December 8, 2023 | Rome, Italy

Ignoring Amazon

By |2018-03-21T18:58:56+01:00January 26th, 2014|Area 51|
Slacks would prefer not to hear about Rip Van Winkle, fearing the rip.

he opposite of conspicuous consumption is reviving a used hairbrush and three pairs of geriatric slacks so definitively locked away that their sudden resurgence represents a resurrection of sorts, styling me as the unlikeliest of household deities. Imagine the transformation from their perspective, beginning with the brush.

What does a wooden brush know about hard times? Nothing, I suspect. Its soulfulness ends when someone sets it aside as too hair-snarled and replaces it with something new. The disappointed brush perishes and goes… where? Into a bin at best. But this one did not, made to languish in a carton like a Greek warrior deprived of a proper burial. The “to be discarded” carton, which I opened after a 50-year hiatus, was labeled Paris, meaning the brush was likely born circa 1950. Which also meant, judging from the fair hairs among its bristles, that my mother or a nanny once used it.

What my mother or nanny no doubt saw was what I retrieved, something obsolete, at least to them. But what I see is my unruly hair and the opportunity to play kingmaker among limbo-ed things.

Why buy a new brush, I tell myself, when I have a potentially emboldened Tutankhamen — which now looks every bit like a retro hero placed among colorfully-labeled 21st-century shaving cream cans and a drill-bit electric toothbrush that the awed brush no doubt sees as science fiction. Maybe the brush thinks it’s been transported to another planet, or retrieved to suit the whims of a race ready to put an expiration date on anything and everything but members of its own tribe, whose lives it tries vainly to extend.

The slacks are a more intimate story. The brand was my teen favorite and I bought them cheaply by the half-dozen. One half-dozen apparently snuck into a separate “for discarding” carton — who knows why — only to be woken from their own half-century of suspended animation at the same time my attic foray jarred the brush. The slacks lay neatly beside each other like three little mummies, their original tags intact. No rest for the weary, I told them, hard times for all. I stripped the labels and tried them on. They fit. Welcome, slacks.

Now, revived, they mark my stride into a brave new world in which fingers are glued to little phones (or vice versa) and children peer at tiny screens for hours at a time. I imagine the ancient slacks are cowed by the apathy (imagine Socrates walking into a mall and no one noticing his toga).

But if so they don’t seem to mind. I’ve explained the reason for their unexpected revival: need. I’ve also told them I shy away from modern shopping, cowed by the choices, which they appear to understand, appreciating their second-chance (and probably planning their memoirs). I tell them about Rip Van Winkle, but they stop paying attention after the word rip.

They generally spend the days taking in the non-boxed air and expressing occasional worry about my permanence on the planet, since they they’ve come to understand I’m an exception to the throwaway rule. Out of the box and into the fire, says one pair, cheerfully.

The brush is more reticent, perhaps self-conscious about its withered wooden handle that many would consider irremediably dilapidated. “I’m so old,” it tells me at times, or seems to. I don’t judge, I tell the brush. Just relax. It does. So do the slacks, which I rotate.

But both brush and slacks remain insatiable curious. Is it true, they ask, that everyone’s more impatient in this new world? I ponder the questions and respond with care. The resurrected doesn’t need future shock.

The world isn’t more impatient, I respond. Capitalist to the core, it is weaned on replacement as an existential act. Slacks and brushes go by the wayside not because they have to but because the reshuffling of things, their discarding and replacing, has been successfully sold as proof of life.

They claim to understand my arcane observations but it may well be an act. I keep them far from the Internet. They’d be terrified, the brush especially (the slacks were unused, after all). Having given them new life I protect them from exposure to the darker side of new, which would likely denounce them to the pushy hordes derive meaning from adding and removing items from their online baskets.

Don’t worry about human concerns, I tell my brush and my slacks. You’ll be along for a long time. Ignore Amazon. Live for tomorrow.

About the Author:

Christopher P. Winner is a veteran American journalist and essayist who was born in Paris in 1953 and has lived in Europe for more than 30 years.