Wednesday, July 02, 2003


I have been giving a lot
of thought to Stuff lately.

You know what I mean
by Stuff, don’t you? Stuff is what we want, the things
we aspire to have, what we buy when we have the money to
buy it. Stuff is the things we’re told we Need in order
to “be successful,” to have “arrived,” to be “state of
the art,” to impress our friends and neighbors, assuming
we have friends and know our neighbors. Stuff is the
stuff we need to assure ourselves that we’re more worthy
than others who don’t have Stuff.

Today’s crop of
Stuff, as far as I can tell from reading The Robb
Report, an $8 magazine with nothing but ads for Stuff,
includes the $10,000 Viking gas range – a stove that
spews out enough natural gas to seam weld an I-beam, but
cooks likes the $199 Kenmore model. Stuff is the $60,000
Hummer complete with machine gun mounts and bullet-proof
tires, but gets you to where you’re going in about the
same time as the $9995 Neon, before rebate and 0%
financing. Stuff is the $4,995 back yard billet aluminum
BBQ grill that can roast an entire Texas Longhorn on a
spit run by 4-cyclinder gasoline engine, but that cooks
a few pieces of chicken for the kiddos much like the
$59.95 cast iron variety. Stuff is the $2,495 SubZero
refrigerator capable of keeping nitrogen frozen at
absolute zero, but keeps your lettuce from wilting long
enough to eat it, as does the Sears model at

But we learn early on not to confuse
Stuff with imitation stuff. Cheap stuff is not Stuff.
It’s like Stuff, but it doesn’t count. Used stuff
doesn’t count, either.

Computers are Stuff, but
only if you have the new 100 gigahertz model with enough
memory to store everything ever written in the English
language. Unfortunately, even though computers speed up
every three months or so, you don’t. My guess is the
software writers are in cahoots with the hardware
manufacturers, making the software bigger, harder to
run, and thus requiring us to upgrade to the new
fire-breathing models just to be able to do the same
things we did when we measured speed in megahertz. The
idea is to sell us new software to put on our old
computers which then slow down to about the rate of
3-fingered monkey on an abacus. This raises our
frustration levels until we have to buy a new Stuff
computer so powerful that it requires dry ice to keep it
from incinerating itself. Then, we sell the one we paid
$2,995 for a year ago for $11.50 to a neighborhood kid
at a garage sale.

There is even Stuff for sex,
which used to be pretty simple and straightforward, and
gratifying, if I do say so myself. But sex, too, has
been co-opted by Stuff. It’s a natural. Like driving a
car, nearly everyone does it, so why not make some Stuff
to make it better, or at least more expensive. There’s
not a day that goes by that my e-mail box is not filled
with advertisements for Stuff that will make my penis
the size and tensile strength of a galvanized telephone
pole. There’s Stuff that will let you bang long enough
to make your headboard into kindling. And, there’s Stuff
that takes the work out of sex – like the Vibrating
Panty Turbo-Wand or the Muff-Diver 8” Tongue that plugs
into the dryer socket for ladies who are tired of
waiting for hubby to come home, but take self-inflicted
pleasure in the fact that their man is out there working
hard for some new Stuff. And, guys aren’t left out of
the high-tech sex equation, either. They shouldn’t be.
They’re half the market. Hence, we have Doc’s Classic
UR3 Vibrating Vagina, which sounds more like a
high-flying spy aircraft than a sex toy.

when it comes to TV Stuff, there’s a whole load of new
Stuff -- TiVo, Xbox, ReplayTV, UltimateTV, each so
complicated you need an advanced degree in electrical
engineering in order to never miss the same mindless
drivel you can watch on a $99.95 12” Sanyo and become
dumber and angrier that an Okie in a trailer park fire.
There are stereos with sub-woofers that can weld your
retinas together, and tweeters so shrill that they will
decalcify your spinal column at 100 feet. At normal
listening levels, however, the new stereo Stuff sounds
remarkably like the $199.95 Sony system you can buy at
Sam’s, which, of course, is not Stuff. Rule: Stuff
cannot be bought at Sam’s or Costco. That’s imitation
stuff for those who can’t afford Real Stuff.
the most desired Stuff today are the houses we build as
monuments to ourselves, the ones we wander aimlessly in,
complete with requisite granite countertops capable of
sustaining a direct nuclear hit with minimum damage, but
on which you can cut lettuce like you once did on
Formica, which, by the way, used to be Stuff, a long,
long time ago, but now is old stuff and thus has to
ripped out and taken to a landfill where it will sit for
the next 10,000 years.

