Canucks eating the seed corn too, eh

Toronto Life recently ran this obnoxious self-defense essay by a dipshit claiming to earn $130k a year as a pharmacist while still living with his parents at the age of 31 and lavishly wasting the lion’s share of his own income on high-end travel, restaurants, and nightclubs. Marina Alekseev, who brought this piece to my attention, wished that it had taken a look at the drug angle: “Let’s all agree that Tony neglects to mention how much he spends on coke, which is most disappointing. You can bet Tony’s employer is doing a thorough inventory account of all the uppers in that joint.” I don’t see why the better sorts of amphetamines couldn’t help explain Tony’s lifestyle, too, or, for that matter, the worse sorts of amphetamines in some small measure, but either way, that fellow is either exaggerating his playing hard by a factor of two or three or else using a serious pick-me-up. Powder Milk Biscuits are not fueling that machine; he’s using something much tastier and more expeditious. It takes mad drugs to do what Tony claims to have done after hours while also working more than full time.

Some of the reader comments on that piece argued that Tony must have greatly exaggerated his income (too high for a junior pharmacist) and his playboy lifestyle. It’s possible that he wrote a James Frey-style novel-as-memoir, although it’s unlikely that he stood to gain much besides the rush of having his semi-anonymized story run in a C-List regional lifestyle magazine. Publishers are notoriously stingy in their compensation of guest authors for lurid confessional pieces; I understand that I’ve made more money for two days of commercial vineyard work than guest essayists have made on leading gossip blogs for publicly admitting to incest. There’s a lot of detail in what Tony published, or, if you wish, in what was published in his name. If he (sic, or not) didn’t personally spill his seed corn all over these high-end joints in Toronto and Montreal, inter alia, someone did some solid research to make his story of the high life sound believable.

There’s one detail that I find absolutely impossible NOT to believe: “My parents raised us to understand that money was something to be guarded. They’d do funny little things like unscrew the light bulb in the microwave to save on the hydro bill.” That’s the kind of detail that has to be witnessed to be recounted. Nobody makes up a story like that. As frugality goes, it’s petty, even bizarre. I’ve always been pretty frugal in my own use of electricity, for environmental and financial reasons, and I found this story about unscrewing the microwave bulb a bit of a holy-shit moment. For one thing, the savings have to be tiny, even if the microwave is in heavy use. I’m a grid nerd who has been mocked for having an electrical bill that was too low (by the Insurance Schmuck, not surprisingly; in fairness, though, he was still living at home, with his parents paying him an above-market allowance to do minimal chores), and even I found it excessive to unscrew the microwave light bulb. It isn’t often that I find an account of people who are even more conscientious, or neurotic, about electricity consumption than I am. It it’s alien to me, it’s Mr. Ross using his third arm to stir his coffee alien to T’rana social climbers. The club scene in Toronto is said to be as obnoxious and vapid as any in North America, and I’ve known an appalling number of people around Philadelphia, a relatively modest city, who absolutely cannot be bothered to give a shit about the consumption of electricity, unless it’s to make fun of their friends for being losers who don’t use enough of it.

What we have then, is this professionally and financially successful dude who runs with an irresponsible, slightly antisocial crowd that considers it a point of honor not to give a fuck about their own profligate, unjustified, and probably unjustifiable use of utilities, because, like, who cares, and he’s embarrassed by his stolid immigrant parents, whose constant frugality provided him a stable home life as a child and in fact still provide him a stable home life as an adult. This is not a story that traditionally ends well, or middles well, for that matter. In the midst of this, he can’t say no to his big brother, even when Bro’s demands are blatantly unreasonable, e.g., tell your boss you can’t fill scrips this Saturday because we need to fuck around all weekend in Montreal. This is the sort of peer pressure that Tony is constitutionally unable to resist. Going downtown per se might not be the saddest thing in the whole wide world (sorey), but going downtown in another city several hundred kilometers away under these circumstances is. Yes, I used the metric, eh, as one does. But not the French. Dude lives his life in a state of #TIMMEH of the spirit and the will on account of his pushy dipshit older brother, who also lives at home. Fuckin’ eh, friend.

