I was at some Latin-fusion joint in Wicker Park with a mob of Mexican yuppies, three girls and one a man. One of the girls was my wife. And there was another guy, the man of one of the Mexican girls, a scrawny black dude named Michael.
Past one on a mostly sunny afternoon and the girls were dressed like yuppies, in chic day-clothes, comfy slip-on loafers and sandals, their hair highlighted pretty much the same, ombré or “brassy” or whatever they call it. The Mexican guy was dressed like he’d put together his outfit in a dark closet, wearing boat shoes, jean shorts with the cuffs rolled up, a tropical floral shirt, gold chain around his neck, rosary beads wrapped around one wrist, and a Pharrell hat on his head that made him look like a hobbit; the black dude Michael was dressed like a toned-down version of that, minus the hat (obviously), with tattoos swirling up one forearm, his skin just light enough to make them out.
They were all laughing and swinging champagne flutes around filled with different colors of mimosa. I was on my third cup of café con leche, staring at the smeared plate in front of me where my huevos rancheros had been. They hadn’t looked like any huevos rancheros I’d ever eaten before — I never knew you could deconstruct huevos rancheros. We were all out back in a little patio area shaded by potted little trees and ferns. You could hear the traffic out on Milwaukee.
“I hate the taste of champagne, but the pomegranate juice in this mimosa is pretty good!” someone said.
“Yeah, this mango mimosa is DELICIOUS,” said the short dark one, Lucy, la india. “Oh my god, you guys, so I fell in LOVE with Amsterdam. It was SOOO cute. And the Anne Frank Museum was SOOO sad. The wait to get in was SOOO long.”
Without even lifting my head I go, “Did you check out the whores in the Red Light District?”
“EWW, oh my god, NOOOooo!”
“Why not? It’s legal there. You shoulda taken one of those bitches for a spin.”
“Oh my god, no, I was there for work. And they’re probably really dirty anyways, full of diseases and stuff.”
“Actually I hear they’re pretty clean. The government regulates the whole thing, makes them come in for regular check-ups and shit. That’s gotta be better than fucking some random at the bars round here.”
“Eww, Hector, that’s disgusting.”
“What, the whores, or banging randoms?”
“The who–” She laughs, they all laugh. “I mean, the prostitutes. That’s gross.”
“If you say so, lady.”
“ANYways…” says Gabe, a pink little musclehead. “The beaches in the Virgin Islands were so frickin’ beautiful. No joke, it like almost made me cry.”
I was sipping my coffee. “Which one d’you go to?”
“What do you mean?”
“Which islands d’you go to?”
“I went to Saint Croaks, or whatever, and then Saint Thomas.”
“How are they doing, since the hurricanes?”
“Irma and Maria?”
“When was that?”
“Oh, so like a while a go? Naw, yeah, everything looked pretty good. I mean, there was a shitload of fucked up houses and shit, but I figured that’s how it always was.”
He laughs, they all do.
“Yeah,” he goes, “I pretty much got fucked up every night,” grinning, his face red.
Cristina, the pale bony one with bad breath, picks up her fluke and holds it like a microphone. “Oh my god, guys, so last week Michael took me to Elite Steakhouse.”
Michael was sunk back in his chair grinning with his eyes closed. Then he opened them, at me. “You know that place in River North where Kanye took Kim?” He was like a kid bragging about getting the hottest toy of the year
“Oh my GAAAH-d,” says la india. “I hear that’s supposed to be SOOO good.”
“It was, SOOO good,” the newborn deer goes. She was smiling with her mouth open. “The wagyu steak — just the steak — was 90 dollars. The whole meal, for just me and Michael, came out to 400-something.”
“Oh my god,” goes my wife.
“Yeah, but it was SOOO good, SOOO worth it. Best steak I ever had in my life.”
“How’d it taste?”
“Oh my GAHD, it was SOOO delicious. Wasn’t it, babe?”
“Yeah, and it woulda been even MORE delicious if you’da gotten medium-rare like the man was telling you to.” Michael was pointing a thumb at her but looking at me like Can you believe this?… Michael was always trying to be my friend and I was always resisting.
“Eww, no, you know I can’t eat raw meat like that.”
Mike laughed. “It ain’t RAW, it’s medium-rare.”
“Yeah yeah, same shit.”
Cristina laughs, everybody laughs, even me, shaking my head at my dirty plate.
