Saturday, October 10, 2009

The "Reality" of Providence Junk Shops

Today I wandered into a junk shop near a (lackluster) cafe (with lackluster coffee) that I frequent (only for a change of venue). The shop, like all such shops, smelled of dust and cheap perfume, was filled with memorabilia of simpler, clunkier times, played "Lord of the Rings" scores and bad ska over the speakers. I find these places amusing and the people who buy things from them even more so.
A gaggle of middle-aged women with names like Doris and Fran and wearing Eileen Fisher walked in behind me and started fondling the lava lamp and faux fur overcoats. Doris hefted the receiver of an ancient telephone in her hands.
"Fran, Fran, here's what it felt like back when things were real!"

My first instinct was to turn to her and say, "Silly woman, stop living in your silly, gilded past and gird yourself in something other than a muumuu, because the future is here, and look! It's light-weight and comes with speed dial!"
But I didn't, 1) because my parents raised me to be polite to old folk; 2) because my second instinct was to be depressed at how right she was.

Our society is falling deeper and deeper (or is it upper and upper?) into a fantastical world of symbols (e.g. First we have an idea called "value," which we then supplant with a tangible symbol known as precious metal, which is then supplanted by paper money, which is supplanted by checks with your choice of Disney cartoon backdrops, which has led to the current coup of electronic credit), all thanks to bastards like Plato and Rene Descartes who, instead of acquiring "real" jobs like the rest of their peers, ruined "reality" by pedestalizing ideals and symbols. Phones will shrink until they fit in microchips shoved somewhere between the folds of our prefrontal cortexes. The unwieldy application we call "speed dial" will become a muscular twitch in our left pinkies, or something as fun and futuristic as that.

I stepped out of the store imagining a future in which food is replaced with tiny icons of cheeseburgers and chicken caesar salads that we drag from a Web site into an account labeled "Personal Nutrition." Muumuus will be reduced to mere (though, still unfashionable) serial numbers. Love, and cool feelings like it, is replaced by documents called "pre-nuptials" or "power of attorney letters." We become increasingly "unreal," until, finally, we turn into a Disney cartoon and choreograph periodic song-and-dance times with symbols of the local forest critters.

Just as I felt a nervous breakdown and/or song-and-dance time coming, I remembered that I plan on making my career in text, the most traitorous of all symbols, and then I found a box of free books on East Street (I took "Dorian Gray," "In Cold Blood," and Flannery O'Connor shorts), and my happy "reality" was restored.

The end.


  1. I was just thinking of "prefrontal cortex" the other day while walking to work...what a happy coincidence. Aaaannnddd, I too was just in a "junk shop" in Portland's Pearl District yesterday. Only they peddled international antique imports that may or may not have been from places like China...although I guess they still would've been from China even if they weren't authentic antiques. I like those stores...I'm a sucker for imported furniture with faux vintage weathering...

  2. Great post! Love the ending!