Thursday, May 17, 2018

"Sometimes You Can Learn Something From Learning Nothing"

Being seriously engaged in this undertaking, I am forever on the lookout for new blog post ideas.

A couple of weekends ago, I believed I had foundone.

In the course of a “go-to-sleep” stroll down Santa Monica’s Main Street with daughter Anna and her drowsy, “Snugglied” daughter Golda, we occasionally stopped along the way for some casual neighborhood store shopping.    

Without mentioning the particular store in question, I will simply say this:

I bought a shirt there for forty dollars.

I do not know where you live – L.A. is hideously expensive – or what your personal clothing allowance may be.  If “talking price” is personally insulting to you, let me I preemptively apologize.  It’s just that… where I live, and in my current situation…

Forty dollars is a really cheap shirt.

It was a nice shirt. Long-sleeved.  Linen.  No collar, like I like them, being an inordinately short-necked individual.  Note:  Let me be clear before you get an erroneous suspicion.  I have not sunk to becoming “I bought a new shirt” blog writer. Unless the exigent circumstances merited mention.  Which in this case, well…

There was just something about the price.

For the first time since – I don’t know, the fifties? – I had purchased an adult-sized sport shirt for forty dollars.

And being a lazy liberal – that’s a liberal who smells the whiff of injustice but that’s as far as it goes – I thought I’d write about the nagging guilt around purchasing a forty-dollar shirt.  No ameliorative action.  Just the guilt.

I had found an idea.  

Upon further consideration, however, I could not get excited about that idea, partly – no, largely– because, though I had this discomfiting feeling – “Why is it so cheap?” – I planned to buy the shirt anyway.

I then imagine a way out, a plan to salvage the post, delineate my discomfort “for the record”, be hopefully entertaining in the process, and perhaps plant a seed of empathy and corrective suggestion for the visiting readership. 

My ingenious proposed strategy:  I would write it as an analogy.

I even imagined an italicized foreword:

“Analogies are paralleling examples that don’t hurt as much.”   

(Which are generally more fun than dry, pedestrian reportage.  “I saw a forty-dollar shirt. – What makes it so cheap?... where’d they go?”)

I would reset the analogical scene in 19th Century America.  You can see where I’m going with this, right?

NORTHERN CUSTOMER:  “Why is this cotton shirt so inordinately inexpensive”?



The only difference being that they knewwhy, and I didn’t.  (And was not overly inclined to find out.)  (And I just lied about “overly.”)

Almost immediately, the scenario took shape in my head.

FADE IN:  A Men’s haberdashery in 1850’s America.

A customer comes in, looking to buy an “everyday” new shirt.  The store’s energetic proprietor shows him a shirt the customer appears to be taken with.  

CUSTOMER:  “How much does it cost?”

PROPRIETOR:  “Seventy-nine cents.”

The same situation, right? With the salving element of “distance”, and scaled backwards, for inflation.  

(Note:  I tried to research how much a cheap shirt would cost in nineteenth century America, but what I ran into were companies selling replicas today.  Quickly tiring or “serious research”, I contrived a “funny number” instead.)

As the narrative progressed, I had the proprietor purring, “Feel the fabric.  Soft as butter.”, the uncomfortable customer explaining, “My shirts usually cost more.” and the proprietor playfully responding, “You can pay more.”
The morally upright customer reveals he traditionally buys English-made shirts, which, although more expensive, he knows are produced by “free labor”, as England had banned slavery numerous years before.  (In 1833, being historically specific.)
“I am against slavery”, the customer proclaims.
“I don’t have any,” answers the proprietor.
The proprietor concedes that he cannot stop the customer from paying more for the same garment elsewhere, possibly one that’s not quite as “soft as butter.”  He also reminds the customer that, from a practical perspective, one man rejecting a shirt because of who originally picked the cotton would make no tangible difference to the lamentable “pickers.”  It may, in fact, make things worse– lower profits for the plantations would likely pass along as worsening living conditions for the “Unfortunates” he ardently wished to support.  When you think about it, buying that seventy-nine cent shirt could actually help them.
The planned post would go on in such a fashion, ending, perhaps, with a flurry of “offers you can’t possibly refuse”, rising to the giddy level of “Six shirts for three dollars! – What you’d normally pay for one shirt, and I’m offering you six!
Well… you know what?  

It was the same story – a congenitally guilty consumer challenged by an enticing bargain – which turned out assuaging none of my original concerns as an analogy.

There was a hole in this imaginatorial balloon.  I decided to let it go.

Although – “Full Disclosure” – there is a terminating codato the story.

What elsedid I do, besides abandoning that blog post and then explaining to you why?

I just sighed.

Okay, here goes.

Two weeks later, I went back to the store where I had purchased the forty-dollar shirt and bought a wonderful pair of shorts.

When they were “ringing me up”, however, I breathed a sigh of satisfying relief.

The shorts were more expensive than the shirt.

I know that’s lame.

But beyond talking about it, 

I have no idea what to do.

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