A few days ago, I realized that if I was going to bake a cake for my husband’s birthday, I’d need a few ingredients. With that in mind, I decided to stop by my local Fred Meyer store after work. Social distancing and COVID-19 pandemic be damned.
What a nightmare.
The first red flag, the one that should have made me turn around and get out of there, was the fact that there were no shopping carts available. I had to stand in line in the lobby and get someone’s cart as they left the store. Not only was half the free world shopping ahead of a possible quarantine, but the store was severely understaffed. (And who could blame them? Would you want a cashier’s job right now, where you get to touch stuff that other people have touched all day long?)
And yet, I persisted.
When I finally got a cart, I noticed that there was no Purell available anymore to sanitize the cart handle. I was not the only one in that store that was pushing the cart with my shirt sleeves. A lot of people were wearing masks, too, and many were swerving as far away as they could from other patrons that they passed.
I had a hard time finding the products I required. As you can see from my photo below, whole aisles were empty. A lot of items were in unexpected places. I spent an hour finding what I needed, and as I fed off the tense atmosphere, I started grabbing things that I didn’t need, just in case. Because you never know.
All the paper products were gone. And hand sanitizer? Forget about it. The milk had been picked over, and the soup aisle was sparsely stocked. The only bread available was of the French variety. Oddly enough, there were plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables to be had. But you couldn’t buy a fruit rollup for love nor money. The section of the store where they sell clothing, auto parts and small kitchen appliances was completely deserted.
I saw two women arguing over the last bag of flour. It occurred to me that I’ve never been in a position where I couldn’t obtain whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted it, as long as I had the money. The thought of having the money and yet having to go without is new and scary. How fortunate I’ve been.
After spending an hour desperately searching for everything (whether I needed it or not), I felt like weeping. It was just so overwhelming. Our world has changed so quickly that it feels impossible to keep up. But my adventure had only just begun. Now it was time to see the cashier.
The lines were so long that they snaked down the aisles. And everyone was quiet. So quiet. I realized, suddenly, that the store did not have music playing as they usually do. The tension was so thick that you could cut it with a knife. It felt like a riot could break out at any minute, but how do you blame an invisible virus for turning your life upside down?
While standing in line, the thing I dreaded most happened. I had a coughing fit. I tried to suppress it by clearing my throat. I pulled my stomach in so far it felt like it was trying to pass my spine. My eyes were watering. And I had left my cough drops in the car. I coughed helplessly into my elbow. I suddenly felt unsafe.
Everyone around me looked at me nervously, and some tried to move away. I was afraid someone would call security or something, and I’d be dragged out of the store without my hard-won purchases. So finally, I broke the silence.
“I swear to God, y’all, this isn’t COVID. It’s allergies. I’m being treated by a doctor. There’s no lung involvement, and no fever. I swear to God.”
That confession seemed to break the tension. Everyone started talking at once. About their allergies. About their relief. About how crazy all of this is. One woman actually apologized to me for her visceral reaction to my cough. I told her that I didn’t blame her. I’d probably react the same way under the circumstances.
Finally, I was able to check out. Someone was waiting for my cart at the door. I have never been so happy to go home in all my life.
I told my husband about the crazy experience. I had dinner. I watched a little TV, and then I went to bed early.
Around midnight, the dogs started barking. My husband was coming in the front door, laden with grocery bags. He had been shopping at a store that stays open late. Because you just never know.
For the first time, I feel like I’m not writing for you, dear reader, but for future generations who will wonder what this pandemic was like. They’ll be able to read all the articles about disaster preparations, deaths, and political maneuvers, but there will be fewer things about what the experience was like for the average person. We are living history. So if you’re reading this decades from now, hello from across the years and miles, from Seattle, ground zero of the American outbreak. May heaven help us all.
I have no intention of buying a single gift this holiday season. No, I’m not Scrooge. No, I’m not a bitter, lonely person. I’ve just outgrown the love of stuff, and am no longer a member of the cult of crass consumerism.
My husband and I are more into experiences than objects. My dogs don’t distinguish one day from the next. I have no children, and my parents have passed away. My niece and nephew are independent adults. My sister and I are long past the whole present buying thing. Thank heavens I wasn’t born into a family that takes the gift exchange to an extreme, buying for aunts, uncles, and cousins. And my fellow bridgetenders can’t be bothered with secret Santa. (Yay!) I don’t even mail out Christmas cards.