Pieces like this serve a number of purposes, few of them honorable. Obviously they’re useful as clickbait for trolls, flamers, and general blowhards, and they’re great for periodic Alexander Tytler-attributed #TCOT sermons on the inevitable descent into frivolity, bondage, and poverty of a once-hard people gone soft. (Personally, I usually feel much more in bondage to Woman when hard, but never mind.) Maybe Tony’s parents are happy to live vicariously through the masturbatory fury of their grown sons, or maybe they’re just codependent; fuck if I know. The socioeconomics of this sorry-sounding arrangement, however, are worth a more thoughtful and informed discussion than #TCOT and #YOLO ever bring to the forum.

The electricity thing is a good place to start. I’ve seen and lived a version of it on the maternal side of my own family. My late grandmother, a country cracker-larping retired schoolteacher from Staten Island with a very well-feathered nest, tended to be downright cheap in most facets of her life. This probably explains why my mom turns on shitloads of lights in the house whenever the sun drops behind the hill, or sometimes even when it is briefly blocked by passing clouds in the middle of the day. My parents have two or three kilowatts of lighting installed just in the kitchen and living room. It’s enough that their electric bill doubles from the summer to the winter, give or take a hundred-odd kWh. My mom has told me that my grandmother’s rich white trash boyfriend once turned the lights off on her while she was reading at my grandmother’s house, mainly just to be an asshole, but I suspect that there was a habit of frugality underlying it. My mom has never told me anything about her household utility regime growing up, but I assume her parents policed the family’s electrical load pretty closely, purely out of financial necessity or something close to it. My grandmother wasn’t the millionaire next door who took all her meals in the same cheap greasy spoon; she was the millionaire next door who could hardly be bothered to change out of her fifty-threadcount housecoats into proper street clothes.

My parents’ electric bill does not materially damage their finances, even at its worst, but I have no idea what weird psychological headfakes it causes my dad, and they use a shitload of gas every winter because it’s cold as balls up here. I’m happy, in fact I dare say proud, to limit their electric bill by keeping lighting to a minimum when I’m staying here and they’re out of town. For one thing, I did a double-take when I finally figured out the rate that they’re paying. It’s 23.7 cents per kWh, which sounds like a fucking lot. It varies a tiny bit from month to month based on their usage over the flat hookup fee, if I’m reading the bills correctly, but the variation is less than a tenth of a cent per kWh. I find it a bit scandalous that National Grid does not specify a bottom-line charge per kilowatt-hour anywhere on their bills; this should be easy enough to specify, even if there are flat fees that need to be factored in. What’s specified instead is a single line item, roughly two thirds of the bill, for a supplier based out of Philadelphia called Energy Plus, supposedly for supplying the energy, and the other third or so broken up into a mess of line-item transmission charges and rebates, payable directly to National Grid, for all the Wichita Lineman shit.

I’m guessing that Energy Plus is closer to an Enron-style speculative wholesaling shop than a dedicated load supplier like Vermont Yankee or the TVA. In any event, Energy Plus has absolutely no way to keep its supply segregated from other companies’ supplies on National Grid’s lines. The entire national grid, lower case, is integrated, meaning that no, you are not directly charging your plug-in Prius from a windmill, no matter what the marketing cartoon shows, and that a hundred fifty million people in two dozen states and provinces can easily enough be thrown off the grid for a week straight in the hottest part of the summer because there was a momentary load-management problem on a single trunk line and the utilities have all scrapped their manual overrides and other backup systems. Also, the very name Energy Plus sounds less like a nuts-and-bolts utility run by people who actually know how to produce and distribute electricity than Wow Much energies Many peakload Omg kwesi millington Very electrify. On the other hand, I may have more of an Inside Baseball sense of the electrical grid than all of my friends and close acquaintances combined, so these fuckers probably know their target audience.

