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Thursday, July 10, 2014

I Bought a Globe at Costco

A few days ago I bought a globe at Costco.

Which, when you think about it, is a ridiculous purchase.

Yeah, I just came here to get some giant containers of yogurt, butter, three gallons of milk, a massive box of oranges -- oh, and what's this here -- I think I'll buy the world. That is all.

I walked into my suburban Midwestern store wearing my suburban Midwestern shoes driving my suburban Midwestern SUV. I had a list on my bourgeois iPhone; I carried my keys on a utilitarian loop. Nothing about me said: "Globetrotter."

I walked into this massive warehouse, surrounded by consumers consuming as much as we could for as little money as possible; I showed off my membership card in the ultimate club of consumption; I pushed my cart through an avalanche of abundance and artificial air-conditioned air, and before I veered to grab an 18-pack of frozen, aesthetically wrapped chicken breasts; I noted a display to my left.


It looked just like the one I had as a kid; except for Greenland was smaller. Apparently in the past white privilege, or something, had extended to mapping, making North America and Europe larger than they actually were, and distorting Greenland's size to be larger than Australia.

Size can be deceiving.

One of the things I love about globes is that when you hold this tiny world in your arms, and spin it around on its axis, you realize how small you really are. The crazy and maybe scary but really awesome thing about this world is that in the course of a few hours, you can be someplace entirely new.

You can jump on a plane and end up somewhere the opposite of Cheers!, where Nobody Knows Your Name. Where everything is different than you knew and somehow people were almost the same.

A globe is all about wonder. About spinning it, as I did when I was a kid, closing your eyes, and then stopping it with your finger to say: "All right, Jakarta, Indonesia."





"Buenos Aires."

Or, the all-too-common: Middle of the Ocean.

It's so unbelievably ironic and emblematic of the world we live in today that I would buy a globe at Costco, a place that showcases both the smallness and largeness of our world, the benefits and negatives of globalization.

I can get a huge bunch of bananas anytime of the year at Costco, but I'll never feel the damp warmth of the plantation where they grow in Costa Rica, where the sea breeze blows across the leaves and rhythmic pulsing Central American beats echo across the mountains and the hills from Costa Rica to South American Colombia.

I can buy Jasmine Rice grown in Vietnam, but never wade in the rice paddies in the haunting backdrop of terraced mountains and swampy rivers, listening to old stories of Viet Cong and governments come and gone.

I can purchase Irish Dubliner cheese, grown in the shadows of mossy bogs, homes with thatched roofs once heated by peat (oh, the peat!), rocky cliffs and the damp, always the damp richness of Ireland matched only by the taste of a Guinness pint.

The world is so much richer, so much more incredible than we often give it credit for.

Yesterday I ventured into the city with Jake and saw the impossibly white clouds drift across a placid blue sky above a backdropped city skyline that seemed made for a day in July and lingering at the park, at the fountain, with a teeming Lake Michigan to our left.

Sometimes it seems our decisions are so weighty, so fraught with meaning. Oh, no! I forgot to turn on the potatoes in the crock pot again. Five loads of laundry. Mortgage payments. Committee meetings.

You collapse into bed at night only to worry about minutia. Did I turn on the dishwasher? Shut the garage door? Send that email? Fill out that form?

Meanwhile the world spins. It spins on its axis as my globe I bought at Costco spins in my living room. Unabated by my dirty bathroom or unwashed floors, that unread manual, this unpaid bill.

It spins, across the Serengeti in Africa, the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, the Great Wall in China, the tottering penguins in Antarctica.

I took it home with me, along with my 5-pound bag of potatoes, two pints of raspberries, and 50 rolls of toilet paper.

I set it on the ground in the living room next to the power strip and a pile of children's books and miniature race cars.

When I look at my globe I feel it awaken within me a sense of unfathomable wonder. A gasp. A sigh. A quickened pulse.

Oslo, Norway.
Moscow, Russia.
The Black Sea.
The Adriatic.

You read stories and hear tales about the dreamers among us, right? Jack Kerouac describes them this way:

“the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes "Awww”

Ernest Hemingway talks about passion, about aficion, and how he idolized it in the bullfighter, Pedro Romero:

"Montoya could forgive anything of a bull-fighter who had aficion. He could forgive attacks of nerves, panic, bad unexplainable actions, all sorts of lapses. For one who had aficion he could forgive anything."

I've always felt this way. Aficion, passion, it is my weakness. A last-minute dash to fly to Florida on New Year's Day and drive to Key West two weeks later. A passion to climb to the edge of Iceberg Canyon, not just to the edge even but to the very top frozen waterfall, on a cold December afternoon outside Las Vegas, in the stillness a moment of uncompromised, costly love.

Of course someday you have to grow up and get jobs and pay bills and change diapers for your new greatest aficion of all - and life changes.

I was talking with my friend Alex the other week about those dreamers among us, and how unlike in Hemingway or Kerouac's stories, sometimes in our world the dreamers get lost. They drift from town to town to apartment to apartment from one love to another. The beauty they make: in music, in art - is unparalleled -- and yet they always seem one month away from losing it all.

I said sometimes I think I am a little bit like that and she was surprised because I was always so driven.

Underneath the drive for the American dream, beneath the good grades and the coupon-clipping and bed-making -- I believe there is in each one of us a dreamer. Who wants to spin the globe and end up in the Middle of the Ocean and spin it again and end up in Saudi Arabia and maybe someday go there even if it makes no sense.

In each one of us a desire to lose ourselves in the vast fabric of an impossible world: just far enough from the sun to survive, just close enough to melt ice into lifegiving water.

There are the Dreamers, the Drifters and there are the Religious Folk who go to church on Sundays.

Sometimes people think there is no connection, no line from the nice lady in the church pew to the artist in the coffee shop with the tattooed sleeves.

I think there is more to both of us than meets the eye.

On this spinning globe, from New York to North Dakota; from Honolulu to Hanoi ... a feathery thread of a dream captivates us from time to time and we do silly, stupid things because of it but we are forgiven because in one who has aficion, He could forgive anything.

This week I bought a globe at Costco.

And as I walked away sheepishly, its blue ocean and multicolored countries beckoning in my industrial sized shopping cart, I looked across the aisle and saw a comrade.

He was middle-aged, maybe in his 40s, with blonde hair and a golf polo.

His cart was filled with charcoal, potato chips, milk, and a globe.

We made eye contact. It may have been my imagination but I think we nodded conspiratorially at each other. I was no longer ashamed but now united in my aficion.

The dream is alive.

1 comment:

  1. Yes!!!

    I remember playing the Around-The-World game growing up. We'd always end up in the middle of the ocean! :)

    I'm pretty sure our globe still listed Russia as the U.S.S.R.