that you have been involvd with the longest—for ten years. You are regarded as an international authority in this business, and you are quoted monthly in trade publications and the consumer press, even
The New York Times
, because they seek out your perspective for their readers. As a result of running this business, you know, personally, the presidents, owners, and sales and marketing vice presidents of just about every office-furniture company in the world. Because of what you do, you have played an instrumental role in helping many of these companies grow from small companies to medium-size companies and from medium-size companies to large companies. You have created more opportunities for these office-furniture companies to sell their chairs and desks than anyone in the entire history of this industry, and these companies, these business owners, presidents, and vice presidents, like you and respect you because of it. They treat you well when they see you, and they seek out your opinions, ideas, and direction. Many would appreciate the opportunity to do you a favor. Whenever you need a furniture-related favor, you can ask one of a thousand people and they will accommodate you. You have gotten furniture for many people, including many of your friend-boss's family. They know that you are the go-to guy when it comes to anything to do with office furniture.

You come home one day and walk into your house. Your wife is on the phone with one of her friends and she is talking about office chairs. She is writing down all of the specifications of the chair that her friend has bought. Your wife gets off the phone and tells you that you need two more office chairs for your home office. Now that the kids' bathroom ceiling is the right color, it is time to focus on getting the home office set up just right. Your wife then shows you a catalogue page from Office Resources, an office-supply superstore, for the chairs that she would like to get for the office, the one her friend has told her is so good. You know that the chairs from Office Resources are the lowest-quality chairs that you can get. You look at her in amazement. “Honey, do you understand what I have been doing after leaving the house every morning for the past ten years when I go to work? Do you understand the business that I run and that I know just about every chair in the market and have met the designers who designed them and the company owners who brought them to market?”

You remind her that if she has any questions about office furniture she may consider consulting with you. She says that she would, but that her friend Jane, a stay-at-home mom, whose entire exposure to the office-furniture industry consists of her one brief visit to Office Resources, says that she got the best chair from Office Resources and it was only $100. You tell her that you will take care of it. “What kind of chairs will you get?” she asks. “Good ones,” you say.

Four days later, you arrive home with two Aeron chairs, which of course you got at an amazing discount. They have been recognized as one of the best chairs on the market for the past nine years. Your friend, a top executive of the company that makes Aeron chairs, was happy to help you out. Excitedly, you take the chairs upstairs and position them in your office. Now you have three chairs in your home office. There, perfect, you think, so much better than those Office Resources chairs your wife's friend was talking about. Your wife looks at you and says, “I think that we have too many chairs in here.”

Go to Work

In the suburb that you live in, people pretty much do four things to earn money to support their families and their lifestyles:

1. They are top corporate executives.

2. They are doctors or lawyers.

3. They are successful entrepreneurs who own their own businesses.

4. They are retired, having cashed out of something.

Your fortunate neighbors who are in this fourth category of “worker” really get you pissed off. While you all aspire to be the guy in that No. 4 category, unless you are there you really don't want to hear about it. It is difficult for you to feel good about people who have landed in category No. 4, because they have something that you do not have, but want.

Just the other day, your wife was standing at the bus stop with three other moms, waiting for the bus with the kids. Dean, for the first time ever in his life, shows up at the bus stop with his kid. “Oh, Dean, are you off today?” another mom, Susan, asks, your wife relates to you that night after you come home. “No,” he says, “I have just cashed out of a company that I brought public and will be getting an enormous sum of money in two months.” He goes on, not noticing the look of disgust in each of the moms' expressions, “I am retired!”

That was Dean's way of breaking his big news to his neighbors, all of whom would never admit that they wanted to emulate Dean but who, in the meantime, until they achieved his position in life, would scorn him. “Who would want to retire?” all of the husbands respond to their wives, who have been waiting all day to break the big news to all of you.

“We love our work, and seeing us work provides a good value structure for the kids,” you say in unison at your separate dinner tables, trying to justify your nine-to-five suburban existence with some degree of dignity.

When you first move into this suburb from the city, you think that you are a real big shot. You have a big-time job and see yourself as a big-time corporate executive.

Further, you think you are a real big shot because you played a role in increasing the value of the world's largest commercial building and you were rewarded for it. From that, your own real-estate investments, and your investment income, you are pulling down some real didge. You, my man, are in the top 1 percent. You have been able to buy a house in one of the country's most expensive suburbs and have the luxury of staying in your old city house for eight months until your renovations are done and then moving in to your new home when you feel like it. Shortly after moving in, you are able to upgrade to epoxy grout and buy new towels that match it (but that do not dry you), and pay $1,600 to change the color of the kids' bathroom ceiling, which no one will ever see. You have arrived.

You buy the house and for the price you pay you think that you should be living on some big parcel of land, an estate, on a hill overlooking the lake, and that your house should ramble, with rooms that you don't even know what to call. You are not, it does not, and anyone would call each room in your house the same thing that you call each room in your house.

