An Ounce of Pretension

Tennis ball and racket with broken stringI had a near-death experience today. Okay, maybe not near-death but it was definitely unpleasant déjà vu. For a few minutes, I was back in my over-privileged childhood, drowning in a sea of chic I would never achieve. Some people go into anaphylactic shock if they eat peanuts or shellfish. I am vulnerable to yuppie poisoning.

This morning I had to go to the Domain, that self-important shopping center + condos where Austin’s nouveau riche can embrace life on a reservation. Every need is at one’s fake nail-adorned fingertips. From morning latte, to nouvelle cuisine lunch, to popping into Louis Vuitton and Tiffany’s before heading for your pied-de-terre, a condo just a Cadillac-length away, you need never experience the real world. I didn’t see one this morning, but surely a funeral home is in the works.

I grew up in San Antonio, in the Hills of Terrell and the Heights of Alamo. For those of you not from around these parts, that’s where you find Lifestyles of the Rich and Shallow in San Antonio. My parents moved there to guarantee us kids a good education,  still a good reason for living in 78209. But life in ’09, as the natives call it, also guaranteed initiation into a hardcore sense of superiority I never quite bought into.

I had to go to the Dough-main this morning to get something at the only Apple store on my side of town. Actually, I was impressed. The store teemed with customers, or at least personal shoppers for wealthy clients who couldn’t be bothered. I guess if you build it at the Domain, they will come.

Dressing in my usual attire, pants, a Laurel Burch t-shirt with cats, matching LB socks–also with cats–and black canvas mary-janes, I even took a minute to put on make-up and run a brush through my hair, but the people there didn’t seem impressed. I felt I should wear a sign, “I washed me face and ‘ands before I come, I did.” Feelings of kinship with Eliza Doolittle aside, I grew itchier by the moment.

I thought of my father, a self-made man who accrued and lost several fortunes in his lifetime. (The roller coaster unfortunately ended on a down note.) He delighted in wearing khakis to the bank for a meeting or to Gildemeister’s to buy my mother an expensive piece of jewelry. It tickled him when an uninformed clerk or young banker treated him like some hobo who had strayed from his element.

Today I understood my father a little better. There is something beguiling about looking down on people who consider themselves superior. It took a few seconds to clear images of cotillions, Bass Weejuns, and Amory Oliver dance lessons out of my head, as I turned my Kia toward home, gratefully exchanging that idyll for my real life in less fashionable, friendlier digs.

One of my favorite lines from “Steel Magnolias” is, “An ounce of pretension is worth a pound of manure.” Daddy would have approved.

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