Wednesday, May 10, 2017

A Thing I Am Apparently Over

Little things have been bothering me lately in bigger ways. I am not sure why this is. I suspect that as I emerge from this hollow space called "grief" and begin to look around me the little things start to seem big again. This no doubt will benefit the rest of humanity - no longer will I glare at people relaying normal life problems at me while sullenly thinking "Really? THIS is upsetting you? ARE YOUR PARENTS ALIVE??" Suddenly I want to vent, and about something so petty, so inane... and you seem to like to read me, so I will vent here.

I am really sick and tired of online store stalking. Not me stalking them, but THEM stalking ME. WHAT IS UP WITH THIS? The first time I saw targeted ads in my right hand sidebar while using Gmail, I felt ill. Big brother, reading my emails and pointing me to websites selling bee supplies or yarn. It just wasn't ok - my paranoid self freaked right out and said it was walking away from the internet for good. But I made the trade because after all we are an information tech society, and more and more the internet and online shopping have become de riguer and blah blah blah. Fine. I use Amazon like it's my local mall. I don't like going to the mall. Given where I live now, I don't like going shopping period, except maybe for groceries, and then only to the Walmart Neighborhood Market that I could walk to if I chose. I liked the concept of online shopping, but the practice has become ...well, let me back up.

When I was a child we shopped very locally, right in downtown Greenfield, most of the time. The overwhelming majority of what we needed could be obtained in, at most, a half-day-long shopping trip that had us home well before supper. Furniture, paper goods, food (even the exotic things like yogurt and bagels!), the occasional trip to Kentucky Fried Chicken to eat chicken out of a paper bucket and mashed potatoes from a spork while my mother noshed on fried fish wrapped in fake newspaper - it was all right there. If we needed dance- or skate-wear that usually required a separate adventurous trip to downtown Springfield, where it was still safe enough that I could be sent from The Shoe Box to fetch my mother a Coke and a pack of Marlboro's from a tiny nearby market hocking newspapers, magazines, and candy along with it's short list of preferred beverages and tobacco products. This would change over time, and eventually that walk would be removed from my 'allowed activity' list - the little market went out of business, no doubt destroyed by a culture more and more focused on one-stop destination shopping, and Springfield became a less safe place to roam. Why buy your Coke at the little market down the block, then walk a block for your produce, and another half a block for your meat when you can just get in your car (or take the bus) and drive to a shopping center where everything is laid out neatly for you in one handy stop - and cheaper, too! But I digress. For my riding boots and helmet, it was Northampton. But otherwise, everything we needed to live, from back to school clothes, to the ridiculous Polly Flinders dresses that no one else had to wear to my Brownie uniform, to the hideous caricature of tomatoes tucked in a white plastic tray in cello wrap and even the occasional very fresh lobster, were all handily available in one town, a mere fifteen minute drive from home. Thirty years before that, you probably wouldn't have had to leave Northfield for your needs - and if it wasn't available at Fred A. Irish's store you probably didn't need it.

During those shopping trips to Greenfield we would stop in at the stores that dotted Main Street like sparkly jewels to my childish eyes - each one a treasure chest of adventure, filled with unique sights and smells, each holding different merchandise and a plethora of opportunity to lose myself in clothing racks or restrooms. At McClelland's there were parakeets like a rainbow in cages, and tanks full of inexpensive tropical fish, and a deliciously creaky old wooden floor. At Ann August, where we certainly couldn't afford to buy anything, we could stop and visit my grandmother. From Peggy Parker to Goodnow's to Wilson's...and if I was lucky to Brown's Toy Store...and maybe a stop at The Corner Cupboard for a grilled tuna and cheese and a Coke from the fountain, Greenfield had it all. We would find whatever was on the list - knee socks, t-shirts, and probably at least one turtle neck as my mother attempted every year to shove me, resisting, into one of the miserable things. It was small. It was provincial. And it was home. At Wilson's Department Store, and here is where this gets back to my point (I promise) we were generally stalked by one or more sales ladies. They created an overall feeling of discomfort, and it was here that I would do my best to disappear into the racks of ladies dresses and pretend I was in a fairy home, surrounded by brightly colored wall-hangings, with the outside world full of those disapproving eyes partially hidden behind horn-rimmed bi-focal glasses far, far away. I never have been able to determine if this stalking behavior was to prevent shoplifting, or because they really put the 'sale' in saleslady, but there they were - around every corner; continually hovering and in general making the whole experience uncomfortable with their intrusive presence. "Can I help? Can I help this other way? What if I help by doing this?" One never entered Wilson's without feeling extremely..."helped".

