ALL I WANT FOR CHRISTMAS IS A PENTHOUSE
DAVID ARTHUR WALTERS
I have been blessed with a few luxuries now that I an impoverished old scribbler with one foot in the incinerator. Kind people have given me my first smart phone, a notepad, and a laptop, and my neighbor gave me the password to her Wi-Fi.
I did not beg for those things because I did not need them at the time, but now that I have them I do need them, and I would have begged for them knowing what I know now, having used them, on the principle that everyone born helpless is a beggar at the bottom of his being, so is shamelessly entitled to free gifts.
Christmas is coming up. I am not a religious person although I was acquainted with the holiday before I ran away from home to the streets of Chicago when I turned thirteen.
Christmas is for kids, I had learned, and it had something to do with Jesus, the only person who really loved me although I could not see him. He made sure that another person I had never met, Santa Claus, gave people gifts to celebrate his birth.
I learned not to expect free gifts no matter how hard one prayed to Jesus and his mom and dad, or to Santa Claus, for that matter. But now that people are giving me useful things, there is something I do want that I am asking for this Christmas, just in case a generous person is listening. All I want for Christmas is a penthouse in a tall building.
Now I did not know that I wanted a fabulous penthouse until I perused Elevate, a vanity real estate magazine published by Douglas Elliman. Kristen Chenoweth got the cover for her “Wicked Ways.” She appears to be hiding something, perhaps a joke on bewitched fans.
Kristen is cute, but I have a crush on Sharon Stone, who recently exposed the naked truth about what every male sleuth has been dying to see since Basic Instinct. I did not care for Sharon’s hard look back then. She is wiser and much more attractive today. I would like to have her over to my penthouse. She can bring the kids and the dog if she likes.
With all due respect to Kristin, it was the penthouses, the air castles of the wealthy therefore great that elevated me in Elevate.
Having eyed several penthouses at length, it was obvious that great people need a great deal of space. Big rooms with very high ceilings are a must. In fact, great people must have a space so voluminous that Communists would relish dividing it up into two floors with rooms for a dozen families.
I imagined winning $85 million in a lottery, using $20 million to buy a modest penthouse, and another $7 million to furnish it, including the small extravagance of a $1 million bathtub.
Much of the furniture in the photographs looked awkward. It would not be easy to fill so much space with furniture without losing the attraction of the space in itself. Minimalism would maximize spaciousness.
What about a 40-foot long couch? I could sit down on it in several different places every day, wander around the space and sit for five minutes or so on the several chairs inside and on the terrace, write a short story, take a nap on my huge bed, give instructions to the housekeeper, then take the elevator to get elevated in the cocktail lounge.
I soon realized that my air castle would not be valuable in nonmonetary terms unless I showed it off to guests. I would have a half-dozen friends and acquaintances over for cocktails or dinner from time to time, for how beautiful could my penthouse be to me unless I showed it off to others?
I laid down Elevate, and looked around my studio in horror. “Good grief, what have I come to, how can I live like this, in this squalor, without cable?”
I always believed I was great, and would eventually be wealthy. I lost track of time and interest in material things, so here I am.
Oh, the conveniences are there: the sticks of furniture from the alley; the computer and monitor that friends gave me; the great used books that I got for $2 each because nobody wanted them. The electricity and the running water, the sink, rusted out bathtub, and especially the toilet, come in handy. The landlord’s refrigerator is on its last legs, barking like a dog sometimes, and he could care less, but is okay if I use ice to keep the bottom space cool.
I confess that millions of people would definitely envy me, and that gives me some little comfort. Still, my studio is much too small for a great person like me!
All I want for Christmas is a penthouse. I would settle for a spacious one-bedroom, or even a studio on a top floor. I do not need to own it. A life-tenancy would suffice, at which time the property would revert to the donor or be sold with proceeds going to a charity.
All right, if that is too much to ask for, a month’s residency would please me very much, and I promise I would not make a Leaving Las Vegas of it.
Not that I am unwilling to work for my abode. I could write stories for the likes of Elevate. My first article would outline a plan to house poor people in fabulous empty homes for a week, thus giving them an incentive to work harder to elevate their lifestyles.
It with that in mind that I noticed a few nice apartments for rent in various high rises, from $3,000 to $5,000 per month. They spaces are small, but resemble penthouses. If Santa runs out of penthouses, I shall be glad to have one of those apartments with a view.
Notes from The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1853) by Adam Smith
“Of the Beauty which the Appearance of Utility bestows upon all the Productions of Art, and of the extensive influence of this Species of Beauty.”
The formal virtue of fine art, however, is simply to please the beholder at the sight of it whether he possesses it or not.
That a thing is well contrived for our use is a sort of beauty because we would be pleased to use it. That someone else may have the possession and use of the thing renders gives us cause for envy.
“When we visit the palaces of the great, we cannot help conceiving the satisfaction we should enjoy if we ourselves were the masters, and were possessed of so much artful and ingeniously contrived accommodation.”
The fact that something works at all for some useless purpose may cause us to deem it beautiful; that we do not need it does not make us want it less.
“How many people ruin themselves by laying out money on trinkets of frivolous utility? What pleases these lovers of toys is not so much the utility as the aptness of the machines fitted to promote it. All their pockets are stuffed with little conveniences.”
A man desires the conveniences of his betters whom he may despise for having them.
“He sees his superiors carried about in machines, and imagines that in one of these he could travel with less inconveniency. He feels himself naturally indolent, and willing to serve himself with his own hands as little as possible; and judges that a retinue of servants would save him a great deal of trouble…. It appears in his fancy like the life of some superior rank of beings, and, in order to arrive at it, he devotes himself for ever to the pursuit of wealth and greatness…. For this purpose he makes his court to all mankind; he serves those whom he hates, and is obsequious to those whom he despises.”
He may obtain wealth and greatness, yet, “in the extremity of old age….in the last dregs of life…he begins at last to find that wealth and greatness are mere trinkets of frivolous utility.”
“The palaces, the gardens, the equipage, the retinue of the great are objects of which the obvious convenience strikes everybody,” while the convenience of “a toothpick, of an ear-picker, of a machine for cutting the nails, or any other trinket of the same kind…may be equally great, but it is not so striking, and we do not enter into the satisfaction of the man who possesses them…. To one who was to live alone in a desolate island, it may be a matter of doubt perhaps, whether a palace, or a collection of such small conveniences as are commonly contained in a tweezers-case, would contribute most to his happiness and enjoyment.”
A man does not imagine that the things themselves make their owners any happier because of the superior ease or pleasure they are supposed to furnish although he envies them for having more means to those ends.
“But in the languor of disease and weariness of old age, the pleasures of the vain and empty distinctions of greatness disappear…. Power and riches appear then to be, what they are, enormous and operose machines contrive to produce of few trifling conveniences to the body…. They are immense fabrics which it requires the labour of a life to raise, which threaten every moment to overwhelm the persons that dwells in them, and while they stand, though they may save him from smaller inconveniences, can protect him from none of the severer inclemencies of the seasons.”