Where no one knows your real name where indeed you have no name but any number of names but no number but you wear your identification it shows is shown in the red dust around your eyes and there’s a glimmer suggests you’re still alive and at the corners of your lips the moisture of bird feathers and your hands are calloused black and blue and your clothes are stained with oil and grease and chalk and shavings of wood, metal, and paint. This pub plays no music, which you wouldn’t be able to hear clearly anyway. No darts. No pool table. No television sets. No chess board, no backgammon, not even caroms. No playing cards. There’s coffee twenty-four hours a day for those just getting going, first cup free, the swing shift, the night shifts, at the factory, in the warehouse. The oil fields behind the houses. The docks on the bay. Molly brings you your pint, with a little cup of salted peanuts in the shell on the house. Will Molly please text home for you, a bit late, might stay for a second pint tonight, being’s it’s Saturday night, and you’re walking, or was when you got here.
The essentials get hoarded by the rich, the fluff, and the oofy, the pantry stuffed with truffles and beans and such, starch and flour, coffees and chocolates, the hall closet full with bamboo bathroom tissue, the library stacked with first edition hardbacks, clean copies dust covers intact, and a few handmade porcelain jars and a cast bronze abstract sculpture catching some sunlight through weeping glass, the boudoir walls dressed with formal wear and evening gowns made from wet fly wings, the garden roamed with roses, wisteria, and a cherry tree, and three peacocks playing near a pond. Others make do with equivalents, pink flamingos made from plastic, for example. The necessities of life change slowly, and vary from place to place, person to person, time to time. What profits youths to join jobs where like their mothers and fathers would have made happier children? Predicament is everything. And connotations take us away. White, blue, or pink collar? What’s behind door number four? The privileged get on the job training. Someone cleans the privy, the house of office, wash the washroom the washer person. The human path is littered with exuviae, as one’s growth outstrips one’s capacity for change, “a nine-hundreds-year-old name” not a gift but a curse. When any name or experience will suffice, a number, a meal, a drink, or its equivalent.
Clouds crept over the north beaches and the vintners celebrated the annual crush in fog and rain and wind blowing inland across the coastal ranges and into the interior valleys and bunching up against the big mountains and emptying and running into streams and rivers and lakes as fall developed into a long and wet run-on sentence. Sylvie returned to Central America with her baseball team for fall and winter practice and play. No hard feelings, she said, she had just suddenly come down with an allergic reaction to my company, and when she ran into Pinch who offered her a flight out of Dodge she jumped. That was understandable, my company often giving off toxic pollins venom and dander, and Sylvie loved the sunny outdoors and adventure and felt the fog and fall in the offing, and I left Pinch to his medicine and made my way farther north up the coast and then over into Portland, increasingly hard on the road to maintain any kind of outdoor living or working in the deteriorating weather conditions. I had traded Pinch the yellow Hummer for a more practical and economic wagon I could sleep in and he threw in a bicycle and surfboard and camping and fishing gear to balance out the exchange. The surfboard wasn’t much use in Portland where I took a room in a hostel in the Hawthorne District, but the bicycle was keen and I traded the camping and fishing gear to a couple on their way south for a used Gypsy jazz guitar. And I thought I might kick back and do some writing in the little pocket notebook Sylvie had given me. I joined a workshop at a local writing school, but I wasn’t much interested in plausibility, page turning plots, credibility, memoir type stuff. Still I felt the urge to write, pencil to paper, inky fingers, daily exercise. I was interested in the rules and ways and means of writing only to the extent I could experiment with syntax and grammar and style and, in a word, language. I didn’t have any particular reader in mind, though I hoped Sylvie might be interested in getting her notebook back full of words. And around the same time I started thinking about fate, how Sylvie had said fate is the decisions you make, and about the gods, the old gods, the ones that make mistakes, as humans do too, toys of the gods, lives so full of mistakes and griefs and all the seven deadly sins oozing and piling up like oily rags until spontaneous combustion and rages erupted all around, but it was time to relax, to take it easy, to consider not just the deadly sins but the works of mercy and grace. Easy to say of course for a guy living on an annuity funded by the temporary borrowing of someone else’s capital such that he no longer needs to work, even as work is what, he’s learned in passing, most fulfills him. But the gods these days, one to ten percent of the population, it is estimated, continuing on much as the gods of yesterday, co-mingling with and catching their standard human wannabe-gods unawares in the snares of their own cravings, for attention, for respect, for a nice big piece of the plutocratic prosperous concentric pie, for publication, for a post, for stage time, minutes and hours and days and weeks and months and years of fame, terms of fame, concentric circles, and round and round and round we go, and where we stop, nobody knows, amateurs as we all are, for the wages for being human are nil on the open market.
“The Fall” is episode 76 of Inventories, a Novel in Progress in Serial Format at The Coming of the Toads.
What will we do after all the shops close and we’ve already ordered all the stuff we need or want from Amazon? And suppose, while we’re waiting for the packages to arrive, the Amazon warehouses go on strike?
We might find some ideas by looking back at what folks did before all the shops and shopping and online browsing and waiting impatiently for packages to arrive to satisfy our needs for instant gratification – what folks back then did.
