Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Free Box Provides

Strange as it may seem, there are shop-a-holics in this town. Thankfully, if we become embarrassingly intimate with the hardworking UPS driver and the kindly Postal workers, there is the local Free Box, where we can deposit used items and, in exchange, "shop" for odd and wonderful things we never knew we needed.

The humble Free Box, (a community drop off for household and clothing re-cycleable items) lives in an open air hallway behind Nepenthe's historic restaurant. Here are a few free Box winners over the years: a leather jacket in good condition, jeans that fit perfectly, an excellent yoga mat, and Tiffany gold cuff-links. As well as some losers: an enormous stuffed bunny missing its ears, countless mis-shaped sweaters, fancy shoes that are really too big, cookbooks from the 1970's that we'll never read.

When I was a girl I rebelled against back-to-school department store visits with my mother, since the dressing rooms at the mall became another stage for our ongoing mother-daughter battles. As a coping strategy, I began exploring the local Salvation Army thrift store.

I ended up on the "most interestingly dressed" list at my suburban high school by wearing Chinese satin gowns with cowboy boots, flowing white poet blouses, faded jeans, and vintage pumps. With adolescent flair, I began defining myself as a fashion non-conformist, not knowing I would soon evolve into a grown-up "fashion victim". (Which I did, in spades, as anyone who knows me can confirm.)

I love to shop. It's my drug of choice. I shop when I'm sad, I shop when I'm happy. I shop when I have money in my pocket, and when all I have on hand is my battered, woe-begone credit card. I shop to have a flash of that warm, sweet feeling of abundance and a kind of safety. As long as I have a new a) skirt b) boots c) set of linens d) baskets e) lawn furniture, etc. everything's all right, at least for a while.

This line of thought always recalls to me that 1970's song by The Tubes: "What do you want from Life?", that lists all the material things that American citizens are entitled to, ending with "a baby's arm holding an apple". A play on words, which, finally, after 30+ years, I just got.

I tell myself that like eating, drinking and finding shelter, in some ways we must shop to survive. Historic trade routes led to global exploration and empires. Marketplaces, like those in Ancient Greece, were public spaces set aside for vendors to trade and citizens to assemble. One could argue that commerce contributed to the birth of democracy. So shopping is not all bad.

However, at this stage of life it's time to begin purging from our closets some of the many possessions that simply don't make sense anymore, and here the Free Box comes in handy as well. So this is a Free Box alert! to all my neighbors. You know who you are. I'll see you in the that dark, magical hallway sometime soon.