Yes, we’ll get a tree and decorate the house with lights. We will have a nice meal. We’ll listen to carolers and go to festivals and check out Christmas decorations in town. We’ll probably watch It’s a Wonderful Life while sitting in front of a nice fire. We might make a batch of cookies.
We keep Christmas in our own way. It doesn’t come wrapped in pretty paper. It’s not covered in ribbons and bows. But it will be merry in spite of, and perhaps even because of, that.
Wow. I had no idea that when I first moved to the Seattle area, I was living not far from a piece of American history. According to this article, the Northgate Mall was the first shopping center in the country to be designated as a mall. I went there a few times, but only to go to the movies.
I hate malls now for the same reasons I loved them when I was a teenager. The crowds. The endless walking. The opportunities to spend your money on a whole host of stuff that you don’t really need. Malls suck the energy out of my fugal, lazy, introverted soul.
Nowadays, on the rare occasion that I visit an old-style indoor mall, it feels more like a ghost town. Instead of the crowds these places were made for, I’m often the only person walking the halls, and there’s this “I’ve given up on life” vibe that I find extremely depressing. Malls are now where retailers go to die.
So when I read the above-mentioned article and learned of Northgate’s demise, I wasn’t particularly surprised. But I am also not waxing nostalgic for it as many people on social media seem to be. I won’t miss malls any more than I’ll miss that desperate search for a payphone when my car broke down in the pouring rain in the 80’s. It’s the end of an era, and it’s not how I live my life anymore. I wouldn’t want to turn back the clock. Not everything in the past is worth clinging to.
Northgate Mall will be turned into business offices, residential units, and an NHL training center by 2021. Until then, you can watch the few remaining stores disappear one by one, after desperately trying to sell everything that they have, even the mannequins, at insanely low prices.
In no time, nothing will be left except the echoes of the past.
I’ve always thought that the quintessential Christmas experience would be going to a holiday market in someplace exciting like a village in Germany or France or something. I kind of feel as though we Americans are relative newcomers to the whole holiday thing. Nouveau célébrants.
It would be exciting to experience tables upon tables of crafts that have been created for generations, and eat traditional foods that I’ve never heard of before. All while wearing a beautiful, heavy sweater knitted by a half-blind, arthritic little old lady who doesn’t speak English. And I’d be wearing ear muffs for the first time in my life, too. And a furry hat with matching boots. And mittens. Not gloves. Mittens.
But one really shouldn’t overlook the holiday bazaars that we have right here at home. They’re amazing as well. Recently I went to a Christmas Night Market right here in Seattle, and there were hundreds of booths full of hand blown glass, paintings, jewelry, ornaments, clothing, and food galore.
I didn’t buy much. I’m trying not to accumulate stuff. But I have to say that if I were in one of those families where you buy something for even the distant cousins, a holiday bazaar would be my venue of choice. Anyone can go to Walmart. But supporting a local artisan so that he or she may make a living from some unique craft is special, indeed.
Even if you buy nothing (in which case, leave your wallet at home so you’re not tempted), these markets are a great deal of fun. Something about being surrounded by creativity just adds another wonderful layer to the holiday experience.
A friend of mine used that phrase in one of her recent Facebook posts, and I immediately thought it would make a great title for one of my blog posts. I’m very relationship-focused at the moment, having just started a new one. I really, really want to get this right, so I’m putting a great deal of thought into it.
I believe it’s very important to respect that every healthy relationship will be multi-layered. Not everything is going to be deeply intimate and highly significant. It’s not all inside jokes and passion and the stuff of love songs. No. Some of it is driving to the post office and making chicken soup when your partner has a cold and cleaning his or her pet’s poop off your carpet. It’s delighting in each other’s company, but it’s also deciding what’s irritating enough to speak up about and what is better to simply adjust to.
I don’t know whether it’s the fact that I’m in my 50’s and I never expected to have this opportunity again, or the fact that I’ve lost someone quite abruptly in the past so I know how fragile it all can be, but one unique feature of this relationship, for me, is that the mundane seems to be every bit as sacred to me as the sacred is. I like shopping with him. I like doing yard work with him. I like cooking with him. I’m just as happy holding his hand while watching TV as I am going to a major event.
