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Annibale Carracci, The Choice of Hercules (1596)
" … a fonder heart and a sometimes smarter response."

He who dies with the most toys loses whatever it might have been that toys couldn't satisfy. The toys might have successfully distracted the dedicated toy collector to the point where he never missed what he might have chosen to do without, though unfulfilled wishes might have provided bitter tastes of them. If he was true to type, he considered these shortages to represent problems that future acquisition might solve, though the desire in the dedicated toy collector never wanes for long after successfully adding another to his collection. He might miss a subtle point, one argued over for millennia, back probably further than recorded history can take us. My parents raised me a proper stoic, I guess, for I firmly believe that character might be best expressed by what one chooses to do without rather than by how much one manages to acquire.

Limited availability was one of the great attractions this small city offered.
Located near the last stop of most distribution systems, a shop here might either not stock or have run out of their allocation of something I'm seeking. This serves as a mildly annoying inconvenience but it also tends to prompt me to reconsider the depth of my need, of that want. This can spark creativity as I'm forced to make do with some substitute or admit that there are no reasonable replacements and just do without. Doing without might build character better than doing with, not that any man my age might lack in character, for we've all become cartoon charactures of our former selves, Mr. MaGoos and Foghorn Leghorns dispensing questionable wisdom while wearing relaxed fit Mom jeans. We're hardly alluring.

I admit that the big city attracted me. It pulled me away from a life which could have been without many of the goods and privileges I enjoyed. Still, even when there, by choice or exile, I avoided the In Places to shop and bought at more derelict joints, ones which only later came into fashion. I avoided Costco like the plague it was with its outrageous Members Only policy. I never considered myself special enough to qualify as their customer and never really wanted to buy my burger meat in handy half-ton containers. The shopping options discouraged me, not for their lack of variety, but for their apparently unnecessary choices. Who really needs two dozen styles of jeans to choose from? Half the crap offered in a typical Target should embarrass the store to stock and humiliate the purchaser when buying. I'm shocked that it doesn't.

Here, I can claim that the paradox of choice rarely enters the game. I looked yesterday for some liquid sandpaper and after checking all the usual suspects, discovered that nobody stocks it. I'll have to do without. A shiver of adventure pulsed through me at the prospect. I some days feel as though I've somehow shaved fifty years off this world by moving here. What passes for a shopping center would hardly qualify as a minor strip mall if it was located within any megalopolis. I avoid it here like I'd avoid it anywhere as not the sort of place a guy like me would willingly take himself. I seek neither choice nor certainty, but the novelty only absences ever provide. On exile, those absences were substantial, the sorts of things (not really things) that money can't buy anyway. Pandemic lockdown only amplified what I needed to do without. Now that my world seems to be opening back up, I hesitate to fully reengage. I've grown accustomed to Withouting to the point that I consider it to be one of my more prominent assets. I do sometimes miss the easy conveniences but I'm growing to appreciate what only decent absences can make: a fonder heart and a sometimes smarter response.

©2021 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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