More good news in crisis from down the block here in Park Slope: The realty office that I could almost spit on from my stoop has shut its doors, boarded up the classy windows, sent its half-breed parasites home, no more to feed on old women tossed from rent control. Praise be to the realtors out of a job—may they find real work suited to their minds, like dealing heroin to children or pulling the wings off flies for resale. Good times, I tell you, the rents falling fast, the bubble-brain-time popping.
On the same stretch of street in Brooklyn, the boutiques with their sale signs like epitaphs, spray-painted in all colors of the rainbow, desperate-looking, like the owners were fainting as they painted. Jeans for $319 now at 50 percent—a bargain, I’m to understand. Thread-bare t-shirts “artistically printed,” just $40, cut to $20. I might pay 50 cents, if they’d get rid of the infantile print. Alas, the inventories piling up across the blackened plain, burial-mounded and no one buying, and in the wind a hysterical lament, the marketeers, the opinionators screaming their heads off that “something must be done,” as if we hadn’t enough of enough to last this generation and the next, as if it is not a wonderful and beautiful thing to stop buying stuff we don’t need.
There’s the rub. The deranged axiom of the modern consumption economy is that when people stick to what they need and save their money, it’s a god-awful disaster. I see only the cleansing wind. Down the street from the stinking corpse of the realty office, three more of those little boutiques that can only and ever cater to the very rich—just this week, gone and gone from my beloved Brooklyn, their death like a sun-up. Coffee shops where the latte is $7, the bars where the beer is $10, the things priced to profligacy and exclusionary wealth, going and gone, the rotten branches blown into the gutter. I think of one of those mad-eyed April sandstorms in the windy season of the Utah desert, where the sand scours the face and arms, lays open the pores, seems to rip the fat from the muscles, blasts the red-rock to a sheen and even cleans the blue of the sky. I say: more storms to lean into and be leaner for it.
The crap is getting swept away from my nook in Brooklyn, but here’s what isn’t disappearing: the little hardware stores where you buy the nails to build, the paint to preserve; the little fruit stands where the apples from the autumn harvest have kept, where the owners have made a conscious decision to quit the out-of-season fruit, because it’s too expensive for strained wallets and anyway it was unnatural to have it; the little fish shops that increasingly vend a local catch. I hear from my hardware guy that sales of compact flourescents are up—people cutting down on their electric bills. I even notice a new cobbler has opened up, meaning there is demand for old shoes to be made new. I go on a rainy afternoon with my mother to the industrial flats, among low warehouses, to repair her old family heirloom chairs, and men on the shop floor are busy hand-weaving the wicker and staining the wood—producing something you can hold in your hands and that holds you. They charge her a good and just price, worth the work, and the hundred-year-old chairs will perhaps remain with the family a hundred more. When we still find industry in Brooklyn, things of value made by American hands—industry in a city where it’s been driven like a leper to make way for the drama-queening and pursed lips of the rich—there is hope.
The bigger grocery stores, meanwhile, teem with food—what a crisis!—and most of it, if you avoid the poison of meat and the fraudulence of starch and sugar, is as cheap as ever in the history of man. Perspective is in order: We have more than enough to eat, more than most of the world’s starving masses lashed together. We have electricity, clean water, sanitation, decent shelter, and if you cook food for yourself—be an adult, stay out of the silly restaurants—stanch the light sockets with those compact flourescents, burn candles to read by, put on a goddamn sweater and a pair of wool socks for bed, keep the thermostat low (hell, turn it off. The cold is good for you, keeps you lean), the bills stay low too. (Dick Cheney was right: Conservation is a personal ethic.)
So where’s the crisis? Answer: there is none. There is only a slowing down, a getting off the drug of crapola consumption. If we are the coke addict, the alcoholic, the meth fiend emerging from a long lunatic twilight binge, so hepped for so long that mania has become normalcy, then what is normal and healthy and balanced now feels like crisis. So now the DTs, the withdrawal, and, perhaps at last, some measure of clarity.
CHRISTOPHER KETCHAM, a freelance writer for Harper's, GQ, Mother Jones and many other magazines, divides his time between Brooklyn and the redrock country of Utah. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.