Yesterday, I went to the mall with a fellow staff member – actually she’s an age old friend. One reason I agreed to teach in Boston was just to spend some time with people I’ve known and loved for many years.
I am not much of a mall person. I don’t like the crowds or the way all the same stores in every mall in the country are the same, making the world feel like a generic place. Not to mention that you feel that if you purchase anything you aren’t really creating an individual identity, you are reinforcing your sameness. Originality is nothing but an illusion in a world where everything is mass produced. (Ee-gad, I sound like such an anti-establishment nut nowadays. Forgive me.)
Anyway, the closest mall to my home is two hours away, so I actually enjoy the mall experience now. But it does confuse me. For one thing, I can’t figure out where people come up with all the money to support the endless consumerism in America. How rich is the world now? Store after store of high end items are filled with people toting home name brands. Amazes me. Sometimes I think the entire world’s existence is an endless quest to make money so they can spend all their free time spending it. Every hour is consumed with too much work to support too much consuming– very little time is left for living. Sad.
I couldn’t help but notice all kinds of stores that I (as a non-shopper) am totally unfamiliar with. There were popular clothing stores and shoe stores that I’ve never heard of. My friend Diane (who is very hip, buys only name brands, and is a classic product of our progressive culture) made fun of me, the farmer who so quickly fell out of the pop culture loop. She said, “Where have you been? Under a rock?’
We went to Brookstone to see all the nifty gadgets and inventions. (Who am I kidding, we are middle aged dance teachers and we wanted to sit in the massage chairs after a day of physical torture.) In the front window was a strange purple stool. Diane, a very hilarious person, was quick to try it out. It is supposed to be some kind of exercise device. The stool began gyrating. It looked far more like a sexual stimulator than any kind of exercise machine, and we laughed ourselves sick. A lovely young saleswoman came to talk to us. She actually was a good sport and I think she enjoyed out sense of humor. I asked her what the heck that machine was supposed to be good for.
The woman said, “If you’ve ever ridden a horse, you will know that riding gives a person a perfectly flat stomach and perfect hips and thighs. Guaranteed. This device is a horseback riding simulator. You can sit on it while watching TV and develop a great body. “
I looked down at my less than perfect body and back at Diane and said, “Guaranteed? Think I can sue my horse for breech of contract?”
The saleswoman said, “You have a horse?” I told her I had four, and dang if there wasn’t a one that moved like that when I was riding and even if they did, this guarantee of a perfectly flat stomach has eluded me, dammit.
The woman laughed and whispered, “It’s stupid, but people like it.”
I imagined bringing one of those ridiculous purple machines home and setting it up in my living room where all my new friends (horse owners) could see it. Ha. They would laugh me out of Georgia. But I must assume some place, people are buying them. Diane and I sat in the massage chairs and watched people come and go, trying that machine out of curiosity right in the window. Looked obscene. We laughed so hard I bruised my ribs – or maybe it was all the abuse I was getting from that wicked chair. Ow.
Then, we wandered through the store to look at all of the new conveniences designed for modern man. In every isle, Diane said, “I have one of these,” and I was standing there thinking, “what the hell is it?” So, she proceeded to make me technology savvy by demonstrating all the goodies, giving me her own hard sell. You see, I need a thumper (a shovel sized wand to give myself a back massage) and I-pod speakers for the shower (Umm…. She forgets, I’m the only dance teacher on the circuit that doesn’t have an Ipod, they intimidate me) and a pillow that vibrates and a chair that simulates movement for playing video games (don’t play them), and a TV controller that allows me to tape everything and pause shows (oops, I don’t watch TV either), a mechanical disk that will clean my floors all day long – HOLD ON! I DO need this. Not all inventions are frivolous, I find. And so on and so forth. I felt rather stupid seeing all these inventions that apparently, the entire world knows, uses and thinks nothing of, and I am like Gomer Pile going, “golllllliiieeeeeee”.
It was fun seeing what technology can do, but it made me feel like the country bumpkin (and face it, I must have been one long before moving to the country.) These items are expensive, and I believe I can afford them easier than many people, yet even I can’t justify the need to acquire them. Does anyone really need a vibrating pillow – ummm… don’t answer that.
I called Mark and said, “Honey, I am an old fashion prig. I don’t understand the world and I don’t get it. Diane has these cool things, and I have none of them.”
He said, “You have a llama. Llama’s are cool.”
I said, “If they were really cool, Brookstone would make them. I do however have a horse instead of a purple simulator that looks obscene, and I’m proud of that.”
I told him about the cool floor cleaner.
He said, “Hate to tell you but they’ve been around forever and I can get you one at Wal-Mart every Christmas.”
Thus, my husband reaffirmed my fear that I am a nerd that isn’t “with it when it comes to modern conveniences.”
I said, “If I am this far behind after living in Georgia a few months, what will happen as the years go by? I won’t know how to function in our society.”
“Something to be proud of,” Mark says, striving to protect my self esteem . . . or more likely to save himself from facing a charge card bill loaded with thumpers and squeakers and a cool 20 Questions ball that can read your mind.
“Do you think we should buy a massage chair, just to prove we are connected to the world?”
“Did you love it?”
“I think it hurt. But you might love it.”
He chuckled and said, “It’s the cost of a riding ring, two peacocks, a chicken coop and a pump to get water to the new barn.”
Oh yea. These are the modern convenience and desires I harbor now. So I tossed the brochure for the handy-dandy massage chair away with my empty Starbucks cup.
I don’t know what I’m going to do about my detachment from pop culture and our high tech society. I feel like some kind of unwilling Mennonite hiding in the mountains. I think I have to start watching TV, just to know what is going on in the world – and I’m not talking about the news. I just don’t like TV. We lived in the cabin 6 months before we even hooked up our cable and then it was only because New Orleans was hit and I went crazy not being able to follow the news. Even my kids can skip it – it isn’t a habit for our family. We do watch movies – ALL the time, but TV itself seems mindless and eats too much of a life. Rather read or make something.
Anyway, I’ve decided I will force myself to a mall once every three months to do a culture inspection. I will brave the crowds and pick up some signature thing to prove I’m still cool. I will marvel at the money spent in our world, our method of assuring we are all generically acceptable in the “in” crowd, and even add a bit to the economy by toting home something I don’t need.
In the meantime, thank god for my kids who are the fashion police, pop culture advocates and preachers of all that is cool. They can keep me on the straight and narrow when I fall too far behind.
By the way, another funny thing happened yesterday. I bought two designer jeans jackets. They were on sale and I figure the fall is coming. This Florida girl can’t get enough cool weather wear designed for the outdoors. The salesman looked at them and said, “Are these for you?” with a tone of disbelief.
I laughed and said, “Yea, Why? Do I look too old for them?”
He blushed and said, “No, I didn’t mean that. I was just wondering.”
I thought about telling him about my new lifestyle and how I live in jeans, not because they are fashionable, but because they are hearty and comfortable and resistant to dirt. I thought about saying, “You are only as old as you feel” or breaking out into a hip hop dance or something to prove I am funkier than the average 47 year old. But really, it was easier to just smile and point out the expensive designer label.
He nodded as if that explained it. Wearing impressive labels at any age makes sense to him, I guess.
It just will never make sense to me.
I am flying home this afternoon. Have to brave the airports on full alert due to the state of the world and the terrorist close call in Britan. Inconvenient. Mostly, sad.