Consumer paralysis afflicts me more and more these days. This afternoon i walked miles, from outdoor store to outdoor store along Broadway, seeking the perfect daypack to replace the perfectly good daypack i was carrying from store to store.
The one i’ve got, you see, is just one big bag with shoulder straps attached. No compartments or pockets, and, being a compulsively organized bloke, i like compartments and pockets. Everything in its place.
But i find it near impossible to justify the “upgrade.” Replacing what’s worn out is one thing, but ditching one functional item for another, slightly more functional one is … a wasteful, frivolous, indulgent consumer whim. (Which is, for me, in this day and age, a synonym for “sin.” But that’s another post.)
I know, i know, i could just give the old one away to someone who’ll like it and use it. But buying its replacement would mean one more brand new, nasty, non-biodegradable plastic item has started its inevitable journey to the landfill — needlessly. Aren’t we trying to break that vicious circle? Aren’t humans the most adaptable species on earth? Would it be such a hardship, in comparison with what other people on this planet endure, for me to continue digging items out of my one-compartment daypack?
I must have looked at a hundred packs; fondled two dozen; and gone thoroughly over six. All were pretty good, some were very good, and two were almost perfect for my needs. I even returned to two stores for a second look-and-feel. I could tell the salesmen in both stores were rolling their eyes at my agonizing over a hundred-dollar pack — a trinket, to them. A moral dilemma for me.
It put me in mind of the existentialist Samuel Beckett’s 1949 play, Waiting for Godot, in which … well, here:
THE plot of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot is simple to relate. Two tramps are waiting by a sickly looking tree for the arrival of M. Godot. They quarrel, make up, contemplate suicide, try to sleep, eat a carrot and gnaw on some chicken bones. Two other characters appear, a master and a slave, who perform a grotesque scene in the middle of the play. A young boy arrives to say that M. Godot will not come today, but that he will come tomorrow. The play is a development of the title, Waiting for Godot. He does not come and the two tramps resume their vigil by the tree, which between the first and second day has sprouted a few leaves, the only symbol of a possible order in a thoroughly alienated world.
Nothing happens in the play, it takes bloody forever, yet somehow it’s riveting and screamingly funny. (The script, with some pictures, is here.) My consumer expeditions are of the same character, except substitute “feckless, time-wasting and pathetic” for “funny.”
In the end, with the stores on the brink of closing, i decided to make do with the existing pack, and maybe think up some ways i could alleviate some of its inconveniences. I felt better, as though i’d faced down a mighty cultural imperative and come through bowed but victorious. The wanting, though, hasn’t gone away, and there’s no guarantee i won’t be browsing more stores tomorrow.
Friend Caroline sent a message, three days ago:
Buddha was right … we suffer from desire to own, and once we own we suffer from the burden of ownership and fear of loss!