So I’m thinking about the society of mannequins that comes to life when the department store closes for the night as documented in easily like four weird plotless cartoons from 1936 through 1938. Is it more prestigious there to be a more nearly fully human body? So that, like, mannequins with whole torsos and legs have an advantage, but not so much as those which also have faceless heads and hands spread out in no particular pattern? Or does it go the other way, in that maladaptive-glory way that like peacocks are prestigious because their tails are just such a big waste of energy that it shows they’re healthy they can carry on? So that, like, one of those jewelry-counter figures that’s just a bust and head would be able to lord it over the mere full-body figures showing off they can wear shorts and a T-shirt? And then maybe the whole of society would be ruled by the figure that’s locked under the glass counter and is just a hand showing off a ring? But! Would that just be the figurehead mannequin-society ruler, with most of the simulapeople never suspecting the real power behind the throne is the fabric-covered fake dog showing off those vest harnesses that let your dog be walked with less choking? In short, this is the sort of nonsense you should expect if you’re going to leave me alone with my thoughts like this.
Over behind that neighborhood block they’re going to demolish was a parking lot. There still is. The construction plan as I understand it is that after the construction the parking lot will be a parking lot again. But it’ll probably be one of those new parking lots, where there’s little islands of trees so you can never pull forward out of your space. Parking lot designers hate folks pulling forward with the kind of intensity you’d expect for homoiousionism or how many spaces to put after a period or whether there were twelve or thirteen starships like Captain Kirk’s. I don’t know why. I suppose parking lot designers get frustrated, like any of us. And I guess they’re taking out their frustrations by putting trees into their work rather than going outside and berating squirrels or whatnot. That’s respectable. It’s more dignified, anyway, and maintaining your dignity is one of the best ways to make sure people have no idea when they’re offending you. I feel like something’s gone wrong somewhere, but we all do.
Anyway. All those buildings from a couple weeks ago that used to be things? Like the United Nations store that somehow existed? (That has to have been a front for something, right? But why not do their money laundering with something less obviously a front, like a used-quarters store or just a mass of burly men in heavy coats standing around saying “there’s nothing going on here”?) They needed parking, and the lot is still there. It used to be a pretty good space if you needed to park at the hipster bar or the less-hipster bar across the street. There was always lots of space and the parking meters stopped charging at 5 pm.
There’s a bit of parking space behind the hipster bar and all that, but not enough. This is important to city life. Cities drive innovation because they reach a critical density where folks can’t park. This gets people to think about ways to get enough parking in town. There’s no way to do this, but once the mind is focused on the parking hassle, it starts having other non-parking-related ideas, like:
- “Invent Google!”
- “Have uniform prices for a wide range of department store goods, streamlining business and allowing for hte hiring of more clerks than could plausibly become partners or proprietors of their own businesses!” (If it’s the mid-19th century and you’re one of the new class of department store managers)
- “See what it’d be like if you used conditioner on your beard!”
- “Be Henry Ford and build internal combustion motor-driven cars! (NOTE: BE HENRY FORD FIRST — MOST IMPORTANT!!)”
That third is a great idea, since my barber mentioned how soft and well-behaved my beard was last time I got it trimmed. It doesn’t make me any money. But any unsolicited compliment from the person cutting your hair is an apple of gold. The others were good bits of commercial and social progress too.
But in the last couple weeks, since the last restaurant closed, the lot’s lost its parking meters. Most of the metal poles are still there, like giant pieces of metal wheat, but there’s nothing on the tops. The easy thing to suppose is that the city figures there’s no reason to charge for parking as long as there’s nothing to park there for. But that implies the city figures it’s worth taking all the meters down now, months ahead of the construction starting. They must be in storage somewhere.
But then they’re taking an awful risk. What if someone loses the key to the parking meter storage locker? And you just know that sending the mayor in to straighten things out won’t work. There are two kinds of city mayor. One is the relentlessly polite boring type that couldn’t argue the fast food counter into taking an order. He’d be useless in settling a storage locker dispute. The other — the kind Lansing has right now — is the brash big-talking type that you remember because he might slug someone and you’d get to watch. That won’t work for the storage locker problem either because the clerk at the locker place would end up punched. I grant we have to take the risk of the storage locker key getting lost anyway. But why add unnecessary months for things to go wrong?
As I say though, that’s the easy thing to suppose. Too easy? Remember that we just learned how a whole road in Russia got stolen. What if someone’s swiping parking meters from lots that nobody would pay attention to? Someone with a couple dozen hot meters could very slightly starve mid-Michigan for nickels and dimes and even quarters. Without this small change what would we put in parking meters? I don’t know, but I bet there’ll be an answer from someone who was just looking for a place to park.
I don’t see that I’m in any imminent danger of having to run a department store, even a discount department store, but I sometimes worry about being put in charge of personnel management of one, like I think most of us do. I’m thinking that if I ever do have to pick who to hire for one, though, that I’d go looking for people who had been convicted of shoplifting in the past, because that way I’ll know that if any of my employees do start stealing stuff, we’ll see them.
That’s a terrible reason to hire someone, of course. But there’s other benefits to hiring the most incompetent shoplifters you can find, by which I’m thinking of break room stories. Imagine overhearing, like, “Oh, man, I was totally trying to shift that 42-inch flatscreen from electronics to the back room, then into my friend’s car, but we got the timing all crossed up and instead swiped the futon out of my apartment and set it up as an endcap in children’s vitamins.” Wouldn’t you like to see a department store run with the goal of making things like that happen? No, of course not, and my pointing out how I would run things means I should be safe from any corporate headhunters looking to catch me by surprise and put responsibility for an Jamesway or a Steinbach’s on my shoulders. I can’t take that kind of pressure.