Lee Eisenberg's Shoptimism? Whoop-doo!
I'm broke. This is no new revelation. I've been heading down this road for a while. I work. I make a decent enough living. But there's no middle ground, and the weight is suddenly bearing upon my pocket book. All of my cash is going directly into bills, food, and gas. There is nothing left over. This wasn't always the case. How did I let this happen? Credit Card bills? A little. Everything I have put on credit has been a necessity that I couldn't afford in the moment. It's the socioeconomic cries of our times that have gotten me down. We're supposed to be coming out of a recession. And personally, I thought I wasn't being affected. I could at least still buy a DVD or two come payday.
Not anymore. I took on the challenge of becoming a single paycheck household in the due course of these last few months. Not by choice. I thought I could make it work. And I have, for the most part. I'm still swimming with my head up high. A fat belly. We've got cable in the adjoining room. And I'm coming into you loud and clear with this AT&T Internet connection that only goes out half the time. I just haven't been able to buy my loved ones or myself anything new for awhile. It's an adjustment. Maybe a liberating one. Here, at the bottom of this hole, wondering if I'm going to have enough money to get this puppy spaded* and still afford a cup full of gasoline, I realize I've abandoned any want and need to go to the store for any freeform shopping. I'm no longer a window observer of gadgets. And DVD Tuesday has become a fleeting memory of the past. I'm free of these consumerist shackles that we've all strapped upon our wrists. I can't afford it. I don't need it. Out of sight, out of mind.
It's freeing. To some degree. It's also jarring. I feel as though I've fallen through a giant black hole of uber-poorness. It was brought to my recent attention that I haven't bought any new clothes for months. Not since my stint at Comic Con. "I'm tried of seeing you in that ratty ol' Dierks Outlaws T-shirt and that pair of natty black shorts you got at the K-Mart on Blue Light special for $2." There was a request. I needed some new every-day armor to walk around the house in. But I just didn't want to spend the money. It's a frightening concept. That's when it hit me. I'd lost my so-called Shoptimism, a new term coined by Lee Eisenberg in his latest hardcover book of the same name.
The physical act of going to the store and picking out clothing was a dreadful thought. It seemed implausible to me. I've got buckets of shirts and pants in the storage unit. So what if they're musty and dated? They still fit. They'll keep me warm. I don't need to buy anything new. I can manage. God! Was this really me talking to myself? I used to love clothes shopping. I was a pretty sharp dresser back in the day, if I do say so myself. A real catch. And that was only a few short years ago. But the need and urge to head into Ross, try something on, and ring it up at the register has ceased within my bones. Its not just clothes, either. I used to head into Best Buy and Fry's every single Tuesday. I would scoop up every worthy new DVD release. That's a ghastly idea now. I've convinced myself whole-heartedly that this is a waste. DVDs are garbage. Be they standard issue or Blu-ray. I never watch the pile I've collected (except maybe the Christmas ones). They are sitting in my storage unit alongside huge dumpster blots of novelty T-shirts and moderately priced dress pants. Same goes with toys. I work for a movie website. It goes without saying that I'd be interested in anything related to the latest big budget release. I used to love browsing the Target toy isles for the latest Star Wars figure or summer blockbuster keepsake. Again, its all garbage I don't need cluttering up my life. I suddenly find myself living in a giant empty house. The walls are mostly bare, except for a framed limited edition Fantomas poster I struggled over buying. I had to stand there, at the merchandise table, trying to convince myself this was a worthwhile purchase. Even as the pile of 100, signed by Buzz, and Patton, and Lombardo, dwindled into nothingness. It was the artwork that got to me. I needed to own this once in a lifetime New Years Eve 2009 memento.
Sitting here, staring at it, I understand that I've made a worthwhile and trusting purchase. Not because it's worth anything monetary-wise. Maybe it is. I haven't checked. It just gives me a certain amount of joy. I love it hanging in my office. Though, if I were faced with the same decision today? Here? Now? With nothing but lint lining my holed out pockets? I'd probably let some other Trevor Dunn fan snake it from the pit of oblivion. That worries me. Having just watched Robert Zemeckis' horrible plasticine rendition of A Christmas Carol (a dreadful, soulless little shit stain of a film that I'd be ripping my guts out over had I paid the thirty bucks to see it in IMAX), I am deathly afraid that I am slowly turning into a miser. A wintertime scrooge. The thought of having to buy friends and family Christmas, Hanukah, and Diwali gifts is marbleizing my left kidney. I'm dreading the oncoming onslaught of Black Friday. At this juncture, it's turning my balls a nice shade of midnight blue.
