The Tide Turned – A Short Story

consumerism

illustration by Ethan Bloch

Nobody is really sure when it happened. People just stopped what they were doing, put down their arms, or their reports, schedules, phones, parked their car, or walked away. It started as a gentle stirring of the breeze, or the caress of the master’s hand on the piano keys, a soft slow peaceful melody coming to life.

The event wasn’t on the news, people didn’t panic. There was no run on the stock market or the bank. No looting or rioting. People still went about their business to some extent. Children played, school happened, dinner got cooked, the laundry got washed. The necessary things happened. It happened so gradually that it almost went on unnoticed for quite some time.

It may have gone unnoticed for a while longer if it hadn’t started in the late fall, before the Christmas rush. What did come to the attention of those who track such things was that there was no Christmas rush. There was a small uptick in sales, but what was missing was the frenzy. No one maxed out their credit cards, took out usurious payday loans or careened around town in a mad lemming’s rush to purchase, purchase, purchase.

At first, as usual, businesses stayed open late nights or even all night in anticipation of the shopping rush that didn’t come. What little shopping people did happened in the afternoon or evening and then people went home. After a week of this the employees gave up and for lack of customers went home also. Left with no customers or employees for these longer hours, stores closed earlier, no more late night, 24/7 frenzy.

The December holidays found people off the street, dining with family and friends. Restaurants and bars, usually jammed with lonely people escaping the holiday madness found themselves bereft of customers. By the last week before Christmas small shops and eateries threw in the towel, declared a holiday and sent employees home to their families.

December came and went. In January the talking heads started to panic. Since very little shopping went on in December there was no rush to return or exchange gifts. People weren’t in the store so the January “slashed prices everything must go” sales never quite got off the ground. The nation failed to meet its quota of consumerism.

By February, the talking heads came to a startling realization. No one was listening to them except other talking heads. You can’t con a con; the heads were starting to figure this out too. How you use shock and awe…and fear to sell the news when no one was buying, no one is watching their “news?”

No one heard or cared about their sage instructions saying “now is the time to buy” that new car, buy that spring wardrobe, and buy a better house, although the house lived in now is fine and dandy and holds many happy memories.

March came and a new trend developed. Driving around any neighborhood and it was obvious. Instead of buying things people where giving away. Something more profound than the usual spring cleaning was going on. Garages, storage sheds, and packed quest rooms emptied out. Piles of items, furniture, clothing, knick knacks and gadgets, grew on the curb and overflowed the charity bins at the local grocery store. Thrifts shops were inundated with donations.

By April, manufacturers were in a panic. How are we going to sell all this stuff if no one is buying, what will our stockholders say? Production, sales, prices must always go up, must always improve. That is the way of business. If sales and prices go down then we are in a recession and must buy our way out it at all costs. They calmed down somewhat when they realized that with all the improvements and “just in time” manufacturing and inventory policies, there really was not as much of the huge mounds of unsold inventory as they initially feared.

In May the trend watchers heaved a premature sigh of relief. Ah, it’s vacation time, people will buy clothes, and summer gadgets, and gas, and plane tickets, and on and on. People will begin to consume again in a “normal” manner. Everything will be fine; the stockholders will clap their hands and count their beans, except it didn’t happen. Families decided to have family time at home instead of hauling the family and half their possessions elsewhere, only to ignore each other at their destination.

June came and it was just the summer lull. The economist decided to stop freaking out about it for a month. July came and went without much fanfare.

By August it was becoming painfully obvious that something, only who knows what had happened. It all happened so gradually that the average Joe and Jane didn’t really notice it. They were too busy living their lives.

Wouldn’t it be nice?

2 responses

  1. It would be nice. At some point governments must realize that economies cannot continue to grow and they will have to adjust their policies.

    1. This shared belief that economically speaking things must always expand and get bigger, sell more, have more, and so on has always mystified me. Mother nature doesn’t do that. We have a season of growth, harvest, then things die off and rest for the winter. What if that never happened? There are not enough weed whackers in the world to fight back plants if they never died or go fallow for a while.

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