Consume or die. Otherwise, just die without the “glory” of having consumed. Of having sampled some semblance of the ersatz and ephemeral emotion of “owning” a frivolous item. Of telling yourself possession is possible. For when one gets right down to it, everything is frivolous. And we might all be better people for living in the style the homeless have been “relegated to” (a.k.a. pushed there by the cruel and unfeeling machine that is capitalism). But trim away at the fat, and the paper thin meaning of life becomes too apparent to people. No one wants these accoutrements to be taken away, try as they might to exude “radical thinking” by pretending they can live without them. Life, as unenjoyable as it is, can be even more unenjoyable to the non-Franciscan monk without things. The things that distract and soothe–we’re all just giant babies seeking a new and more multifaceted pacifier.
Tristan Fiori, like most people, had forgotten what it was like to have limitless options with regard to that pacifier. The lockdown had made him forget such luxuries, and each day felt like a dull bore that might not even be classifiable as a day so much as an endless run-on sentence bleeding from one unorganized page to the next. The lack of order had sent him into a tailspin. And even though he was still “working from home,” the amount of time spent actually “serving the company” was infinitesimal compared to the amount of time staring into the abyss, whether it was the wall, Netflix or his phone–all of it amounted into “comfortable” ways to help ignore the passage of time without attempting to wield the same ruse of “meaning” as before. The kind that had been so easy to help deflect such steady doses of cold, hard reality.
Life has been set up so that all emphasis is placed on “work.” The only value a person could have, Tristan knew, was in his ability to make money. To keep his head down and amass. Contribute. By contributing to the economy. Not by anything so quaint as “creating” or cockamamie notions like “art for art’s sake.” Maybe if he had been in advertising like Warhol or DeLillo he would have tried his hand at an escape into art, but he was a corporate lawyer. Such a profession had stamped out all his sense of originality for “noble” practices like painting or writing… not that the majority of twentieth and twenty-first century artists didn’t patently rip off (and with far less edge) previous generations. It was just all so pointless to try engaging in the charade that art could be his salvation, his attempt at finding “new definition” to his worth.
He knew the fucking score. Keep producing the cash and funneling it back into society. All this talk throughout the pandemic about it being a “unique opportunity” to “change the system” or “the way the world functions” was bullshit. He knew full well that every aspect of existence was too wrapped up in The System for it to change. The masses could delude themselves with their latest opiates–hope and faux rebellion–all they wanted. Everything would remain the same. A cursory re-entry into the world one late fall day confirmed it for him. It had been approximately five days since he had left his apartment, adhering like a good little law-abiding citizen to the lockdown. Despite the fact that people were forced to fill out an attestation for every time they decided to leave the house, the street was filled with denizens apparently claiming they had a valid reason to be out. They didn’t. Except to consume from the only businesses still deemed “essential” for being open. That also left plenty of leeway for elongated strolls under the guise of “exercise.” More like the right to exercise purchasing power. And when that meandering walk to make one’s way to the grocery store was done, one couldn’t help but notice that the ads on the streets were still being refreshed. Lest anyone forget what they might be able to buy with their ever-diminishing salary in these conditions.
Tristan couldn’t possibly forget. Everywhere he turned there was an ad of some kind, most commonly in the space provided at bus stops. One in particular stood out to him: a slogan for Nespresso that read, “Who else?” And at the bottom, “What else?” Sandwiched in between these taglines was the assurance of Nespresso’s commitment to recycling. Because in order to not be fully lambasted as a corporation these days–to avoid all-out placement on the pyre of “most current public opinion”–one had to at least feign making a grand production about their concern for the environment. Where was this concern before it was too late? Up their nose in profits, one supposes.
The most disturbing element about the pervasiveness of the ads even in the extraordinary circumstances was that no one seemed bothered or affronted by the fact that these displays flouted any empathy for the altered economic circumstance of most people. As though to shrug, “We know you’re more of a broke ass than you’ve ever been, but here’s something to ‘aspire to’ nonetheless. All you are is a gaping hole in the form of an open wallet. Feed the beast, so as to feed yourself.” Because yes, owning an overpriced coffee machine that takes all the work out of making coffee while also contributing exponentially to landfills is surely something to aspire to, and fill the void you call your soul.
Appropriately, when Tristan got home, he decided to make himself a Nespresso. The power of suggestion, as aware of it as we are, can be so strong. In fact, we prefer to be aware of how we’re being manipulated so we can still “choose” to act the same way regardless. It makes us feel like, at the very least, we’re complicit in our own cud-chewing. Yet after tasting his Stormio-flavored cup, Tristan shuddered. There was no satisfaction in knowing he was a pawn, and he couldn’t fathom how anyone else was okay with it either. But they were. Or at least they had found a way to accept it via some means of coping that he was no longer equipped with. He threw his mug against the wall in a fit of rage, and it shattered into five thick, neatly divided pieces. He could glue it back together, but the cracks would still be there.