“I’ve never had no 90-dollar steak,” I go. “Shit, I’ve never even had a 50-dollar steak. But If I did, I’d get it however the chef said so.”
“Oh my god, you’ve never eaten a steak that cost more than 50 dollars?” Cristina had a dirty smile smeared across her face.
“Nope. Probably never will either.”
“Well, I’m sorry, but you’ve never had a steak then.”
She laughed, just her. She slid a look toward my wife like Where’d you find this loser? You poor thing…
There was talk of clothes and make-up and purses and shoes, cars and watches and TVs, restaurants, clubs, hotels, and…
“When are you guys going to Europe together?” la india asks my wife.
“Or someplace tropical,” goes Gabe.
“Or at least treat yourselves to a 50-dollar steak sometime,” says Cristina.
My wife and I just smiled, blushing, shook our heads, shrugged our shoulders.
“I don’t know, we’ll see.”
Since then I’ve yet to see Europe or any of the other continents, though I have been on a Caribbean island and strolled along some breathtaking beaches, and I’ve had a few 50-dollar steaks, too. But none of it has made me any better or any happier. I was happier at the time, in the moment, but then the moment flew away and I was back to being how I normally am, which is still pretty happy but wound-up, anxious, a bit broody.
The biggest thing you learn when you come into money, the biggest thing you should learn anyway, is that easier does not mean happier: money makes life easier, but not happier.
Psychologists say we’re all just trying to get back to that feeling when we were babies and our moms held us close to their tits and we were sucking away, happy, warm, and safe. There’s no going back to that, of course, but adulthood offers the second-best thing: sex with the good man or woman you love. My wife and I can now afford to spend a week or two in someplace like Venice, and we plan to, sooner or later. But really, life doesn’t get much better than fucking on a warm afternoon and then lying on the bed naked and sweaty, holding each other.
St. Mark’s Square, St. Peter’s Square, Red Square, Tiananmen Square and the Zócalo; the La Rambla, the Champs-Élysées, the Malecón and the Grand Canal; the Thames, the Seine, the Rhine, the Danube, the Nile, the Ganges and the Amazon; the Rialto Bridge and the Bridge of Sighs, Tower Bridge, Charles Bridge, the Pont Neuf, the Ponte Vecchio, and the new huge one they just built outside Shanghai; the Eiffel Tower, Big Ben, the Burj Khalifa, the Hong Kong skyline at night; Machu Picchu, Stonehenge, Chichén Itzá, the Coliseum, the Great Wall, the Great Pyramid, the Parthenon, the Hagia Sophia, the Taj Mahal, Florence Cathedral, Granada Cathedral, Notre Dame, Saint Basil’s, Westminster Abbey, the Dome of the Rock; Roatán, Isla Mujeres, Isla de la Juventud, St. Lucia, Madeira, Ibiza, Marbella, Palermo, Malta, Santorini, Mikonos, Zanzibar, Hong Kong, Tahiti, Easter Island; Versailles, El Escorial, Buckingham Palace, the Winter Palace, the Alhambra, the Palatine Hill, the Temple of Ramesses… Prada, Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Yves Saint Laurent, Balenciaga, Margiela, Tiffany, Cartier, Jacob, Ferragamo, Burberry, Armani, Givenchy, Hermes, Versace… Mercedes, BMW, Lamborghini, Ferrari, Rolls-Royce, Bentley, Aston Martin, Jaguar, Maserati, Porsche, Range Rover, Audi, Alfa Romeo, Infiniti, Cadillac… — merely swag.
No matter if I fly to Venice or Paris or Istanbul, or eat a 100-dollar steak covered in 200-dollar truffles, sipping on 300-dollar wine, checking the hour on my diamond-studded Rolex, and climb into my custom-color Lambo truck and peel off, none of it tops the half-minute where I’m stroking real good and my wife goes, “I’m gonna come!” and I see and feel her come real good, all her muscles flexing beautifully, bronze, the lines of her, her form, her face, better than any beach in the world, better than any steak ever served, a sunset incarnate, every good thing meeting in one place at one time, and I come into her real hard and deep and then we lie on our backs like two frogs waiting to be dissected, and there’s two glasses of cold sweet wine and a fresh joint awaiting our lips on the cheap little plastic dresser we use as a nightstand. And there’s music playing, Otis or R&B, anything with soul and instruments. And I watch her lying there naked next to me with her eyes closed, her chest swelling and sinking, a satisfied but exhausted smile on her face, my muscles warm and my body wet all over.
That right there is real luxury.