That’s the problem with
Stuff. It’s in a constant state of flux. It’s a
perpetually moving target. I remember when Stuff was a
microwave oven, a Kitchenaide mixer, a Cuisinart food
processor, and a three bedroom, 2 bath house in the
‘burbs. But, those things aren’t Stuff anymore. That is
old stuff. Old stuff is irrelevant. Old stuff was once
cool to have, but now that everyone has it, it’s not
even Stuff anymore. Clothes are the best example. You
might keep your Viking Range for 10 years and it may
still be Stuff, but not so with the rags you wear. Last
year’s Versacci suit and Kate Spade handbag are this
year’s garage sale mark-downs, and don’t even think of
trying to fool those who know their Stuff. They
recognize the difference between Stuff and old stuff,
even if old stuff has only been worn once. Men’s
designers haven’t (yet) been as successful as their
female counterparts in getting guys to throw away their
stuff. Men can still get away with a three year old $200
Zegna tie, $2,400 Oxxford suit, and a pair of $550
Church’s shoes, but my guess that won’t last long. A
review of Gentlemen’s Quarterly indicates there’s a
whole new crop of clothes that don’t appear to have been
made for people on this planet. They’re made for
bulimics who look angry and disinterested in what’s
going on around them and about life in general. I often
wonder why these models always look so pissed off, and
judging by their sizes, I write it off to being hungry.
Someone needs to feed these people.

That Stuff
changes does not mean it disappears from the face of the
earth. It doesn’t. Stuff mutates. Stuff becomes old
stuff at the moment in time when there is new Stuff to
replace it. There is no cache to old stuff, even though
your old stuff may operate and function just as it did
the day it was your new Stuff. Old stuff is worthless on
the Social Scale of Stuff. Today’s Stuff is tomorrow’s

In each succeeding generation of
Stuff, Stuff gets bigger and more expensive, in
deference to an economy that must grow or die. If there
wasn’t new Stuff that was bigger, better, and more
powerful than old stuff, then we’d be satisfied with our
Stuff when it became old stuff, and that wouldn’t do at
all, because we’re all employed to make Stuff, and if no
one bought Stuff, because we were satisfied with our old
stuff, then we’d all be out of work and couldn’t buy
Stuff. So, our government tells us, not so subtly, if
you want to be a Patriot, a Good American, and employed,
you have to keep up with the Jones’s who, in turn have
to keep up with you as consumers of Stuff.

often wonder what tomorrow’s Stuff will be, but I can’t
know because I don’t know what the manufacturers and
advertisers have in store for us. Based on the current
crop of Stuff, the Stuff-In-Waiting will, no doubt, be
WITH IMPUGNITY. I wouldn’t be surprised to soon see a
1,000 horsepower, 6 mile to the gallon, 2-seater car,
capable of snapping your neck like a dry twig off the
line, but in which we will wait in traffic just like we
used to wait in our BMW 5 Series, which is still Stuff
today, but will be old stuff tomorrow. For sure, new
Stuff cars will be very LARGE and have leather as smooth
as a baby’s butt – the kind you burn your own butt on
after it’s been baking the sun for about 8 hours,
because no one wants a cloth interior anymore. Cloth may
be cool to the touch, but is very old stuff that
followed the Naugahyde interior which was, itself, stuff
in ancient times. No one today would be caught dead with
their buttocks on Naugahyde, because no one even
remembers that Naugahyde was once stuff. The new breed
of vehicles will look like something out of a RoboCop
movie, appearing to have been designed as armored cars
or Bradley Fighting Vehicles. The most common trait of
new vehicular Stuff is that it makes us all look like
we’re all pissed off and we want to kill someone, and
with the Stress of Stuff, we may be.

Most new
Stuff, though, will be high-tech gadgets, perhaps
digital Camcorders implanted in our brains that record
everything our eyes see from DNA up until that
afternoon, stored on an unlimited-capacity DVD that we
will never watch, because our lives are composed of
looking for Stuff and, thus, so boring that not even we
can stand a rerun. Stuff will be television sets that
are three-dimensional wall-size monitors a half a
centimeter thick, because, after all, we don’t want to
waste space in our Monster-Houses which only continue to
be Stuff if they grow and are filled with more new
Stuff. Maybe our new TV’s will be three-dimensional so
we can walk into them and enjoy a night of Friends,
since we don’t have any real friends anymore. We don’t
have time. We’re too busy working and buying

The possibilities are limitless.
possibilities are inevitable.
The possibilities are

Like a herd of lobotomized sheep, we will
continue to watch ever larger, more defined TV’s, and
study magazine ads, paying careful attention to the
commercial breaks that clue us in on what Stuff we must
have. We’ll inspect our neighbor’s Stuff to make sure
that whatever Stuff we buy is newer, bigger, faster, and
more powerful than his Stuff. Then we’ll work harder to
make the money to buy the Stuff we want, sacrificing
more of our time with friends and family so when, on the
rare occasion, we actually see these people, we’ll have
plenty of cool Stuff to impress them

Unfortunately, we’ll always have that
sinking feeling about our Stuff, knowing in our greedy
little hearts that soon, very soon, our Stuff won’t be
Stuff anymore, but just a pile of old stuff we need to
trade in or sell or throw away to make room for the new
crop of Stuff. In the process, we’ll empty our bank
accounts and make a garbage can out of the Earth, use up
irreplaceable and non-renewable resources, ignore our
loved ones, and teach our children, by example, all
about Stuff and its importance in Life. And one day, if
we are very, very lucky, we will be remembered at our
funerals as the guy on the block with the most

I have a lot more to say about Stuff, but
I’ll end it here because the stores are opening soon and
I have a free ticket to the Consumer Circus and I’d hate
to miss it.
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