Climbing Pyramids and Other Mixed Metaphors

As I’m working on getting my new home and office set up, one of the things that constantly crops up is my struggle against consumerism. Raised by parents who came from poor families, and especially by a father who saw the free market and its stoking of the fires of consumerism as a threat to the working class’s economic independence, I have rarely taken any pleasure in the purchase of conveniences or luxuries. When I shop, I will return more items to shelves than I will take to the checkout counter.

I love thrift stores partly because they satisfy my desire to recycle and prevent the creation of new landfills, but also because thrifting does not set off my anti-consumerism alarms quite as loudly. I am also willing to spend money on experiences such as travel because it is a way to purchase the intangible that will linger in memory and develop the pre-frontal cortex but not clutter up space.

New York is a strange place for someone like me. Everywhere I turn, there are signs of consumption, not the least of which are the heaps of garbage that are stacked on the sidewalks every other day for pickup.

Apart from the detritus of everyday living such as pizza boxes and milk cartons, there are beds, dressers, tables, bookshelves, busted tvs, sofas, games, sports equipment, used and discarded ad infinitum. People seem to buy more stuff so they can throw more out.

The intersections in Manhattan that sport electronic adverts that are several stories high seem like something out of a science fiction movie, but one where the Circe of consumption, the Scylla of credit card debt, and the Charybdis of endless work mark the human journey. Even signs that advertize 24-hour grocery stores seem just as disturbing to me as a sign that might advertize a strip club.

The longer I stay here, however, the more normal the strip clubs will seem. While I am still peeking at thrift stores and shopping on Craigslist, I am but Odysseus tied to the mast, my ears stopped up by the admonitions heard as a child but my other senses under constant siege. I walk past block after block of 99 cent stores, bakeries, bagel cafes, nail salons, green grocers, jewelers, electronics vendors, pseudo-pharmacies, and furnishing shops.

On the way home today, I stopped in on impulse at an Indian snack store and bought pakoras. Two days ago, I got take-out from a Chinese restaurant even though I had ingredients to make a meal. My closet has no space for more clothes, but I am thinking of going into Manhattan to buy “work” clothing. Despite having access to the internet at work and through my phonealso newI am now giving money to an ISP for access to it through my home computer. I have justified the purchase of a microwave and a printer/copieralbeit through Craigslisteven though I do not need them, per se.

Photo: Used half-pint microwave purchased for office use. Truly living large as tenure-track academic

In King Lear, the old man tells his daughter to “reason not the need” when she attempts to squelch his demands for a regal retirement. He’s right. There is no reason when it comes to need once you start climbing up Maslow’s pyramid, especially if you live in the city that is addicted to consuming.

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