my turn


Shopping As Hunting, Gathering And Maybe Hoarding

A friend of mine made a good point yesterday about berry picking. He and his significant other own a farm setup near Hudson, N.Y. It was strawberry season a couple of weeks ago, evidently, so he told about his experience helping out with a neighbor's farm — one of those places where you pay 10 bucks to pick as many berries as you can stuff in a basket. 

The farm was pretty much at capacity with people who'd shown up to pick, including a couple of guys — brothers — who run a local paint-ball range, the last people you'd expect to be wandering the lanes looking for ripe strawberries. Yet, there they were, one brother having dragged the other along by the collar, more or less. Neither wanted to be there, but their mom, with a couple dozen empty Ball jars and pectin, was counting on them to get feedstock for strawberry jam.

When the two came back to the scales an hour later, they were grinning ear to ear. When my friend recounted this I wondered if there’s a correlation here: people like to go shopping not just because they have to shop, but because there's an atavistic pleasure derived from our collective drive to hunt and gather. Thus, the joy in berry picking or — since we're heading into fall — apple picking is the same as the pleasure one gets strolling the aisles of a store and stumbling upon a deal. 



I’m convinced it’s not about money, really. It may not have anything to do with what you've actually bought either, for that matter. I think it’s that what you've bought, whether you need it or not (and you probably don't) is like a perfect strawberry you've stumbled upon, something ready for picking, something that was overlooked by someone else. Something you found first; something 20% off, shiny, cool, speaks to you, and maybe it even fits. 

Because of that, it's also not just hunting and gathering. It's hunting, gathering and hoarding. You know what I’m talking about: you didn’t need those spats, really, but you never know when you'll be required to play sax in a marching band. And if you go ahead and buy that scuba diving tank and breathing apparatus, thinking that maybe you can use it to detect bathtub leaks, guess what! If you don't actually use the setup, you can Put It On Craigslist (caps intended). Yes, folks, that's why you are now hoarding that kayak, fireproof Scottish kilt and contra-bass. “Don’t worry, honey, I’ll put them on Craigslist.” 

I was in Pennsylvania recently on a failed mission to reach Hershey Park with in-laws. Because of the worst traffic jam I'd ever seen, we ended up throwing it in and stopping at Cabela's, a red-state superstore: all things hunting, fishing, camping, boating and preparing for end times. "Open carry" isn't just allowed, it's encouraged. I walked in there feeling conspicuous, like "I'm from Brooklyn, shoot me" was pinned to my back. Then I saw the deals.

I got a pair of cargo pants with no fewer than 16 pockets for $15; a deal on a sleeping bag for all-weather trips, trips I haven't even planned yet, as I've not been camping since the Boy Scouts; a stainless steel Cabela's coffee percolator, also for camping, as I'd already gotten the sleeping bag. And here's the kicker: They had a sale on fly-fishing reels. Normally, I would never wander into the fishing section, as I don't fish unless it's for a beer, but I had the coffee maker and sleeping bag for camping, so why not the fly fishing gear? And these were also really top-notch reels, not cheap ones, the really good ones, carved out of a Nascar hubcap. Only $150, 20% off.

And just having my new fly-fishing reel made my day; made me feel like, even though I don’t fish, I could if I wanted to. In my mind I was half-way to standing in a river fishing, whatever that entails (do you stand there, wait for a fish to swim by and then throw the reel at it? I don’t know). And maybe I could practice in Brooklyn? Maybe I could go out to Prospect Park and pretend squirrels are trout. And, guess what! If I never use it, I can always put it on Craigslist.

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