The holidays, for me, are a time to cherish loved ones, to appreciate one's blessings and to enjoy family traditions.
It's also a time to remember that my brother is a rich-ass motherfucker.
You see, I am a wage slave who is struggling to pay down her manageable-but-significant credit card debt. Like a yuppie version of the Little Match Girl, I huddle by my Archipelago Botanicals candle in my rented apartment and gaze into the flame, imagining such sugarplums as home ownership and cosmetic laser treatments.
My sister is strapped for cash even more than I am, only she incurred her debt with three small humans (instead of with three-margarita nights, like me). She and her husband have a house, but they also have ravenous, rapacious toddlers and a small business to run.
My parents are doing fine, but they're headed toward retirement and... well, imagining all the potential heartache and financial issues down that road, we'll just save that for another U.M.
Then there's my brother. My brother lives in the Ritz-Carlton, where he owns two places and rents the other one out as a corporate apartment. He drives a BMW SUV, gets his shirts custom-tailored, and buys his furniture in Georgetown. In other words, he could buy and sell my family. I mean, he really could -- he turned a dinky Web business into a small fortune, couldn't he do the same with the Nunezes, make us into a franchise or something? We don't have anything better to do.
Each year in the last decade or so, my family has been a disturbingly accurate microcosm of this country's economy: the rich get richer, the middle class gets middler, the credit debt goes rampant and the parents pick up the slack until they can't anymore. Christmas highlights this issue. It's a very businesslike affair for us: Lists are forwarded and cc'd, briefings are held as to who will handle which gifts for whom. Occasionally partnerships are formed for pricier gifts, sort of the way corporations have had to consolidate in order to survive: "This gift was brought to you by MomChris, a division of Nunez."
A couple of years ago, the family leadership had to acknowledge that the economy had fallen on hard times, and instituted a $50 cap on person-to-person gifts by Nunez siblings. None of us liked the idea of the cap, but I also heaved a sigh of relief. After all, there was no way I was going to be able to match my brother in terms of gift expense, and I was too embarrassed to say so. My sister had already issued warnings that she would be spending less than everyone. So the cap seemed like a good way of preventing anyone from going deeper into debt.
My brother, on the other hand, felt like he wanted to spend more than $50, because even though he's a RAMF, he's a generous guy too. So I got like half my Amazon wish list from him last year, and from me he got... I don't know, an umbrella?
It does make me feel weird and uneasy to know that no matter what we say, this year I will probably not spend nearly as much on my brother's gift as he will on mine. I'm older, and have always been a bit of the Jeanie to my brother's Ferris. Two years ago at the family dentist, when I was forced essentially to put my own teeth on layaway, the receptionist said with dreamy eyes, "Why don't you get your nice brother to help you? He's doing very well..." I've gotten used to it, but still.
When gift-giving time arrives, though, I manage to soldier through my guilt. Somehow it melts away -- maybe it's the warmth of that new cashmere sweater, or the massage bought with my Elizabeth Arden gift certificate.