December 06, 2010

On Borrowed Time

As a music fan, I’ve always enjoyed the passive listening experience – radio, music television, Muzak, jukeboxes – but I’ve always felt the need to own the music that I love. Whether it’s meticulously taxonomized in file folders on my laptop or painstakingly alphabetized on a wall full of shelves, ownership of the thing has always meant something.

I can never understand the appeal of these subscription-based streaming music services like Rhapsody. Sure, they give you access to a large catalogue. But so does a library. And sometimes you don’t want to just borrow a book, you want to own it.

Besides my hulking music collection – now dramatically reduced after moving to Queens – I’ve never owned much of significance. In my bedroom growing up, my father constantly reminded me and my sister, “That carpet is ours. When you sit on it, you’re borrowing it from us.” When I went away to college, my father bought me a mini fridge and said, “Just remember. We own this. You’re borrowing it.” Not surprisingly, I chose to buy my own microwave, just so that it would be mine.

I’ve never owned a home, only rented a number of apartments scattered across three boroughs in New York City. Even in my apartment now, despite my roommate’s protestations and my rent payments, I still feel like I’m borrowing my room from him. When I’m not there, I’m finding some other place to sleep: a hotel room, a couch or a guest bedroom.

I’ve never owned a car. In college, I borrowed several friends’ cars to drive to the mall, or Pizza Pub, or to the beaver pond where my senior seminar biology project lie rotting in the sun. I’ve rented dozens (if not hundreds) of cars on business trips and vacations, which has taught me to quickly acclimate to each new piece of heavy machinery I am to operate. And if something happens to the car – a lost hubcap, a scratch on the door – I can simply return the car silently and hope the rental agency doesn’t notice.

During this trip to LA, Steve not only let me crash at his place while he was on vacation, but offered to let me borrow his car. Eager to save money, I jumped at the chance, with the caviat, “If you feel comfortable letting me do that…”

Despite all my best intentions, I ended up in a tight squeeze and cracked the front parking light on a pole in one of those typical LA subterranean garages.

The horror.

Amidst my apologies and offers to reimburse the repair costs, and the sinking feeling that I let a friend down and never deserved his trust, one thought keeps nagging at me: I wish I owned my own.

It’s one thing if something happens to a car you pay for and rent. It’s another thing when it happens to a car you borrow as a favor and have to return to its owner, who has to drive it.

But if I owned my own car, whatever happened to it would be entirely up to me. And damage, repair, and loss are necessary components of ownership.

It’s not just a car. I wish I owned my own life. I wish I weren’t so dependent on the kindness of others, or on the professional services that cater to my transience. Taking life one day at a time, trying to make the most of each one, without knowing what lies at the end of the hike, I feel like I’m living on borrowed time. I don’t know from whom I’ve borrowed it, or when I’ll have to give it back. But right now, it doesn’t feel like mine, not mine at all.

Related reading:
A Room of One’s Own – Virginia Woolf
Avoiding Regret: Life on the Curb

To become a fan on Facebook, click here.


  1. Avoid Regret by paying for the damage. Insist! It's not optional. For goodness' sake, do the right thing.

    You'll feel much better. So will the owner of the car.

    I can't imagine someone crunching my car and NOT offering to pay for repair. Is common courtesy becoming uncommon?

  2. Absolutely. I've already noted in this blog post my offers to reimburse the repair costs. It's not only the right, but also the grown-up, thing to do. This wasn't necessarily the *point* of this post, but thanks for drawing attention to an important issue of taking responsibility of one's actions.

  3. Sandi, I shouldn't have used the word "offering", because you're right, you did offer. What I meant was, don't accept Steve's refusal of your offer. Be adamant.

    And thank YOU for a thoughtful piece about your circumstances. If you are able to find a job that is meaningful to you, a sense of purpose and independence will surely help to lift your spirit.