So I was walking through the Reno, Nevada Costco yesterday, provisioning a family trip. There are eleven of us vacationing on a fairly remote lake for two weeks, and an express run to the grocery store in these parts can cost $300 or more, so we were filling two and half shopping carts with ribs and wine and Romano and almonds and Rosemary bread and eight pounds of butter at least. When I was a young college know-nothing, the sight of families shopping made me think of greedy, fat little fingers, but I’ve changed. I’m a grandfather now and the $1100 bill comes out of my pocket, and I was euphoric that, for today at least, I can pay that. I marveled that somehow someone supplies Costco with impossibly perfect flowers every day. I was pushing the heaviest of the shopping carts–Drudge and Facebook disconnected—happily reveling in a 1960s super-power glow. I was humming the theme from “The Munsters” loud enough for people to hear me.
Here’s the thing: I wanted to tell all of you about that. I was going to post a picture of the Costco Flowers with the caption “Because Flowers. Provisioning in Reno. Singing the Munsters TV Show Theme.”
As we were shopping, I kept sensing the presence of an attractive woman who seemed to be vying for all the same freezer shelves. Mary would ponder frozen chicken breasts and she would politely wait in the background, and then swoop in for the same thing.
“I think we’re holding her up,” I said.
“No, no, no,” she smiled. “We could eat together. We buy the same stuff.”
“In Costco, you have to be serious,” I said. “You need a plan.”
“No kidding,” she said.
We kept doing that shopping dance through the aisles, confirming our choices and chuckling about it. Another young woman saw that I had lost some bread from the lower tier of the shopping cart and she replaced it for me. I thought, “is it Reno? ”
My wife is an utter commando about charging through the store and getting everything we need quickly. She makes me a little nervous. Even in polite, friendly Reno, you almost need traffic signals in your average Costco. You can only ponder the labels on the food for so long, without feeling as though you are creating a traffic jam behind you. I keep thinking someone is going to say, “are you going to buy that? Because I’d like to.” One careless guy had an ultra-miniature poodle on a stretchy-leash behind him and I thought “someone is going to roll a pallet of Vodka over that dog and kill it.” I wondered what it would be like telling your family you had killed a dog in Costco by rolling your groceries over it.
And so here’s the thing about that again: I wanted to tell/ask all of you about that. I wanted to know whether I’m odd for scoping out an un-trafficked spot in Costco, where I can check email and not feel as though I’m holding up a forklift? Is it odd to enter a space — any public space — and hope no one will look at you and conclude, “I just really wish that guy knew why he was even here. I would like to buy some Peet’s Coffee too, damn it, and he’s standing there looking at his email.”
I think those things. I want to share those things. I’m pretty sure Facebook wouldn’t mind if I shared those particular impressions, because — for now at least — North Korean style reverie-police are pretty much limited to Portland feminists and Evergreen College, but, suppose I were to do something really provocative? Suppose I were to conclude something like, “wow, in Charlottesville two sets of freaks descended on each other? ” Maybe, merely recalling antifa violence on such an occasion would trigger the “objectionable content” impulse of some progressive grandmother, replacing her childhood Methodism with a daily dose of watch-the-right fervor? What if I made the observation that not once, not once, in my entire life as a conservative and pro-life activist have I ever heard any participant describe themselves as “white nationalist?” That might not work. Facebook wants to keep it light, and get heavy only with the approved villains.
If you like to write, as I do, you’re scratching what C.S. Lewis called “the itch.” You’re testing your view of the world against everyone else’s, because the compulsion to know what you think, (by clothing your thought with words), and hearing how others respond to those words is how we individually guard both our own sanity, and the culture’s. There’s a reason why North Korea looks collectively insane. There’s a reason why people had trouble breaking away from Scientology. When difficult discussions can’t be had, the region of difficulty actually expands. It doesn’t contract. Difficulty has to be punctured, not sealed. It expands with heat.
When words can’t be spoken, or written, there will be no little poodles in Costco, no reassuring smiles, no fresh batches of flowers, and very little, if any food either.
Dramatic? Perhaps. Facebook can turn its forum into a place where no feminist will ever be challenged, no quota queen will ever be ridiculed, and no jihadist will ever be rebuked, but that sort of space, while safe, is looking more and more dull to me.
Set up your own forums, people. Don’t feed the blob.