Spending the afternoon

Spending the afternoon fruitlessly searching for a cozy chair to read in, I visited a number of warehouse style second-hand stores all sitting stranded on fractured and expansive stretches of tarmac. I had what might be called an epiphany while sitting down to rest in the third store.

As a maker, I know that the things around us, built or made things, do not just happen. They are the products of varying degrees of mental and physical labour and the concerted focus of resources. I devote my life to this made environment. In the Goodwill on Glenwood Avenue I sat back on a stool with two mirrored, sloped sides designed to sit on whilst trying on shoes and to stand next to while admiring their snug and shapely fit. I gaze out across a field of rejected, used, found, remembered, stolen, missed, soiled, and forsaken consumer goods. I sat in the warehouse building with painted cinder block walls, a vinyl composite tile floor over concrete, intermediate steel pipe columns, suspended unshaded fluorescent light fixtures hung in evenly spaced lines perpendicular to the side walls, exposed air-conditioning ducts (several of which were painted yellow), and open-web steel joists supporting exposed metal decking. Three-quarters of the volume of the building was empty, the upper three-quarters. The lower one-quarter was crowded with racks and shelves that held: shirts and tops of polyester, silk, cotton, rayon, denim, wool with horizontal stripes, vertical stripes, chevron patterns, floral patterns, floral patterns over stripes, solid colours, plaids, geometric patterns, landscape prints, silkscreens of airbrushed wolves and moons, held together by decorative buttons, snaps, zippers, pulls, all manners of mismatched stitchery, knitting, hidden seamwork, and heralded by frayed collar tags; pants of polyester, leather, denim, cotton, spandex, wool with pinstripes, plaids, solid colours, floral prints, shiny finishes, dull well-worn fabrics, dirt-blasted, acid-washed, stone-washed, low-cut, boot-cut, low-rise, flared, straight-leg’d, button-fly, zipped, snapped, hook-fastened, and elastic waistbanded; hundreds of books by michael crichton, stephen king, and daniel steel, business books from the 70s with black covers, microwave cookery books from the 80s with orange spines, and travel books from the 90s for the southwestern United States, all in no order and many missing their original publishers dust jackets; a small assortment of furniture among which no comfortable chair could be found but whereupon the announcement that these items were to cost $10.01 for the next thirty minutes was made said assortment was promptly descended upon and from which I witnessed the purchase of two pieces: a sofa sleeper with flowers bedecking braided ropes in a faded fabric print and a particle board with flaking simulated woodgrain contact-paper ‘computer desk’ of the variety that is typically assembled with Allen screws and short wooden dowels; many lamps without shades but of the typical variety with a ceramic base formed into some sort of scalloped, hortulan, or classically rooted architectural motif and glazed in a pastel, faux, or semi-metallic finish and having a brass fixture with a switch that is a small brownish-grey peg that is slid from side to side along its long axis; and trinkets, many of which appear to be handmade… on an assembly line by some El Salvadoran woman adding three hundred floral flourishes to three hundred tiny ceramic vases a day, or airbrushing blushing cheeks aplenty on small ceramic teddy-bears holding even smaller ceramic teddy-bears, or actually handmade by some child who has applied a solid-colour, bone-hued glaze to a pair of praying hands or has crudely painted a globe that appears to be opening at the equator and across which a raised brocade of ribbon is inscribed in yellow painted cursive script with the word ‘PARIS’.

All of these things have been conceived of, invested with both time, money, and natural resources. Many of them are thoughtless incarnations of convention and age-old design decisions that have lost their conceiver long ago, and some may have actually been pored over at a desk or drawing board much like my own at which I now sit. Yet where are these people like me? I see no trace of them in my life. The only feelings I derive from objects come from things that carry a personal significance either because I made them or because they were handled and directed toward me by someone I love (their makers thereby relinquishing any claim to sentiment in my heart). So where are these people? The folks stalking the store for bargains have no more concern about the conception of a piece of glass bakeware behind which stand hours of people’s lives devoted to material testing, industrial design, and distribution than I do about the engineering and construction of the pipe columns and steel trusses around me or whether the man sweating at his table 30 years ago thought fondly in passing of his mother as he developed the most benign beige and charcoal fleck’d pattern he could in order to mask scuff-marks and stamped-out cigarettes on the VCT.

So am I disgusted by these things, so seemingly thoughtless, meaningless, trivial, cheap, and forgettable? Yes, probably. But not because of what they are or are not as much as because I see myself behind them, forgotten, at my desk poring over something destined not to outlast the memories of my children.

Critical Response:

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