Consumers, Report! 

The selfhood of stuffhood

We have a support-the-late-capitalist-economy song for our trips to Boise: "CostCo WinCO and Home DePOT/ In the car we always GO/ We drive fast and never SLOW/ Consume, Consume, is our MotTO."

Verse 2: "Buying Kleenex for our NOSES/ For the table, here's some ROSES/ Ten pairs of socks, for our cold TOESES/ A new device, for SELFIE POSES."

Verse 3: "In the bulk foods, we do FROLIC..." What? OK, I won't—even though Verse 4, inspired by the Home Depot plumbing department, is coming right up. Still no? I'm sorry you feel that way. It's just—I was proud of those lines.

Full disclosure: I haven't told Julie about our song yet. She won't want to sing any of it, even Verse 4. She's disciplined about shopping, and if everyone were as frugal and sensible a shopper as she is, industrial civilization would collapse in a week. It's only when I go to Boise by myself that we end up with battery-powered vacuum cleaners, 40-inch pumpkin pies and another hundred pounds of spaghetti for the crawl space.

Julie was with me during this year's early summer Costco run, when I found a 75-inch curved screen display that was superior to life itself.

"Julie," I yelled to next aisle, "We have to get one of these."

Julie gazed at the tangible images of attractive young people rock climbing and windsurfing and jumping off high cliffs in wingsuits. She listened to the bass-heavy soundtrack coming from the soundbar underneath them.

"No," she said. "We have to get coffee, ink cartridges, liquid soap, avocados, quinoa, manchego cheese, pinot noir, frozen chicken thighs, reading glasses, coconut milk—if Costco doesn't have it Winco will—and a pineapple. No 75-inch display on the list."

"Just look at it," I said. "It's a doorway into super-reality. We won't have to leave the house. We won't want to leave the house."

She shook her head. Julie's parents limited her to Sesame Street as a child, and my parents only purchased a TV—which they referred to as The Devil Box—after I'd left for college. As a result, we lack the normal childhood-acquired immunity to video screens in restaurants and airports. We have to find places where neither of us can see the screen, or one of us ends up talking to a slack-jawed, glassy-eyed spouse whose only interest is in Fox News' latest expose of Obamacare death panels.

"A 75-inch screen would be bad for us," she said.

"That's what you said about the 50-inch screen and the Netflix subscription," I said. "But what about those happy hours we spent watching Dr. Who last winter? Those terrific insights into human nature in House of Cards? What about Sherlock? You liked that guy, I remember. Bandersnatch Cummerbund?"

"That's not his name," said Julie, in a tight little voice.

"Anyway, we won't even have to go down to Boise once Costco gets delivery drones up and running next winter. They can land on the deck. I won't even have to snow-blow the driveway."

She wasn't paying attention to me.

"We'll have to strap it on the roof to get it home," she finally said. "I saw a hundred-pack of bungees four aisles back." I had to get her attention by waving the Costco flyer in front of her eyes.

"How about we check out some pool furniture?" she said.

"Stop it. We don't have a pool." Careful not to glance to either side, we led each other out of the video section and headed for the cheese.

There's a dark side to this story. Last summer I came to Boise to buy a wood truck. Firewood is the one resource Sawtooth Valley has in excess, thanks to the mountain pine beetle, and if there's one thing that winter here requires more than a giant flatscreen, it's a wood truck—preferably one that won't catch fire in the woods, which is what happened to our old one—because you have to get the wood from woods to wood stove, so you can see the TV without having to peer out from under a pile of blankets.

I found the truck I wanted and was signing ownership papers when the salesman said, "Sawtooth Valley, huh? If industrial civilization goes down—if The Shit Hits the Fan—I'm packing the wife and kids and guns in the minivan and we're heading for the Sawtooths to live off the land."

I thought of some of my neighbors, who have spent their lives thinking about fans, and what hits them, and the inevitable demise of civil society when the oil runs out. They swap end-of-days recipes, and while the recipes involve Boise refugees, they don't involve feeding them.

"Not a good idea," I said, "You can't live off the land in the Sawtooths. It's too cold. Mostly rock. Nothing grows." He gave me a suspicious look, as if he might be talking to a man living over a crawl space packed to the floor joists with spaghetti.

"Not a good idea," I repeated. "Sawtooth Valley doesn't have a Costco. And if industrial civilization collapses, we won't even have delivery drones. You'd starve to death. Knowing the neighbors, that would be a good thing."

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