An antique store accepted me through its doors, kept me for an hour in its bowels, and spit me out last week, a changed man. I was fine when I went inside. Perfectly happy. I didn’t need or want a thing. But discontentment was my state upon leaving. How did the store obtain so strong a power over me that it could cause this transformation?

It was one of those scrappy vintage marketplaces where dozens of small-time vendors showcase their wares in kiosks and cubbies arranged in a giant hall. This hall grew larger and larger as I explored it. As if there weren’t enough old hats and pewter plates and glass paperweights on display in the expansive entrance, a back room soon came into view, bearing fur coats and 50’s postcards and broken violins. A downstairs then revealed itself, with framed WWII recruitment posters, feather boas, old kazoos in every possible size, and more. Two floors together were vast enough, but a stairway soon appeared, going to a third level upstairs, with costume jewelry – a giant faux diamond from 1972 – and plastic models of apples, bananas, tangerines, mixed berries, and more. More stairs then exposed themselves, leading to a fourth level, with beaten leather jackets and rickety wooden footstools and sewing machines from 1953 and more.

I love these kinds of places – really, I do – but today there was no consumer libido in me. A family member was visiting from abroad and they wanted to go; I had come along. 

To be in an antique store is to be in a specific posture though, whether one plans on assuming that posture or not. The posture of hunting. You can’t just stand still for an hour. You’ve got to look around as if there might be something you’re going to like. So you walk down an aisle, peek around a corner, pick something up, run a finger over something there, gaze at a picture on the wall, check the price on this, examine the original sixty-year-old label on that. For everything you see, the question is, “Do I like it? Do I like it? Do I like it?” And for me the answer on this day was, “No.”

Twenty, thirty minutes and counting, a romance would already have developed for me, if this had been a normal situation. Sparks would have flown. I would have established an unexpected bond with an unjustly forsaken object, waiting somewhere in a sea of duds. But today there were no sparks, only duds.

The preponderance of duds should have been good, right? It should have been good that I found nothing to burden me, because when this whole escapade started, I didn’t need or want a thing. But simply being in the store induced me to search, and the very act of searching created the frustration of not finding.

Initially it seemed like a joke, as if someone had taken ten thousand colorful items and run them through some kind of giant washing machine to remove all of the interest and allure. I kept discovering new side rooms and corners, and all the interest and allure of every single item in each newly appearing nook and cranny seemed to have been replaced by the emotional content of the color gray, I swear.

Eventually this “joke” led to a feeling of estrangement. How could all of this stuff, from so many different times and places, amass itself here, without even one thing being “right” for me? What are the chances someone could plan this, like a movie set, if they tried? They’d need to specifically filter out everything I might like in order to achieve such a uniformity of disappointments, which means they’d need to know me very well, right? I’m not sure anyone knows me that well.

So I entered the store needing nothing, but I left needing whatever it was that I hadn’t found. My feelings of satisfaction, contentment, and equanimity – so plentiful earlier that morning – were no armor against this environment’s influence. Quickly, they ceded to desperation.

But this environment was a fluke, right? This was surely the only 4-floor mega-warehouse of multifarious antiques that could possibly avoid containing one item – even one little bauble – that might entice me, that might satisfy me, that might assure me I was alright.

On second thought, I realized: this is the experience of flipping channels. This is the experience of grazing the news. This is the experience of killing time on social media. This is the experience of having options in excess. You might need none of those options, but your sufficiency is no insulator. You might not anticipate the power of browsing to make you want to want something. You might be perfectly happy when you start. ■

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