I've got a few bucks saved in an old washed out olive jar (yes, I've taken to the ways of my beloved Trailer Park Boys and do in fact have a collection of highball glasses fashioned from the bumped clear plastic bottoms of various 2 litter soda bottles). I want to find it in myself to depart from this thin stash of cash, and turn it into a glorious Christmas morning for one and all. I don't want to wither away in a hard wood chair, counting my coins as my nose grows like the devil, and my co-worker's crippled child dies a horrific, spine-twisting death right in front of me. I love the festival of lights and the chimney drop of Santa Claus. I love the feats of strength, and eggnog, and just about every single holiday tradition that has ever been thrown in my face (except maybe spinning that dreadful dreidel; that shit gives me the dust willies). Sadly, it's just not in my soul this year.
I've lost the will to shop.
That's why I turned to Lee Eisenberg's thesis on the matter. Handed to me by a colleague, this novel of sorts seemed to understand my current eco-emotional plight. I know this isn't bookweb. And that most of you don't even read through most of this so-called column of mine. You are skimmers to the umpth degree and only search for the bolded out titles of movies you are interested in (like Avatar; gotcha). But in the interest of helping out others who've suddenly found themselves in my same predicament, I felt I should shine a light on this particular work. It's helped me understand these feelings I am harboring. Shoptimism delves deep into the American consumer culture with an ear for why people feel compelled to buy, and scrimp, and in my case, not want to spend any extra cash. At all. Eisenberg looks deep into the reasoning behind it all, and the overall weight of the issue. My problem isn't the "How I Got Here". Which he covers quite nicely, and which I already understood before picking up this breezy 307 tome. It's the "How Do I Get Back?" Eisenberg's book helps ease the wannabe shopper back into the mindset of freeform spending. There must be an even ground here. And Shoptimism goes out of its way to prove there is.
Shopping is good for America. It fuels our entertainment wants and needs. Even when we are broke, we have to keep putting a little bit back into the system. Otherwise, our freedom of choice will wither and die. We'll never climb out of this recession. And our movies are going to keep sucking as bad as Disney's a Christmas Carol. When faced with nothing more than a handful of pennies, we have to find cute and clever ways to keep this from becoming a permanent part of our lifestyle. Its tough being broke. Sure. But its even tougher getting back into the mindset of a right and purposeful consumer. Not an over-spender, or a shopahlic, mind you. But someone that actually, occasionally buys a movie ticket, or a DVD, or a toy, or a new Taylor Swift fashionable T. I'm not sure Eisenberg intended for his latest non-fiction essay to become a self-help manual of sorts. But it has helped me understand my internal monologue at the moment. And his voice is friendly and entertaining. Never preachy. I love that Lee isn't afraid to take me along shopping with him and his wife. Those moments work in getting me juiced up for a store jaunt of my own. They almost make me want to go clothes shopping with a woman.
Not only did I turn to Lee's book in this time of personal need. I also dug through my hordish piles of DVDs to find movies about shopping that might open me back up to the experience. I'd just received a review copy of Confessions of a Shopaholic in the mail, and thought it might poke me in the right direction. But, God no! As this girl sinks deeper and deeper into credit card debt, I started to sweat beads of terror. My "accumulated amount due" turned out to be higher than hers, and she struggles like a dolphin caught in a tight tuna net for two hours. What horrible thing could possibly happen to me? This atrocious so-called Disney comedy made my credit card debt suddenly feel like one of Jigsaw's indelible traps. I had to turn that shit off quick. Next, I watched Brewster's Millions. Once again, it proved that spending cash could be a whorish, exhausting experience. I also tried to make it through Blank Check and Millions, both movies featuring kids that come upon huge sums of money. Watching them indulge was fun. For a tiny bit. In the long run, these harried morality tales only worked in sending me back down that path to Scrooge McDuck-like behavior. It seems that when it comes to shopping, Hollywood is only interested in creating cautionary fables that focus on the hedonistic and evil ways heading into a store with a crotch full of dollar bills can ruin your precious life.
I had to shake free of these cruel lessons, and return to Lee's words of wisdom. Seriously, I don't think I'm going to win the lottery any time soon. I had to find a reason for wanting to shop within myself. I am now at a point where I can freely head into a store and buy a trinket or two. Christmas presents are a right worthy cause for spending cash if the person means enough to you. And, like it or not, new clothes are sometimes a necessity. Even if you don't need them, they do make you feel better about yourself. Especially when you have to present your hide at a peer party. Finding my own personal Shoptimism has been a long, hard struggle. But I think I'm on my way. Just in time for the holidays.
Eat food! Kill Grandma! Buy something just for fun (even if its just from the Dollar Tree)! Whoop-doo!
(*Huh? Who takes on a puppy when they are bone broke? It's like this. Someone threw this dog out a window in front of my house. It wasn't by choice that we took in a new dog. More by happenstance. And let me tell you, with all the vaccinations, check-ups, and fixin' a young pup needs to get through, it's a wonder I still have money for a taco.)