Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Pottery Barn Nation

I may have talked Sandra Bullock into buying a new car, to replace the Subaru Outback we have had since the Jawa was 3 weeks old. The Outback is a vehicle from another time and place -- the "We live in Seattle and have a baby" -era. For the family we were, it was perfect.

It's finest hour came during Christmas of 1999. Seattle was socked in with snow, but we had to get to S.B.'s mother's house on the Kitsap Pensinsula. After 8 hours stuck inching along the ice of Highway 99, we pulled off onto side streets, unsure if the Outback would persevere or simply slide into a snowbank. It performed like a champ, sticking to even the iciest pavement as if its tires were coated in stickum. We made it to the ferryboat, and then through the snowdrifts on the other side.

But now, we have no snow. We don't ski. There is no stroller to haul around. And the Outback has 102,000 miles, a big dent and gets 18 miles per gallon -- something you might want to point out to the next righteous Subaru driver when they launch into a "no blood for oil" diatribe.

This is all a very long intro pointing to the fact that our next car might be a Volkswagen Jetta, which will complete the takeover of our lives by the Pottery Barn Nation.

John Seabrook, who writes for the New Yorker, published an article and then an entire book a few years ago called "Nobrow," which would have made a very interesting observation about mass-produced good taste if it hadn't been so obsessed with pointing out that its author, though Ivy League-educated and wealthy, was still cool and current and listened to hip-hop on his Walkman (no ipods back then).

This idea is intriguing. Something I was made aware of while living in Seattle and occasionally dropping into a Starbucks -- I'm down with the whole anti-corporate vibe, spending a little extra to support local businesses and, in doing so, finding something wonderful, tasteful and unique as opposed to bland, uniform and dull. But Starbucks provided something tasteful and at first unique. They took the intellectual-seeming, serene coffee house setting and made it available to anyone willing to walk from one corner to the next. Starbucks' coffee (I hear, since I don't actually drink coffee) is good enough for S. Bullock to order it special and keep it in the freeze. These days it seems that Starbucks is a clearing house for all kinds of easy-access good taste. They sell cds often by cool, hip and underappreciated artists, very attractive coffee mugs and the New York Times.

What's not to love?

And if you extrapolate, you can find that good, or at least decent, non-embarassing taste is available to meet your needs in almost every facet of life. We shop at various Gap-brand clothing stores. We buy our furniture at Pottery Barn and Crate & Barrel and our kitchenwares at Williams-Sonoma. When we want to splurge, we go to Restoration Hardware. And this stuff is nice -- it's attractive and sometimes even holds up well, and these stores have retail outlets all over the place. Every season there are new designs to choose from. Is there any reason for us to go off the grid and shop the boutiques and secret warehouses in the Bayview?

After all, we have a child, which seriously limits our shopping time. Sandra Bullock rips through several catalogues a week. Her shopping takes place almost entirely on the couch.

And while no one is going to laud us for having good taste, nobody's going to stare at us and say "What in the world are they (wearing, driving, sitting on, eating off of)." It's not notable, but it is acceptable.

Of course, it's very easy to slam us for buying into this type of one-size-fits-all corporate culture. Shouldn't we furnish our house with unique, interesting antiques or one-off custom things? Are we supporting the expolitation of workers in some far-off country? And finally, are we hitching our self-esteem and display of wealth wagon to an easy out, mass-produced Huxley-esque soma to take away all of the challenges of life?

Or maybe we just like having decent stuff and this is all we can afford. That Jetta comes in at less than $20,000 and has leather seats. It's the Swiss Army watch of automobiles.


Blogger Ken Dunque said...

the jetta - my first love.

9:48 PM  
Anonymous flush puppy said...

thank god you still have those butt-expensive custom upholstered cute little chairs. but let's face it. the prepster in S.B. is never going beyond pottery barn.

9:57 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


8:21 AM  
Blogger Lefty said...

relax, dad, i've been informed that the bathroom remodel comes first. long live the outback!

12:33 PM  

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