Gazarian Column: ‘We shop, therefore we are’

“I think, therefore I am.” French philosopher René Descartes (1596-1650) said so. In 2015 no doubt he’d have to say, “I shop, therefore I am.” What’s life without shopping malls and special deals and crowds rushing from their hastily parked cars into the welcoming doors of mega stores? Once inside, ah, you can breathe better in that air-conditioned bargain land. Aimless and down, now alive, hope in your heart. Anxiety, too. Better be early before anyone else grabs that shiny four-slice toaster on sale, today only.

Why should a dumb four-slice toaster suddenly control my life? I am driving at full (legal) speed from Orient to Riverhead to get that toaster, pretty well convinced that there’s only one left in Riverhead, perhaps even only one in the whole U.S.A. I looked at it yesterday, decided to be reasonable and not buy without checking around. But all evening the toaster pursued me. I Googled. “Boasts extra-wide slots to accommodate bagels and thick slices of homemade bread … Convenient shade control knob … Sleek exterior …”

Now, instead of enjoying the calm and beauty of my little village, I am on the road. It’s a rainy, slippery day and I look with suspicion at every other car aiming west. I bet every one of those drivers has a four-slice toaster on his mind. Or should I say her mind? Sure, some “lady of the house” is going to beat me to it. It had a chrome finish and a polished red side, kind of a Harley Davidson feel. If my toaster is gone I’ll console myself with a look at the Harleys. They don’t toast bread but they do have a good smell of burned rubber at takeoff. Who cares about pumpernickel?

I never got the four-slice toaster. Never looked at the Harleys either. My only memory of riding a motorcycle is when my friend Gilles, on his way to New London, stopped by and offered me a ride I couldn’t refuse. Best moment in my life: when I got off the bike in a hurry after going up and down King Street in Orient. Nothing like good earth under your feet. Another friend, Leon, who had been a pilot in the U.S. Air Force, offered me a ride, too, in his single-engine Piper Cub. It was yellow, I think. We flew over the North Fork and Leon would check on my friends. “Let’s get closer to that house. OK? Relaxing, isn’t it?” I would agree to anything he said. Not about to argue with the pilot of that frail-looking contraption. Another happiest moment was getting off the plane. But I admit: It was beautiful up there. Thank you, Leon. As a matter of fact, I’m going to call you today. It’s been years.

When my budget is in trouble (often), shopping but not buying anything is a harmless activity. My companion Rita and I enjoyed our shopping excursions. If she went to Riverhead without me I felt deprived. Rita was knowledgeable about so much. Having 12 grandchildren, she would always spend time at Toys R Us and at children’s clothing stores. The image of Rita quietly shopping still moves me.

In good weather, yard sales attract us like bears to honey. A chance to spend a few dollars and bring home things other folks are so delighted to get rid of. Not always, though. At times, yard sales happen when there is sadness in the family. Perhaps someone has passed away, perhaps relationships failed. You can see it in the eyes of children helping to collect the money.

Yard sales breed yard sales. What I collected for years, one day, strangers will take from me. They’ll walk on my lawn, look and choose from my life’s display. Here goes my English teapot … Oh well, let it go. I’ve “bought” things myself from my own yard sale, not bearing to lose a familiar book or a souvenir cup an old friend brought me from far away. I put them back in the house. Saved. I am saved.

On long trips, driving for miles along the silent beauty of trees, mountains, rivers, under the endless sky, the sudden brightness of a neon sign promises food and a more discreet one is for antiques. I’m so glad to see them. Nature is not enough. I need to trade. I get out of the car, walk groggily to the antiques store or the sandwich place. “Can I help you?” I am asked. Yes, yes, yes. Sell me bread, sell me that old mug. Let me put money on your counter. Let me look around. How much for the armoire? Of course I won’t buy it. I have one I want to sell back home. But it feels good to ask. I’m alive. Let me buy that Depression glass pitcher. It says “To My Wife” etched in ornate letters. Who was she? Who was he? Once upon a time, they were in love.

I have spent part of my life shopping. I’m not the only one. Always a crowd at the shopping malls. And at yard sales I have met old friends, still looking, still carrying stuff to their cluttered cottages. Just like I do. I’d see Eleanor Harris, the first neighbor to welcome us the day we moved into our house on King Street, Betty Rose, the tireless yard sale patron. She bought so many things she ended up with a little shop of her own in Orient. I never failed to stop by. It’s all right, my friends, it’s all right. “You shop, therefore you are.” Didn’t Descartes say something like that?

Pierre Gazarian is a poet and a writer of one-act plays. You can email him at: [email protected].