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Out and About with Word and Image of Vermont
The Dollar Store
I have become fascinated -- in a mild way -- by our local dollar store, "The Dollar Tree" in the old Ames shopping center off the Barre-Montpelier Road (Ames itself has bit the dust, a victim, I suspect, of Wal Mart up on the hill in Berlin). There was a time when I would have felt degraded to go into a place like the Dollar Tree but all traces of pecuniary pride have long since deserted me. So now I'm free to explore the world of amazing bargains and junk all thrown together in a mind-bewildering jumble. Actually, there are striking deals, items you would buy elsewhere, like tooth paste, for two or three times as much. Lately, I've become enthralled with a large counter full of memo pads, with solid covers, made in Brazil. They're of far better quality than I could find at Staples for four times as much. Of course, at the dollar store, you never know whether something will be available or not. So if you see an item you like you had best get it while it's there. I've been following my own advice and I think I've now collected fifteen of the pads. They should last me a year or so.
Yesterday (May 20, 2004), I was inspecting a stack of hand painted dinner plates from China. I have to confess I can't be sure they're really hand painted, but the designs and colors were charming, and, at a glance it looked like a tasteful piece of dinnerware. I'm sure there are crockery experts who would sneer at it and eagerly point out the difference between it and a piece which it might superficially resemble, and which can be had from Neiman Marcus, on sale, for only $40. Still, I could eat off the plate from the Dollar Tree and not feel besmirched.
It did, though, get me to thinking about a world in which a plate can be hand painted in China, packed up in a crate, shipped not only across the Pacific but all the way across this country, and be available to me for one dollar. What does that mean about my relationship with the guy -- or probably woman -- in China who painted it? I think what it means is that over the next thirty or forty years, since there is going to be this back and forth between us, our respective material conditions will have to move closer to one another. I don't see how that move can be consistent with our situation here in America remaining exactly the same. If she's going to consume a bit more, and have a more spacious place to live, and have the freedom to travel and see other places now and then, we will probably not be able to use energy and materials at the rate we have got in the habit of doing. Facing that truth is going to be the principal theme of American politics in the coming decades. And there is only one certainty about it: a great phalanx of American politicians will scream at the tops of their lungs that God has ordained for us Americans to be rich and lots of other people to be poor. How much we're taken in by that phalanx will determine the future of this republic.