Monday, August 25, 2008

Consumer by the Sea

Strange what you can get for less than a $20 bill especially if you find yourself at the beach for a few days with time to browse. In Manzanita and Nehalem, where the ion-charged ocean air does strange things to the brain, my consumer choices were measured, modest and bizarre.

At a cavernous, jumbled recycling center, Manzanita hearties have set up an eclectic recycling barn (left) for life’s cast-off flotsam and jetsam. In my frenzied typewriter collecting days the place was always good for a bargain. (You mean that you are selling that Olympia SM3 for $15?) On recent visits to the big corrugated building, I’ve found the typewriter section barren. Discovered perhaps.

Just as well. My life and basement, packed with 50 of the old bangers, has no room for another typewriter.

But there are always the practical knick-knacks from the “office supply” section. On this trip, I snapped up a file card holder for 50 cents and one of those magnetic paper clip dispensers for another half dollar. I was tempted by a 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle but realized that the real price wouldn’t be one dollar but at least 12 hours hunched over its parts. Not worth it.

On up the road at the community thrift shop, there was the matter of the circa ‘60s Olivetti adding machine. I have one of these already, purchased for its crisp Italian design. The thing doesn’t compute; it just looks great, very Italian. It now resides in the depths of my closet. So here was another one. $3.50. Gorgeous. Perhaps it worked although Olivettis are notorious for function not following form, or anything else for that matter. The calculator was missing the axle for its paper roll. Not a good sign. I could have asked the chatty gray-haired woman behind the counter to plug it in on the hope that it might add 2 and 2 and come up 4. But if it did, I would be tempted to buy it, and for what?

Instead I popped for a sturdy $2.50 work shirt marked down from $5.

Down the road in Nehalem, I found an 1898 edition of The Oregonian in the antique mall, which, alas, is going out of business. The mall folk wanted $10 for the yellowed, sealed-in-plastic Oregonian. Tempting, but I had already scored an 1884 edition at a garage sale a few years back for a lot less. I use it to show my students that way back then, before Fox and CNN, the news was crafted story telling of the kind that produced a Charles Dickens, a Stephen Crane and a Mark Twain. I left the paper and its old, old news to age some more in the mall.

The next morning, a Sunday, I went into serious NEW news withdrawal and set out to find the New York Times at the local espresso bar. Stacks awaited vacationing urban customers. They were waiting in line to buy "All the News that's Fit to Print." Because Manzanita is considered a “remote” outlet, the paper cost $7, nearly as much as the ancient Oregonian. Measured in dollars, the great monetary yardstick, the respective values begged comparison. Past versus present, Oregon versus New York, 19th Century versus 21st.

I chose New York and the 21st Century present, plus a 12-ounce cup of coffee and a lemon zest scone for $4.50. In less than the time it took to wander through the thrift shop rejecting the Olivetti and buying the shirt, I had devoured the coffee and the scone and the Book Review section.

I was out $11.50 plus tip for a nourished brain and body.

Thinking back on it, I could have bought the old Oregonian and the Olivetti adding machine for about the same amount.

I have no regrets, but I do wonder (don't you?) what will happen to them there, exposed to human and other elements drawn to the sea.

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