Unexpected Indulgence Can Be Grounds for Some Guilt

A St. Louis couple recently purchased a pricey espresso machine. They don't consider themselves wealthy. The husband works for a company that recently laid off a dozen people, the first such purge in the 25 years he's been there. The wife is self-employed, always a feast and famine sort of enterprise.

What were they thinking?

The extravagance is particularly jarring because the couple have shown little interest in other boomer indulgences such as luxury cars, home theaters, vacation homes.

A righteous couple, they don't wear fur. They recycle avidly. They mentor disadvantaged children and contribute to charities.

But in America, everyone of some means has a weakness. For this couple it's espresso.

The day cannot start without a mocha for him; a latte for her. She fixes them. He cleans up. They experiment with different coffees and chocolate -- the relative merits discussed with the intensity of wine tasters.

This couple purchased the Capresso C1000 Automatic Espresso Machine and Coffee Center one weekend from a Williams-Sonoma store. Their children were away at camp at the time. The couple would tell you that's a coincidence. But they would acknowledge, too, that they would rather not hear the comments that would spew when such an appliance was unpacked and one of the children spotted the sales receipt. "You know what, mom, I could take my entire class to a Blink- 182 concert for what that cost."

Of course, no child could appreciate the Capresso -- the fact that it not only brews the coffee, but grinds it, tamps it, vacuums the family room, walks the dog and plays "Lady of Spain."

The wife sees no percentage in justifying such a purchase. She calls the indulgence "obscene."

"Don't you dare tell anyone what this cost," she ordered her husband.

But then the other day, in a moment of weakness, she told a longtime friend. She is a woman of some means and exquisite taste. She is, in fact, the owner of half a dozen espresso machines -- none of which had ever met her high standards. Surely, this woman would understand this purchase as a pursuit of the holy grail. But no, even she was rather taken aback by the price. The conversation left the wife a bit shaken and more determined to keep this a dark family secret.

Outwardly, the husband had been far more sanguine, even a bit bemused. But as he sat with the newspaper and his mocha on his deck one morning, he felt a pang of guilt. This money could be better spent on behalf of his children or the community.

And so his mind wandered toward other justifications.

Fiscal responsibility: If the couple purchased two grandes a day from Starbucks, they'd spend what it cost for the Capresso in just five months. So by buying the machine, they'd actually be earning money by the end of the year. (Besides they had passed on the Capresso C3000, retailing at $2,300. "Who in their right minds...?")

Social conscience: The C1000 cuts espresso making from about 15 minutes each morning to just five (that's after a week of near round-the-clock trial-and-error brewing.) He whipped out his Palm Pilot and tapped on the calculator. Save 10 minutes a day, 365 days a year for the rest of this couple's life (say 25 years) and they've picked up nearly two months that they can devote to community service. Perhaps they can hand out mochas at a homeless shelter.

The nation's economy: If everyone spends within their means, surely the economy will grind into a recession. This big-ticket purchase, just ahead of President George W. Bush's tax refund, helps provide the nation's economy with a nice bounce. The husband notes that Williams-Sonoma Inc. stock was down about 18 percent from its 52-week high last September. He could be saving someone's job.

Well, he could go on and did. But he had to admit the justifications were specious and facetious.

Then as he dipped his mustache yet again into the mountain of froth atop his mocha, it came to him.

What he held in his fist was a cup of sheer happiness -- as in life, liberty and the pursuit of ...

Here was something he and his wife would share every morning of their happily married lives. This was their daily duet. "Heart & Soul" played over and over again.

A deep, dark family secret.

To have.

And to hold.