There’s a local shop about five minutes drive from the house where you can get bread, milk, eggs, smokes, lottery tickets, a six pack of select domestic or import beer, a selection of $8 wines, and hot or cold made-in-front-of-you deli sandwiches. It’s plopped down at an intersection where two or three different deeply exurban neighborhoods come together. If you weren’t use to seeing it there, it might even look out of place.
The fact is, mom and pop shops like Cooper’s Market aren’t just a local resource – letting someone skip the drive all the way into town if they only need one or two things and don’t mind paying the premium – they’re also a national treasure. They’re the natural home for local news and gossip – and even though I’m nowhere near a local in these parts, if you keep your ears open you can always find out who got arrested, who’s kid is doing “the drugs” or got knocked up, what house burned, or what the useless county commissioners got wrong this time.
Maybe it’s the kind of place that’s nostalgic only if you grew up in small town America, where they were the rule rather than the exception. It’s nice to know that there are still a few of them around. I like having the option of the big chain stores when I’m already out in the more densely developed parts of the world, but here in my little section of it I much prefer the familiarity of the human being who knows what you’re going to order before you even get to the head of the line.
Once every few months I catch a wild hare and start obsessively backing up everything on my work computer. At last count, I’m working on saving 2GB of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint documents for posterity. That’s somewhere in the neighborhood if 1500 individual files generated over the last eight months. By most standards it’s not a particularly obscene amount of storage or an abnormally large number of files. As I’m sitting here watching the “% complete” bar click higher, I’m struck with the fact that although I’m relentlessly backing this stuff up, keeping a copy for myself, and sending a copy into deep storage, I’m probably the only person on the planet who will ever actually see any of this stuff again. In a post-atomic or -biological apocalypse world, it seems unlikely that any of the survivors are going to be particularly interested in whatever brilliant PowerPoint slides I’ve managed to come up with.
All of that begs the question, what the hell are we really doing here? I think we all have some conception that we’re “adding value” somehow by performing whatever task has been set for us. We like to think that what we’re doing is good and important work; that someone, somewhere will be better off because we sat behind our monitors and smashed our fingers repeatedly against the keyboard. Since I don’t have a little laminated card telling me where to go and what to do when the warheads start landing, I think it’s safe to assume that whatever I’m doing isn’t all that critical to the preservation of civilization as we know it. Apparently I’m not a national treasure. That realization stings a little.
Look, I’m not saying I want to give up the pay and bennies and head off into the woods to start a commune or anything. I don’t think the situation is all that hopeless. Still, it’s a smack in the head about priorities and deciding what’s important and what doesn’t mean a damned thing. In the course of a career and a life, I’ve made some good decisions and some bad ones. If this serves as nothing more than a gentle smack in the back of the head reminding me to make better decisions in the future, well, then the day has been more productive than most.
Editorial Note: This part of a continuing series of posts previously available on a now defunct website. They are appearing on http://www.jeffreytharp.com for the first time. This post has been time stamped to correspond to its original publication date.