Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Dear Santa: Please bring us some ideas

"I see what it looks like when an economy slows and sputters, and stays in its nightgown all day, only getting out of bed to go to the bathroom."

I tend to pride myself on my habit of not shopping.  It’s like a fun game, the object of which is to buy as little stuff as is humanly possible.  If I don’t have it, I don’t need it.  If I do need it, maybe I can make one.  If I can’t make one, maybe I can find one for free.  Or buy one used.  Or at the very least, wait until it goes on clearance.  And if, while waiting for it to go on clearance, I forget I needed it, or the allure wears off and I decide the item is rubbish anyway and I don’t want it anymore, all the better!

There’s a certain delicious thrill in splicing busted power cords, patching ripped pants, concocting a not-half-bad meal from yesterday’s leftovers… almost as though for each act of self-sufficiency, a cheerful golden bell dings, announcing ten additional points to my total.  Yes!

So it may go without saying that, of all the days for a self-proclaimed anti-shopper to be charged up in full anti-shopping glory, Black Friday is king.  I’ve watched “Story of Stuff.”  I grew up with a father who worked retail, ensuring that Saturdays and Holidays were always his longest and busiest workdays. I’ve felt that peculiar combination of excess and need that has perhaps only been made commonplace in the last 50 years: a shabby rental apartment cluttered with life debris.   

One side-effect of being newly married is that the addition of a new person in my life also brings the addition of new perspectives. Some of those perspectives are admittedly more welcome than others. But even those perspectives that are inconveniently contrary to my own serve a purpose.

This year, as Black Friday neared, my disapproval of consumerism began to rub its hands together in anticipation of a day spent in quiet protest at home.  And for each of my, “Boo / shopping is stupid / Christmas isn’t supposed to be a consumerist holiday” comment uttered, my loving husband would reply with his own helpful comments.  Comments like, “But the economy is important / Many businesses depend on Black Friday / It allows people to keep working.”

What’s frustrating is to know he’s right.  To see that he’s right when I drive through the center of my own crumbling town halfway between the rust belt and Appalachia.  I see what it looks like when an economy slows and sputters, and stays in its nightgown all day, only getting out of bed to go to the bathroom.  It looks like boarded-up houses, vacant civic buildings advertising space on dusty, sun-bleached signs.  It looks like footprints and stroller tracks in the deep slush down the side of a busy road.  Like swimming holes littered with broken glass, and forest littered with trash bags and car parts.  Like depression, and neglect.  And yet, in the middle of it all, the yard sale market is still going strong as families attempt to climb out from under the weight of all that has been too easily accumulated.  Offering, with a laugh, “I’ll pay YOU to just take it away!” 

My husband is right, because that is the way the world is set up.  Faltering economy -> fewer jobs -> cuts to public resources and niceties -> diminished hope and general morale… and then things start to get ugly.  But what if the way the world is set up is sort of… illogical?  There must be a way of propping up our existence that isn’t centered on the incessant acquisition of more and more cheap goods made in China, bought at big box retailers whose annual profits are greater than the GDP of most countries.  Campaigns like “Small Businesses Saturday” are a start, encouraging holiday shoppers to invest in the economies in their own backyards. 

But what if you live in a town where the retail giants have already crowded out most of the local economy?  What if it’s no longer possible to get what you need from a small-town store?  Or, what if the economic opportunity in your area has dried up so that most people can only afford to buy the cheapest of goods, or nothing at all?  What might a solution look like then?

           Dear Santa, please bring us some ideas.  

-Gina Magnello