I’m hardly an expert, but I think the trick is to not take anything for granted. Even the basic stuff. Because the bulk of life is the basic stuff. Just the fact that it’s life and you have someone special to live it with makes it worth cherishing.
Recently I was downtown, and while there, I decided to visit the Nordstrom department store. Not that I needed or wanted to buy anything. It’s just that I’d never been in one before. I figured at the very least, it would have cool Christmas decorations. So, in I went.
And I quickly discovered why I’d never been in one before. I got that feeling that I get whenever I enter a rich people’s place. It’s as if someone is going to somehow figure out that I couldn’t even afford the socks in this store, and I’ll be quickly ushered out the service entrance and left on the loading dock like yesterday’s trash.
I wandered around, praying that I wouldn’t accidentally knock something over. The bejeweled wedding dresses were gorgeous, and had no price tags. No doubt they’d cost about a half year’s pay for me. (Not that I need a wedding dress. I can’t even get a date, even when I do the asking.)
The shoes, too, were stunning. Extravagant. Works of art. The kind of things you’d never wear in the rain. I didn’t even bother looking at the prices. I did go over to what looked like a sales rack, and sure enough, accidentally dropped a shoe. When I picked it up, the price on the bottom was 768 dollars. And I had just dropped the thing. Eeep.
This is why I’d never make a good rich person. How does one buy 768 dollar shoes, have them rung up by a cashier that doesn’t earn that much in a week, and then saunter out the door, past homeless people begging on the sidewalk out front? How do you justify paying that much for a shoe, which you’ll only wear a certain amount of times before it either wears out or goes out of style or gives you bunions? It’s just not in me.
Finally, I had to get out of there because I was being overwhelmed by a tsunami of income inequality, and I was afraid I might blow my stack right there amongst the Hermes scarves. I can’t relate to this type of consumerism. It makes me sick to my stomach. I was glad to make my exit and return to the real world, where my discount shoes are the norm.
And then I passed a Coach store. Amongst their outrageously priced handbags, there were really cute change purses in the shapes of animals. They fit in the palm of my hand. And they were 85 dollars each. They were probably made in china by someone who earns a dollar a day.
There’s a special circle of hell for people who sell these unnecessary things, and for the people who buy them, or even think there’s a need for them.
The fact that stores like this can thrive in Seattle is exactly why the majority of us can’t afford to live here anymore. Then who’s going to sell you your shoes?
“Hey, where was that place that you got all the cool used doors and grates and glass blocks for the house you used to own here in Jacksonville?” He asked.
“Burkhalters,” I replied, and a tsunami of nostalgia washed over me.
I absolutely love salvage yards. I don’t know why more people don’t take advantage of them. If it’s true that “they don’t make ‘em like they used to,” then why not make use of older construction elements?
All over the country, beautiful old houses and buildings get torn down, and you better believe that those parts of the construction that can be resold will be. So why not get some gorgeous old handmade French doors instead of the uninspiring new ones that are on the market these days? Put a little copper-colored rustoleum on a wrought iron heating grate and you have a gorgeous design element for your home. Think of it as the ultimate form of recycling. The possibilities are endless.
That’s why I love salvage. The possibilities. But you have to leave your expectations at home. You can’t go in with preconceived notions. You can think, “I’m looking for a door,” for example, but if you’ve got it in your head that you want an 8 panel door with an arc of stained glass windows across the top, brass handles and a peep hole, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment.
Salvage yards are an entirely different spiritual shopping journey. They are not just one more errand on the old to-do list. They’re an adventure. Close cousins to junk yards, they’re often in sketchy neighborhoods. You don’t walk in to a nice, clean, orderly space, grab everything that’s on your list and walk out. You have vague ideas. And then you wander around, sometimes seeing rats scurrying about from the corner of your eye. You dig through piles of stuff with sharp, rusty edges. You wait until something speaks to your soul. You imagine how something would look once you slap a coat of paint on it. You expect to get dirty. You also expect to have to go back more than once. Patience, Grasshopper.
Right now I’m at the beginning stage of the relationship with my new (to me) house. Things I’m doing now, like adding insulation, require new product. But once those elements are dealt with, I can’t wait to get down and even dirtier to make my house unique!
