Normally, I pride myself on being reasonable; seeing both sides of an argument. Declarative statements that I have foolishly uttered are usually recanted sooner or later. Statements like “I AM AN ANTI CONSUMER” are begging to be torn down. Not so for certain activities, most notably E-Town’s favorite pastime: Shopping. Normally, I have a solid hate-on for shopping. I don’t enjoy roaming the hallowed retail halls, brooding and muttering under my breath. I enjoy a good humbug and a solid sullying of the Christmas season as good as any Grinch. However, one must acquiesce occasionally. One must sometimes bow to pressure, lest greater damage be done (i.e. alienating your partner).
I spent many years in the retail sector. That’s ten years of my life that I will never get back. During that time I took a lot of shit from many self-righteous consumers; people who believed that their rights as customers took precedence over any instinctive need for human kindness. Dealing with people in a retail setting has tainted my view of humanity. Seriously. To be blunt: The general shopping public is full of rude and destructive assholes – both male and female – whose ostensible goal may be to simply get what they want, but whose overarching goal is to ruin a retail worker’s day, and if they can, their life. I could write a four hundred page descriptive essay of all the idiotic consumer tactics that I have been a witness to. I think I’ll call it “Embracing Misanthropy: The Only Way to Survive a Career in Retail”.
So when Justine asked me to go shopping with her on the last Saturday before Christmas, the biggest shopping day of the year, the most infuriating day for an anti-consumer like me, my only answer was, “Sure, honey!”. I said yes because I’m a masochist. I said yes because I like to get angry and mock people and shout “Lemmings!!!” in the checkout line, even though I’m one of them. I said yes because the world needs more than just buyable joy – it needs a peppermint-flavoured latte from Starbucks and a funky mechanical calendar from that store where everything is over a hundred dollars.
We spent Saturday afternoon treading through the retail shitstorm. In Chapters, the sharpened elbows were flying left and right. I inadvertently cut someone off in the fiction aisle and heard them mutter “asshole” under their breath. I didn’t apologize, even after I threw a copy of Love in the Time of Cholera at him. The card store was shoulder-to-shoulder. All the last minute-ers were out trying to buy that perfect and clever little card, the card that says “I’m cool, and you’re lucky I’m sending this to you.” I smiled at the card that simply stated “I HATE CHRISTMAS” on its front. The card that showed Santa flashing Mrs. Claus with full-frontal (albeit illustrated) male nudity? Classic. I think my favorite stores are the “gift stores”. You know, those stores that sell cool shit that you’d never buy for yourself? Like the wire statue of the hippopotamus? Or the set of titanium silverware? Or the $300.00 leather journal with the embossed front? Or the hammer with the silk tassel on the handle? I don’t know. It seems to me that stores like that sell real gifts – items that are too whimsical to justify buying for yourself. The Farmer’s Market was a pulsating melee of people frothing at the mouth for bright green peppers and good-sized cucumbers. A woman in spikes stepped on my toe and didn’t even bother to apologize. I tripped her in the aisle and laughed behind the banjo players.
After six hours of abject capitulation to the consumer drama, we wrapped it up. Mission accomplished. It wasn’t as painful as I thought it would be. It was enjoyable watching women sweat over what to buy their hubby – the book on Playboy models or the book on motorcycles. It was fun watching men pick up appliances, wondering very seriously if their lovely wives who carried their children through nine agonizing months of pregnancy would appreciate a new indoor grille. It was especially fun walking through the inferiority-complex inducing aisles of Mountain Equipment CoOp. All the fit-looking, hip employees. All the fit-looking, hip customers carrying their freshly-crushed lattes with both hands. That “gear high” that fools you into thinking that if you only owned that $300.00 ice axe, you’d do some icewalling. And of course, the guy in the parking lot who, as soon as you exit the store, starts following you in his car so that he can take your spot. Fun!
Christmas, why do you come only once a year?
StreetRag ::: An Urban Notebook
StreetRag is an urban weblog and podcast about the city of Edmonton, which is located in the province of Alberta, Canada. It is authored by Edmonton-based writer, web advocate, and poet Michael Gravel and is updated frequently with written urban vignettes, amateurish photographs, deuteronomous audio material, barely coherent musings and rambling ecumenical treatises. StreetRag is a love letter to a lonely prairie burg struggling with its big city ambitions and small-town feel.
The city is Edmonton. It's a subject, not a passion. E-Town is almost universally derided by outsiders as an unlivable tundra wasteland populated by oil-hungry redneck conservatives who despise the arts. All of that is true. But it's not the whole story. There is beauty here. Dusty snowfalls. Brilliant summers. A stunning river valley. A diverse arts community that flourishes. It's a place that inspires a gray relationship - not all good, not all shitty. For that reason alone it is lovable, for what is life but a grayscale?