Slowly, you come to realize that you are not the big shot you thought you were. You live in a suburb where everyone is at least as big a shot as you are, and many are much bigger shots. You never realized that there were so many opportunities to be a bigger shot than you. You are invited to houses that
ramble and that
overlook the lake. You know what you paid for your house, and you think that if you added perhaps a zero you would be close to approximating the values of many of the houses you are invited into.

You know what you do and what you pull down to live where you live, and you sometimes have a hard time imagining what so-and-so does or did to live in a house that your five-year-old daughter would describe as “ginormous” and that your son would describe as “scaled up from what we have.” As in “Daddy, why is it that everything the [numerous people] have is scaled up from what we have?” a question that you avoid answering. “Their climbing wall is higher, their zip line is longer, their house is taller, their yard is bigger, and they have a built-in pool that does not have to be emptied each night and put back in the garage.”

On a Friday, you come home from work, fighting the battles that a corporate executive fights on a typical Friday, and your then eight-year-old son asks, “Dad, why do you have to go to work? Can't you stay home like Paul's dad or like Eric's dad or like John's dad?”—three of the kids' dads that he happened to see while playing that day. You try to think of a reply that will resonate with your kid to reinforce a strong work ethic in him, like the one that you grew up with, but it is difficult without degrading the other dads, whom you secretly aspire to be like.

You think of something clever and you say, without admitting that for the time being these guys are beating you in this competition, “You know, son, those dads may be home every day, but my guess is that I probably spend as much time with you and your sister as those dads do with their kids.” You say this having no clue as to how much time any of these dads spend with their kids. Your kid thinks about what you have said and looks at you and nods his head in agreement.

Go Buy Some Wholesale Suits

The only thing that you like better than wholesale is free. Every day, you wear a suit to work; that is the culture where you work, in contrast to Dean, who by now has probably received his “enormous sum of money” and whose new “work” uniform is a pair of shorts, a T-shirt, and sandals.

There is nothing about shopping that you enjoy, so the last time you bought suits was a few years ago. You bought ten. Now many of these suits are wearing out. You are not like your father in this regard. He would have a rotation pattern with his suits, where he would retire two suits each year and replace them with two new ones.

You go for the one-shot big buy, and this is no problem for you because you think you are a big-shot corporate executive. For a few months, the fact that you need some new suits has been rolling around in the back of your mind and then, for two reasons, you decide to act. First, this thought surfaces more and more often, like when you are visiting with the president of the largest furniture company in the world and you take your jacket off to reveal a tear in the lining that is large enough to place a copy of this book into. Second, you have been seeing advertisements for a place that sells wholesale suits, aptly named Wholesale Suits, which sells to consumers one day a week.

You call this place and they tell you that they have brand-name suits, not seconds or anything like that. The suits are three for the price of one. The man tells you that there are a lot of Italian suits, which draws you in, and that you can get
suits for either $300, $400, $500, $600, or $700, depending on the quality. The price is right.

You call back and ask for directions, because the map they have provided is of no help to you. There is not one recognizable road or highway on it. You get the directions and realize that you are committing yourself to at least a forty-five-minute drive to get there, assuming you do not get lost, which you will. You must shop on a Saturday, consumer day, and you hate to do anything that takes you away from your family on what you have established as family day.

You go one day when your kids both have playdates. You drive on roads that you have never seen before, and after one hour and fifteen minutes you pull up to an unmarked warehouse. The parking lot is nearly full. The man that you talked to on the phone was right. This windowless, one-story box of a warehouse is chock-f of suits, and the prices are what he told you they would be, cheap.

You go to the 40-regular section and have a man that you think works there point out the area for three-button suits, because you think they are in style now. In about five minutes you pull off fifteen that look good to you and begin trying them on. Like eating and showering, shopping is something that you like to do fast. Ten of the fifteen fit, and you buy them. You spend $2,000 for these suits, $200 each, and, to you, each one looks like a $1,000 suit. You are smart! You notice some labels that you think you recognize, like Armani and DKNY; that is good, right?

You confirm with the checkout guy that these are not rejects and he assures you that they are not. First quality, you think he says, in a difficult-to-understand Eastern European accent. You do not have these suits altered there, because you know that having to pick them up will mean another drive out to this nameless suburb with loud airplanes flying overhead every forty-five seconds.

You take the suits home and proudly show the big pile to your family. They feign interest for a minute or so and then go back to whatever they were doing. You call a tailor that you find in the phone book, the one closest to your home, and ask if he can alter ten suits for you. He thinks that you are joking. “Nobody buys ten suits,” he says. “I will see you in five minutes,” you say. You show up and you tell the tailor what a terrific deal you got on the suits. By doing this, you want to prove to him that you are a smart guy and not the obnoxious spoiled brat that he thinks you are, showing up with ten new suits to tailor.

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