Friday, December 13, 2002

The Shopping Block

Downtown Northampton, MA

Classes were delayed three hours today after the storm, so I got to sleep in. This unexpected benefit was offset severely, however, by the cancellation of his afternoon's speaker, Howard Zinn. Yeah, that Howard Zinn, the guy who wrote A People's History of the United States. I'm hoping he can reschedule. Prep school hath its privleges; in previous years I've actually been required to attend presentations by Ken Burns, Maya Angelou, Mary Matalin and James Carville, The president of South Africa, the Harlem Gospel Choir, astronauts and glassblowers and writers and scientists and civil right's activists and a holy host of others; this year's schedule includes John Updike.

With the students in class almost all of what was left of the workday and an entirely Zinn-less campus, though, it was a pretty lazy day at the office (a.k.a the media center), at least until I left early to get home and go holiday shopping in Northampton with the wife and kid. Then the day tuned into something between a death march and an easter egg scavenger hunt in FAO Schwarz.

Don't get me wrong; I'm a born and bred shopaholic, having spent much of my suburban middle-class adolescence hanging out in the mall. My father and I used to shop together like some fathers and sons go to baseball games or stand knee-deep in moving water and throw flies. And I like shopping: the plethora of new things under my fingers; the textures and bright displays; the smell of the crowd and the salesgirl banter. But while downtown shopping offers all these things and more, it isn't like the mall. One is constantly bundling up and unzipping again; merely going from store to street from store becomes an adventure. And downtown Northampton, which goes for four or five blocks on both sides of the street with side streets, is built on a slope, which on the downhill means holding back the otherwise runaway baby carriage, and on the uphill feels like the trials of a modern day Sisyphus. I don't miss the depersonalization of the same-ol'-same-ol' mall chain stores selling identical styles, but I guess even after living the rural life for a decade there's still a part of my soul that longs for escalators and heating vents.

Still, I enjoyed it for a while, and found numerous things to covet, both for myself and for Willow (Having A Baby brings with it an entirely new interest in an entirely new kind of commerical arena, which really just means there's more interesting stuff in almost every store than there used to be). Checked the price on many items in many stores full of artifacts of modern life, clothes and books and toys and things, from high art to popular culture. Stared hard at lighthouse windchimes and porcelain sardines, smiley-face cheese slicers and calf-skin travel journals, glass dragonflies and woolen jester shoes in bright colors with bells sew around the rims. We stopped for supper in a Mexican place with counter service when we could stand it no more and recharged over chorizo and egg tacos, chicken enchiladas, chips with some spicy picante, and fried plantains before we went on. Even bought some things, but I ain't tellin' what, or for whom, 'cept to say that, all in all, we managed to cross five people off our list in five hours.

Then we came home, set the VCR to tape ER, and collapsed. Digging the other car out will have to wait.

posted by boyhowdy | 12:09 AM |

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