Adventures of Shopping Man

Later that same day…

As he had come to expect, the very thought of his own blood (and not the first hint of a sighting–he knows enough not to actually WATCH) lead to its usual outcome. He made a point to focus, to read each word, even to spell out each word of the wall poster: IF YOU HAVE ONE OF THE FOLLOWING INSURANCE PROVIDERS, PLEASE INFORM THE TECHNICIAN PRIOR TO YOUR PROCEDURE: MEDICARE, MAMSI…

He read it through once as the first stick came, twice as she said “We’re about through” and on the third pass through, one letter at a time, the words blurred. He said something about “vasovagal” to the technician and remembers next finding himself elbows on knees, sweating slightly, ears ringing more than slightly. But the deed was done. And after coffee at PaneraBread, he was off on a shopping frenzy, which for him means there was more than a single item on his list and he MIGHT have to visit more than one store if that was absolutely unavoidable.

It took an excruciating 45 minutes, twice his usual max tolerance for the artificial air and ambiance of the Larger America beyond the realm of the Republic (of Floyd.) And he didn’t know, in the end, if he should feel disgust or the thrill of victory: he replaced his watch and he replaced his keyboard with exact duplicates of the ones that had recently failed him.

On the one hand, he thought, maybe the kids are right. Maybe ordering Vegetarian C at the Mexican restaurant time after time, not even looking at the menu, was a character flaw. Maybe he lacked the courage to change, the will to explore.

But if it works, don’t fix it. He’d done his homework five years ago. The watch and keyboard he purchased then–about the time he re-entered the Work Farce again (part time) were still being made and marketed. There must be something to that–that these items had persisted unchanged for that long.

It seemed terribly unsexy–to bring home new versions of what he already had, already knew. He had, after all, long since worn the visible letters off the keys and had to continuously replace them with hand-lettered sticky squares cut from mailing labels.

Yes, it would be some while before the watch band “remembered” which hole fit his wrist exactly. It would be some while before the keyboard took on the sheen of wear on the most-used keys.

But he had found what he set out for, had found useful tools that, if not entirely avoiding the American Model of built-in obsolescence, at least could be found again. But he thought about something he’d read recently–something about how each American should be given a Rollex watch and a MontBlanc pen at birth, and they’d never need another. That much less waste, that much firmer a bond to THINGS that mean something to us, that come to BELONG to us in a way that 99.99% of what can be bought cheap at W-M will never do.

Then he awoke from his revery, and rushed to his 1:15 meeting, a bit late, still hungry, and planning to have one more cup of missed morning coffee when he got home.

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. I rarely buy good quality because I am such a pinch penny, but something came over me a dozen years ago and I bought a Patagonia jacket on impulse while walking home one day. It was horribly expensive, but I needed a real warm jacket for going home for Christmas. I have worn it every day for about eight months of all these years. It is as light as a sweater and as warm as a heavy coat. It shows no sign of wear, so I guess I’ll wear it til I die. That’s fine with me.

  2. Bravo…. It seems to be what I call a “things falling away” time. Our monitor expired suddenly last week, and goodness me, they don’t make that wee size these days. We now have a much bigger Dell monitor which was purchased (refurbished) from a local charity which fixes up and sells such things with a fairly good warranty. There were brief notions of going to a big box store, but we found ourselves cowering under the kitchen table at the very thought. It will take some time to become accustomed to the new monster, but we can actually see what we are typing now.

    How is your veggie garden doing, Fred, and your firewood accumulation?

  3. The garden has been so-so, the tomatoes suffering from on-again-off-again rain (mostly OFF) and a storm last Thursday blew down all the corn to the point where it could not be heeled back in. We’re getting some tomatoes just as they begin (again this year) to blight. Wood for this winter is under black plastic and next year’s is in logs to be cut to length and split as the mornings get cool again (in another six weeks.)