Last night I experienced this thing that I despise - the thing that makes me feel like I am 7, hanging around on the inside of the large circular racks upstairs at Wilson's, avoiding my mother and those ever-present saleslady eyes, and amusing myself while she shopped for her fancy Barbizon peignoirs, or was being wrangled by the 'helpful' crew of salesladies into a girdle that appeared tasked well beyond it's abilities. I was once again stalked by 'helpful' salespersons - this time in the form of an email, another damned email in the relentless, endless stream of the things that flows into my inbox from every blessed retailer or service provider with whom I have ever done business... "Melissa! Have you forgotten something?". And in the email was the usual link, which took me immediately back to the shopping cart I had abandoned about a half an hour before.

Yes...I did forget something. I forgot to unsubscribe, close my account, run away from your "store". I forgot to NEVER shop with you again, Jockey, Sierra Trading, Uniform Advantage, et al. I forgot how much I loathe feeling stalked and watched and hovered over; made to feel as if I am a bad consumer because I didn't complete checking out - as if by not buying your stuff I have taken the bread right from your very open, wide, gaping mouth.

It happens all the time. My innocent 'window shopping', thanks to cookies and tracking, turns into a full-on sales assault; one with an air of desperation that makes me feel twitchy in my skin. Do you really need me to buy that one bra so very badly? Will my failure to buy those two scrub tops and coordinating bottoms in a color I don't yet have and don't really need break you this month?

We have been on a vaguely minimalist path for a while now, and as a result purchasing is more a rarity than a common occurrence. Sometimes I "window shop" to amuse myself, and usually - now as in the 90's when I trawled catalogs with a pen - circling things I would buy if I could but never did because we couldn't afford it - I do not buy. But I shop. I amuse my eyes with sparkly jewels in the form of fancy undies, or a new coat when mine is perfectly fine, or a pair of shoes when my closet space is currently full. If you let me wander and roam, and make me feel comfortable and welcome, then when I need a new bra, or a new coat, or scrubs, I will be back. But if you stalk me to my inbox, adding yet another damned miserable email to the endless stream that I delete daily, you become more annoying background noise, and like the mosquito you are, I will slap at you, and eliminate you if I can. I will unsubscribe, and if that fails I will mark you spam, and when I need that bra I will likely just order one from Amazon - who has sense enough to leave me mostly alone (although I do find the recommendations annoying, at least they don't stalk me all the way to my inbox!).

The young folks don't get it, having grown up in a world where privacy is an antiquated notion from the past. Or maybe they do get it, some of them. Maybe these movements toward minimizing, downsizing, tiny-house-lifestyle, living from and with the land...maybe they are a sign that deep within some of us still lie the desire for freedom and privacy. I live in hope. And I delete. Constantly.




6 comments:

ccr in MA said...

Shortly after my father died, I was at work listening to a coworker trying to hurry her father off the phone, and I wanted to go over and shake her, and tell her to be grateful she still HAD her father and could talk to him... At this point, eight years later, I can understand she could have had many reasons, but at the time I was just so upset.

Melissa Morgan-Oakes said...

Yes!! It's been a long process for me. In the beginning I thought I should have a black arm band so people would leave me alone!

sally said...

I so totally get it - my Mother has been gone 3 years and I still pick up my phone to call her when I am excited/angry/happy/sad - then I remember. At least now I have stopped bursting into tears when I remember. Also HATE with the burning passion of a thousand stars the invasive emails - I too delete/unsubscribe/never-again-visit those sites.

Kathryn Kienholz said...

It always make me chuckle when those auto-spamming shopping sites keep showing versions of the thing I JUST BOUGHT! What, do they think I need six new kitchen faucets? Maybe a dozen new steering wheel covers?

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