Tony is an ass for arguing that his furious pursuit of Veblen goods is virtuous because it contributes to the consumer economy, just as Canadians have been badgered to do for so many years, but he has a point. The broad middle class of North Americans get shit on for not saving enough for retirement AND for not spending enough on stupid shit right now. It’s about time that the Cathedral propagandists be put up against the wall and asked, okay, which is it: consumption or savings? Which side of this binary are you choosing? What’s conveniently left out of the mainstream narrative, of course, is that savings and money velocity have both fallen because the percentage of GDP devoted to wages has crashed. That is, the rest of us can’t spend money that corporations are hoarding as superfluous reserves or lavishing on their stockholders and executives in loot-and-scoot triangular trade scams. One thing that can be said for affluent retirees helping out their financially troubled grown children is that these handouts are one of the few mechanisms currently working to boost money velocity, i.e., facilitating the continuation of an actual economy ordered to the actual needs of the populace instead of a proliferation of brother-can-you-spare-a-dime apple carts.

Tony has an even better point about the wisdom of staying out of the Toronto housing market. Urban and suburban housing in Canada is grotesquely inflated, and smart money has the bubble starting to burst before long. In Toronto, there is a genuine structural shortage of housing, with everyone in Canada wanting to be there because it’s the center of the universe or something. If the GTA keeps sprawling into the hinterlands, more of Canada’s most accessible farmland will be chewed up to no good end, replaced by a spreading cancer of gridlocked, overwhelmed infrastructure. The sprawl is even more threatening in Vancouver, which is surrounded by Canada’s only arable land with halfway clement winter weather.

In a crowded major city like Toronto, multigenerational housing can make eminently good sense. Likewise, a successful professional like Tony shouldn’t just hoard money for the sake of hoarding it. At the same time, Tony is one of the least sympathetic examples imaginable of a spendthrift playboy taking undue advantage of the family homestead. The degree of personal irresponsibility that he describes would normally be associated with an acute drug problem. Think Rob Ford putting the coke into Etobicoke. Realize that the Mayor was one of the more functional cokeheads in his hood; Kevin Donovan found some fucked up people living in the basement around there in their forties. Personally, I can’t live in my parents’ basement because there isn’t one; if there were, not having air conditioning might not be such a stupid fucking idea.

Tony’s piece plays into this sort of Puritan meme that if the kids aren’t kicked out of the house the moment they reach majority, they’ll inevitably turn into leeches upon the household and bring moral ruination down upon it. This is a great excuse for professional busybodies to intrude into the family affairs of people who never invited them over in the first place. Tony’s parents sound financially secure enough not to need the rent money, and if they’re retired (he doesn’t say, but it’s likely enough), they have more free time and energy than he does with an overtime job to cook and clean. It’s pure concern-trolling for third parties to expect them to demand rent and help around the house under these circumstances. And how many other Silent and Baby Boomer parents are there who would rather do the work of keeping house themselves than bother their adrift grown children to come out of their bedrooms and help make dinner? Todd Palin certainly felt this way about Levi Johnston when it was time to put the roast in the oven, so it can bleed into Gen X, too, if Gen X will tolerate it. Seriously, how much of this meme-mongering about derelict grown children is ordered to helping Boomer parents who halfheartedly wish they were empty-nesters wring their hands in martyrdom because they don’t have the courage to ask their twentager snowflakes to set the table? Canada has First Nations teens huffing gasoline because that’s how bleak life is on the reserves, and then we have this moral panic about thirty-somethings living at home in the GTA because in some ideal parallel universe their parents would be horrified that their nest is not empty for their dotage. What’s especially rich in this case is that Tony’s parents are from the Middle East, where the very concept of the empty nest is pretty much alien. In their old-country cultural context, the biggest problem with Tony and his brother would be that they still haven’t brought any grandchildren into their lives, you know, so that the nest isn’t so lonely all the time.

For all I know, this piece could be agitprop commissioned by realtors and slumlords in the hope of guilting youngsters into pumping their market up instead of economizing with relatives who can help them spread their cost of living.

Please tell me you guys will have something better to argue aboot this coming winter. For the love of God, do something better with your lives. Maybe go skating on the Rideau Canal, or, I dunno, go up the CN Tower and pound Molson. Fuck, friends, Fuck, buddies.

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