Saturday, October 25, 2008

G Phone

I am going to get my G phone today. This is the Google phone, and I am thrilled to get it because I am the ultimate Google fanboi, and that is for a whole host of reasons that I won't detail here. I have been looking forward to getting this new toy with an enthusiasm that far outstrips the reasonable potential of the device to be life changing, so I ask myself, why? I think that my acquisitive desire for high tech toys is linked to my stress coping mechanisms. It's fair to say that it may be second only to writing among those methods I have used to deal with those parts of life that would otherwise paralyze me. So, when the going gets tough, the tough go shopping.

Looking back, I have other examples of this behavior to serve as evidence of this observation, beginning with the first model I bought with my own money, but the most egregious of these consumerist reponses to a significant event in my life came after the death of my father Bill in 1981. Shortly after getting the news from my mother on the phone at the receptionist's desk at the American College, I stumbled out into bright February sun on the Avenue Bosquet and threw up. I took the bus home, but didn't go home. Instead, I got off at Montparnasse and went into FNAC, which was the place that wealthy Parisians went to buy the latest, and priciest, books, music, and electronic gadgets. At this time, the music was being sold as records and cassettes; cd's were still a thing of the future, and books were still something people liked to buy instead of download. Even vcrs were so new they hadn't decided between the Sony beta-max or the Panasonic VHS. So, the only real hot consumer electronic gadget available was the Walkman.

I had for several months been envious of those affluent city dwellers who could afford the luxury of shutting out the rest of the world in a self-contained 'pod' while on the bus or street. The social implications were clear enough, but I had no trouble with the idea of using the device as a way to insulate oneself from the surrounding world. I could easily overlook the fact that it seemed rude to listen to music while others around had to be content with the usual noises of man and machine because, quite honestly, I wanted one so much it just didn't matter.

It also didn't matter that I have never been a frequent listener of music. This topic got me into a bit of trouble with my sister-in-law, who is a professional musician. When I admitted to her that I do not often listen to music because I find it slightly disturbing, she was understandably hurt by the implication, though it was merely my intent to express how powerful the effect of music is on me, and how I resist allowing anything with such power to interfere with my consciousness. This doesn't mean that I dislike music, merely that I am not the kind of person who listens to it often, and when I do, I like to pay attention to it, not use it as a sound track to my life, or worse, as background noise. I'd like to think of it as having respect for the music, but it's also true that I am perhaps too sensitive to the emotion it carries and choose to remain aloof; distant from the bubbling core.

No, what mattered to me in that time of crisis was some sort of consumerist cosmetic balm, a patch for the pain that I could buy and own carry and lose myself in. Of course, no such device actually exists, but that day, I decided to give a Panasonic cassette player/FM radio a chance to counter the grief I was forced to feel. The cost was no object, though it should have been, for I had nothing but my rent and food money with which to play, and I did. I don't recall the sum, but I do know that it left me with only enough for but two cassette tapes.  

One was EmmyLou Harris, who I thought would remind me of home, Austin, and the other was Gerry Rafferty, whose album City to City contains some of the best songs of my late youth. As it turns out, I hardly listened to EmmmyLou, because I never listened to her before, so it reminded me not at all of Austin, but I still listen to Rafferty today. It reminds me, of course, of that poignant moment in my life, but isn't necessarily a reminder to refrain from indulging in consumerism when I am distressed, but in fact it is just the opposite. Today I follow the same pattern, using spending as a response to anxiety, but at least the money is my own.

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