At least that’s what they say. I, like many others, love the Flying Lizard’s song that sings the tune of this maxim, but have always had personal reservations about things that are, well, for free. What are these things? Love, kisses, sex, freedom, hugs, happiness? The movies teach us that while these things are technically “free”, they often come at a price, whether it be emotional or ethical. The things that I am talking about, though, are what my friend Gisela calls “kakkies” – the things that no one really wants – lanyards, pens, Tshirts, caps, bookmarks and other, well, kak. For me, while these things are technically free, there is an implied physical cost: how do I dispose of this in a useful way that doesn’t make me feel guilty / ungrateful / like I am a yuppie sap that is contributing to unnecessary landfill usage. Ouch.
I think it has something to do with the fact that these freebies are so profuse – there are simply so many. As with many things in the world, rarity implies worth. Finding someone that really gets you, or understands all your otherwise intolerable ticks; finding a pair of jeans that are not covered in spangles and glitter with stitching all over the arse; finding a parking in Cape Town that doesn’t cost you R 4.50 for 30 minutes; or meeting someone in a truly unusual space and time that surely implies fate. All rare and valuable things.
My brother is a disciple of the freebie and tells me time and time again that the best things in life are free. He practically stockpiles them. If the freebie was a Tshirt with Barbra Streisand’s face on it, he’d find a use for it; if there were free shots of Vim Coco being doled out, he’d be first in line, even though it’s what adolescent nagmerries are made of and he knows it all too well. Whenever I ask him why he loves freebies so much he gets this silly grin on his face, shakes his head and says he doesn’t know, but ‘the best things in life are free’. I find it very amusing. It’s almost as if freebies are an emblem of simplicity to him. I, on the other hand, have this unfortunate middle class affliction where I prefer to pay for things, even if I could probably get them either cheaper or for free. The increase in price implies value, to me. This probably means I am being ripped off left, right and centre, especially when coupled with my natural (often embarrassing) gullibility.
Once again, the phenomenon can be traced back to my dear mom, who has told me since I was a child that she doesn’t like shopping on sale, because “it’s all the crap that gets left behind”. I am subsequently of the same mindset. I generally only buy on sale from places where even I will complain that the sale price doesn’t really make it cheap in any case. It’s a vicious cycle.
It’s the same when I look at the fashion spreads in Elle and Vogue. I subconsciously choose my favourite thing on the page and it is invariably the Nina Roche ballet flats, or the Democratic Republic dress that I have my eye on. Expensive taste. And I don’t like freebies. My saving grace is, well, saving, and vintage, because at least the rarity of each piece implies years of value, but at a lower price. It’s my answer in times of crisis. And it restores my faith in the notion that things can be truly one-off and destined for you, without having been hand stitched by Malcolm Kluk himself. In this sense, I actually can do freebies, because vintage hand-me-downs have a way of representing such rarity and fatefulness that it’s almost mythological. This dress… was meant… for me! Such is the case with my Rolling Stones Tshirt (pictured in the previous post), which my friend Leah found lying in her driveway last Summer. Literally. It had obviously blown off of someone’s clothes line, and with the owner out of sight, she kept it. Through a happy twist of fate and a little bargaining, it became mine. For free!
Maybe it also has something to with the sheer ease of freeness. I think it bothers me that there is no sacrifice involved, no hard work, crafty thought or careful planning done in order to secure that one, spectacular thing. I enjoy the delicious pain of finding a way to get my hands on something that resists me, either because it is way out of my price range, or is only available in Scandinavia. It’s the chase that does it!
Somehow, this makes me feel a little better about myself.