The Cult of One Good Thing (Revisited)

POV CoverIt was the summer of 1995. I was 20 years old. I was going to Tacoma Community College. I was about to get married. I was living in a tiny basement apartment next door to Stadium High School. And I was absolutely clueless as to what the future was going to hold for me or what sort of life I’d end up leading. One day that summer I went to Stadium Thriftway and picked up a magazine with a worried looking Michael Richards on the cover (In 1995 Kramer from Seinfeld was the biggest star on television.). There was a big headline that said, “WHAT SHOULD I DO?” and yes, at 20 years old this was a question I asked myself all the time but that wasn’t the part that spoke to me. It was the smaller headline just under it that said, “Live like $70,000 while making $35,000 by Jesse Kornbluth (a man who knows)”. This was something I was definitely interested in even if I hadn’t a clue who Jesse Kornbluth was.

The magazine was called P.O.V. and as a comic book guy I couldn’t help but notice it said, ‘Premier Issue’.  I bought the copy and read it cover to cover. The Kramer interview was hilarious. Their advice about Skyy vodka being hangover proof was quickly put to the test and passed. And then there was the Kornbluth article, “The Cult of One Good Thing”.

Now before I go any further it’s important to note that at this point in my life I wasn’t making $35,000 a year. I wasn’t making half of that. My resume was short and unimpressive. But so what. There might be a thing or two in the article I could use and I’d probably be making $35K in no time anyway (not true but optimism in youth is eternal).

The basic premise of the article is that you can live a really amazing lifestyle (or at least appear to) by focusing on quality instead of quantity. This is true. The article suggested good clothes to buy and that joining various clubs and other social gatherings are the way towards a better life and to do so, one should avoid spending copious amounts of money on sub-par stuff for a sub-par apartment. Out in the world, no one knew what kind of place you lived in as long as you appeared presentable.

When I read all of this at 20 years old, it was a revelation. I felt like this article was giving me some sort of cheat codes to life. There was one particular bit of it that struck a chord with me. Regarding other people like yourself who aren’t making a lot of money he said, “At the end of long days, their idea of fun may be to flop in front of the tube and share their miseries; if you hang with them long enough, that will be your idea of amusement too.”  I had many people who did exactly this. Most of them watched sports which I found just mind-numbing. I had no interest in ever becoming someone who drank Bud-Lite while watching the Super Bowl.

Over the years, I would reread this article. I would quote relevant parts to friends from time to time. One friend asked me if they could borrow it and being a lender of things, I let him borrow it. He then promptly lost it.

I continued to purchase P.O.V. until it went out of business in 2000. And to be perfectly honest, I actually used almost none of Jesse Kornbluth’s specific advice. (I still don’t own a Brooks Brothers shirt.) But the theme of the article echoed in many of my actions. The idea of buying something of high quality regardless of price instead of something that was average and cheap stuck with me. Right now I do have beer in the fridge. They are four bottles of craft beer bought at 99 Bottles rather than a case of Bud Lite from 7-11.

A few years ago I decided to find out what Jesse Kornbluth was up to these days. It turns out he’s still giving advice on the good life. He has a website called HeadButler.com which specializes in recommending awesome books, movies, and music. I subscribed to his newsletter immediately. Thanks to the newsletter I saw the excellent and haunting movie Winter’s Bone, I read Cara Hoffman’s incredible novel, So Much Pretty and even reviewed it on this site.  Recently I was thinking about that old article from P.O.V. and I decided to email him and see if he still had it. He wrote back and said that he did not have it.

If it were still 1995, that would have been the end, but since it’s not, I looked on Ebay and found a copy of the premier issue of P.O.V. for $12. This was four times what it cost in 1995 but I didn’t mind. After all, the theme of the article was that quality sometimes costs more.

– Jack Cameron

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