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I don’t know how I managed to overlook this Seattle tradition for so long (probably has something to do with the fact that I work every Sunday), but in the quirky Fremont neighborhood here in Seattle there is a street market every Sunday from 10 to 4. It’s only about two short blocks from the Fremont Drawbridge, and it’s a lot of fun. The first time I went was with friends Deborah and Dan.
You can shop for vintage clothing and jewelry, yard sale antiques, flowers, and all manner of international clothing, arts and crafts. Just feasting your eyes on the colorful wares is a delight. I also enjoy watching people walk their dogs. (My dog Quagmire would never tolerate crowds of this size.) And it’s a great way to just celebrate being out of doors.
There are some food trucks every Sunday, but once a month, the Mobile Food Rodeo descends on the area as well, and the crowds swell. The rodeo includes food from all over the globe: Greek, Mexican, Italian, Indian, Native American, all manner of Asian cuisine, as well as seafood, burgers, donuts and hot dogs.
When the weather is mild, after you’ve braved the long lines and gotten your food, you can sit along the banks of the ship canal and watch the boats go by, just as I did with my friends Paula and Kevin. It’s just the quintessential Seattle way to spend a Sunday afternoon!
I hope I see you there, but if you are planning to go, I highly recommend you carpool, bike, or take public transportation, or you’ll experience another Seattle tradition: the utter lack of parking.
When I was little, I used to fantasize about being locked in a mall after closing time. Of course, for this to work, none of the individual stores would be locked and there would be no security whatsoever. I’d get to spend the night going from shop to shop, getting anything I wanted for free. Clothes, toys, books… I’d also be able to eat whatever I wanted, and in the end, I could sleep in the mattress section of the biggest department store. I never gave much thought to what would happen the next morning.
Funny. My idea of heaven on earth at age nine is my idea of hell on earth now. I avoid malls whenever possible. If I wind up in one more than once a year, something has gone seriously wrong in my world.
The older I get, the less interested I am in accumulation. I recently went to a craft fair and enjoyed myself immensely. I liked seeing the creativity and admiring the craftsmanship, but not once did I have even the slightest desire to buy anything.
Stuff just doesn’t appeal to me anymore. I don’t think I’ve shopped until I’ve dropped since my early 20’s. Part of that is, of course, because finances are tight. But mostly I look at objects as things that I will have to lug to wherever my next address will be, and after having moved across country with a ton of crap that I’ve since disposed of, I just don’t see the point. The mere contemplation of the sheer weight of it all makes me tired.
Now I’d much rather collect digital photographs of my life experiences. I prefer to remember living rather than bury myself in a mound of possessions. I also pity the poor schmuck (likely my sister) who will have to sort through and dispose of all this junk when I shuffle off this cluttered mortal coil, so for her sake, I try to keep it to a minimum.
As I sit here, I can’t think of a single thing I want or need besides groceries. Because of that, I am more generous with myself when it comes to food. I try to buy local and organic whenever possible and cost be damned. I look forward to when my farmer’s market reopens for the season. I look at these purchases as gifts to myself, for my well-being. And the better I feel, the less I look to inanimate objects for my happiness. So it comes full circle.
That’s what a friend of mine calls macaroni and cheese. He has a point. Pasta converts itself to sugar in your body, and that cheese sauce is mostly fat. Thinking about it that way sort of robs it of its appeal, even if you did grow up in the South like I did.
Educating yourself about what you’re putting into your body is a double edged sword. On the one hand, you’ll begin to make healthier food choices. On the other, your life will become much more complicated, time consuming, and expensive.
A consumer who wishes to be educated will spend much more time reading food labels. Gone will be the days of running into the grocery store and basically sweeping random boxes into your cart. (What? That doesn’t resonate with you? That’s probably why you’re a size three and I hate you on general principle.)
The more educated you become, the more you want to buy organic, local, unprocessed ingredients. That equals more time in the kitchen, but also a great deal more flavor.
Farmers’ Markets will begin to appeal to you in ways you never imagined. More effort, more errands, but you’ll adapt. But when you actually buy fruit and vegetables that don’t come in a can, things will rot if you don’t keep up with them. You actually have to have a plan. What a concept.
My transformation into a healthier human being isn’t happening over night, but I feel the momentum starting to increase. I’m not going to wake up tomorrow as a slow food movement vegan. I’ll still want my sugar n’ fat sauce now and then. But change is coming. Yes, yes indeed.