It’s quite nice to have a friend running a retail business in my neighborhood. Whenever I feel bored, I can walk over there and chat with Nigel. Since he opened @hellomoonman in The Market Line, he’s been there almost every day. These days, it’s nearly impossible to hang out with friends spontaneously. Even if we plan weeks in advance, they tend to cancel at the last minute. Nigel has no choice. He is my captive audience now.
In the ’90s, whenever I felt like taking a walk outside, I used to go to a used bookstore on East 7th Street called Tompkins Square Books. I would sit and chat with whoever was there. Usually, bookstores have tall counters behind which cashiers would be sitting on stools. Tompkins just had an ordinary desk. The owner or the clerk would be sitting behind it. There was also a chair in front for random guests like me. On the desk were their new arrivals, and for whatever reason, they were mostly philosophical books, as if they were waiting for me to come get them. The owner wasn’t particularly interested in philosophy himself, but he developed a good sense of what the philosophers in the East Village liked, I assume, from talking to them.
A hundred years ago, before the corporatization of America, I would imagine that many friends would be working at places one could spontaneously visit. Corporations do not benefit from the friends of their employees randomly dropping by. They don’t even care who lives near them. It’s just a source of distraction.
Every time I see Nigel, I ask how the business is going because I care about him and my neighborhood. It’s a mutually beneficial relationship. As a corporate employee, you wouldn’t know whose interest you are ultimately serving. As a customer, you wouldn’t know where your money is going. It’s impossible to care about anything in this corporate world, even if you wanted to. Ironically, you don’t even know who you are selling your soul to. In such a life where we are not supposed to know how anything works, how is it possible to find meaning?
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