The creation of an identity is intrinsically artificial – we only need to look at the artful construction of self-presentation to see this grand production made vivid in a gesture, a manner of dress, or a way of thinking. All cues that can be learned, modified, honed to perfection for the absolute achievement – in successfully manipulating ones life into a spectrum of acceptable experience – for the self and inevitably for others.
It’s a distasteful thing, to think of your own self as something you pieced together consciously – as if this could not possibly be authentic. As if it’s a departure from your naturally born being – that pink, bleating organism that opened eyes upon the world and just was.
Yet the necessity of the construction is – to me – evident in the process of day to day life. That elemental forging of a being through one’s assimilated experiences and choices – perhaps in the misguided pursuit of happiness – cannot be cast aside to reveal Ground Zero. That in itself is a duck and weave from the reality of the very nature of being.
No, I didn’t take LSD today. But I digress.
Two mind-altering things did happen.
Firstly, being a Saturday (and a rare opportunity to wander New York together) the H and I decided to venture into W’burg proper – more accurately into hipsterville. Arriving early on a Saturday had two advantages – firstly that it was not busy (though most shops had barely opened), and secondly that the atmosphere hadn’t yet rustled up the anticipated 40 or so degrees that had been forecast.
The first scenario involved an uninterested and hirsute roadside bookseller who just happened to have two books on sale by authors I had been thinking about over the past two days. Both female writers whose work I admire, in charming editions that were $5 a piece. Of course I bought them. And have already started to re-devour each. I can already feel the words of these women infecting my consciousness, as all good literature does, and I love it.
The second was a run in with a second-hand store owner whose store I admittedly browsed at length whilst stealing glances of various items, mentally stashing them into potential holes in our unfurnished home. Let’s just call it the Junk Store. In half an hour of un-airconditioned wandering I found 3 items in the entire store – a shed filled with piles and piles of rubbish. This must be the most satisfying part of all – the feeling that I edited my way through thousands of lifetimes of knick knacks and memorabilia. Discarded, salvaged, priced to sell.
Approaching the cash-register happily, I then placed each item amongst the refuse that had been previously collected on the counter. A dour faced woman eyed me suspiciously, then glanced at the first item.
“I’m not selling you this,” she says.
“Pardon? I don’t understand?”
“You changed the sticker. I know what this is meant to cost. I just priced it myself.”
As happens with all my brushes with authority, I quickly examine my conscience for a memory of having done something wrong.
“But I just picked it up off that shelf – that one there – and I didn’t do anything to it.” My pitch is starting to rise and falter slightly, panicking because unlike the guilty, I haven’t a response prepared. I check my sweaty hands, front and back, to see if somehow maybe a price sticker has rolled off onto them?
“Listen, lady, that’s what you all say. You walk up here and you say innocently, “I didn’t change the sticker, I swear”, but I know what it should cost – I just put the price on.”
By now I’m exasperated – even feeling a little teary – and not wanting to let this carrion of a woman reduce me to a scene I take a breath.
“Look, I didn’t do anything. What is it supposed to cost then – I will pay whatever it’s supposed to be. I just want to buy it.” Deep breath.
“No, I’m not selling it to you. That’s our policy. If you change the sticker, I won’t sell it to you.” She sets it aside, amongst the detritus, and starts ringing up the other items on the cash register as I consider telling her where to stick them. But I really want the item in question now – it’s a matter of principle, of clearing my name…
I take one more breath, and finally retort “Why don’t you check the cameras then. I have a clear conscience, so you can say whatever you like. I didn’t do anything wrong. And you know, I understand your position, but I really don’t appreciate being accused of something I haven’t done.” I stare her down.
She looks back at me. “Alright, alright, I believe you, that’s why I’m selling it to you.”
Incredulous, I watch as she totals the tally – $13 – and starts to wrap each item in newspaper. Finally she wraps the item in question. I hand over a $20, mentally scanning for something satisfying to say to this woman who is doing exactly what I wanted her to do anyway, what she should be doing because I haven’t done anything wrong, but no words come.
She hands me my change, and a plastic bag emblazoned with repeating red “Thank You”s that’s filled with newspaper and junk and saying nothing nothing! what a loser! I walk out of the store to find the H in a pink mist of frustration.
It occurs to me on the way home how hilarious this is, but not before I have enjoyed stewing in a funk of a mood that matches the weather for obnoxiousness.
Why so hilarious?
Not because I realise that I shouldn’t really give two flying ones what she thought of me when I knew I’d done nothing wrong. When I knew the person that I am wouldn’t bother doing something like that. Because from a tender age the thought of shoplifting leaves me with a telltale blush of shame over my face and chest.
Hilarious, my dear readers, because The Incident was over this:
And that…. is that. The moral of the story is, if you’re going to feel like an arse, it might as well be over one.
For those interested, these were the other two items. One day I’ll have a surface to display them on.