We’ve already seen how the Sears Catalog was a precursor to today’s online shopping guides. But what of before the Catalog?
We get a glimpse of development and changing attitudes, from rural all the way through gentrification, in just a few pages in Frances Spalding’s “Stevie Smith: A Biography,” and we see that many of the attitudes are not much different from those since:
“Even the advent of the railway had brought little change, for the area was protected by owners of large estates who refused to carve up their land and therefore kept the speculative builder at bay….Then in 1902 Captain J. V. Taylor of Grovelands sold large tracts of his land for development. After this more and more land came on to the market and suburbia spread.”
Once the urban growth boundary falls, shops grow:
“Already by 1906, when Stevie and her relations arrived, Green Lanes was entirely lined with shops and houses. The surrounding fields, country lanes and toll gate that gave the area its charm were steadily diminishing with the spread of bricks and mortar, pavements and private hedges.”
Long time residents expressed concerns that with “all this building a poorer class of resident would be attracted to the area. Shopkeepers in Alderman’s Hill complained about the muddy state of the road and the need for more pavements.”
Feelings of entitlement boiled over. Citizens brought vegetables to town meetings and apparently showed little restraint in tossing them at speakers whose opinions differed from their own:
“Very quickly Palmers Green developed a reputation for being one of the most snobbish of London’s outer suburbs….The political flavour of this up-and-coming residential area was already noticeably right wing….The tone of the area is reflected in the correspondence columns of the local press, where a persistent demand for better services from Southgate Urban District Council is coupled with a violent antipathy to paying for these services in increased rates.”
Yet “the building of churches helped establish the community life of the area….and played an important social role…for its church hall hosted society meetings and, during the First World War, a great many concerts, plays and bazaars in aid of charity.”
Following the establishment of churches which fulfilled certain community gathering needs, came a “first cinema.” Still, “much entertainment was home-grown; societies and clubs flourished. The area had its own branch of the Fabian Society….The issue of women’s suffrage could not be ignored.” And a “Literary Society met once a month, on the Monday nearest to the full moon.”
Where should we live and what should we live for?
“Stevie never tired of extolling the virtues of Palmers Green, a true suburb, according to her, because it is an outer suburb and not one of the inner ones which have been captured by London. In her own lifetime it grew shabby and down-at-heel and has since her death deteriorated still further. But even before its decline few could share her view: Grovelands which for Stevie was ‘a happy place even when it is raining’ is a very average park, dull and dreary in bad weather; nor did the colours of Palmers Green, with its windy shopping corners and people attached to dogs or prams, seem to her friends quiet so fresh and exquisite.”
Spalding’s book on Stevie came out in 1988. Palmers Green is still a place, more urban than in Stevie’s time or even Spalding’s of the 80s. And there is today an Amazon locker located in the area.
A certain shabbiness and “down-at-heel” sentiment might be necessary for the proper inculcation of poetic or literary values. One wants to avoid being a snob, even while snobbishness remains one of the fuels that light up literature, and even literary critics might want to avoid being snobs of any sort.
It is 1985, and a corporate colleague tells me his grandfather and father had built the house he would come to grow up in just before World War II, having ordered it out of a Sears Catalog. The house was delivered as a kit, with plans, in parts, via rail to a nearby town, where it was then trucked to the lot where they put it together. Yes, “some assembly required.”
We were reading “In Search of Excellence” in the mid 80s, at all levels of the organization. But what many workers were actually in search of was a job with benefits that paid at least enough to buy a house for the fam and stuff to put in it, including sofa in the living room, pram in the entry, and car in the garage. For my part, I had recently come to realize the community college adjunct job I’d been working full time since the close of the 70s wasn’t going to produce such excellent results.
In the first half of the 20th Century, the Sears Catalog served a bit like today’s Amazon. But I searched Amazon this morning to see if I could buy a house online and have it delivered, and all I found were backyard sheds. Sears discontinued its catalog division in the early 1990s. It’s hard to stay close to the customer when the customer is constantly on the move. In any case, most corporations (and stores and shops) only affect concern for the customer; what they’re really after is a share of the customer’s wallet, or, in Amazon’s case, the whole wallet. But what happens when customers no longer pack wallets?
Or no longer want stuff, or at least, not so much stuff. Or still want some stuff, but different stuff. In other words, does Amazon sell souls? Or, as Jung put in his “Modern Man in Search of a Soul”: “No psychic value can disappear without being replaced by another of equivalent intensity” (209).
There are, it is argued, certain efficiencies that promote the use of Amazon over the emotional expense of leaving one’s safe harbor for the voyage out to the mall or downtown or the shops of Hawthorne. Why should consumers feel shame about where or how or for what they shop? In any case, it appears most feel no shame. But is that because they are driven by unconscious desires, wants that may be manipulated by elevator music, trance inducing ads, or atavistic urges to covet one’s neighbor’s goods?
I don’t know, but it often seems shoppers are led to the market like the Eloi in “The Time Machine” are pulled to the Morlocks. In return for the seemingly safe setting the Morlocks have created, the Eloi serve themselves up as food to sustain the Morlockian system.