I think it’s fair to say I have few needs and simple tastes. Just kidding. In reality, my needs are embarrassingly abundant, and can be convoluted to the point of byzantine. They’re also hard to tell apart from my “wants.” The way I see it, it’s a tough and shitty old world sometimes, and we need a reasonable amount of visceral pleasure just to get by. The problem is, laying my hands upon the experiences and goods I need can be an elusive quest.
In the city of my imagination, there are no big box retailers, no shopping malls, no outlet stores. In their place is an abundance of small, quirky business coincidentally catering to my personal quirks and desires. There is, for instance, a used bookstore specializing in occult literature and cookbooks from the 1970s, the sort of place where you can find first editions of works by Baudelaire and Graham Kerr. Right beside that, of course, is a vinyl record shop (exclusively vinyl!) carrying extensive selections of bel canto opera, avant-garde pop, gypsy jazz, progressive metal, seventies soul, and country blues. The movie theatre draws big crowds to its midnight double bills (this week – why not? – it’s featuring Persona and The Shining). Within a short walking distance, there is a dive bar, bowling alley, tattoo parlor, and Chinese restaurant. Saturday in this imaginary downtown is pleasantly busy, filled with crowds of stylishly dressed punters strolling about window shopping. The storefront of the French bakery is piled high with elaborate layer cakes and jewel-like tarts. The haberdashers has a special on porkpie hats and Italian fedoras. The taxidermist and the calligraphy supplies shop are both doing a thriving business. Need a porterhouse steak from the butcher, some stilton from the cheese shop, a bottle of Irish whiskey, some French perfume, or a jar of caviar? No problem, they’re all right there on the Main Street of my imagination.
Of course, such a place does not really exist, and never did. How could it? The specific things I want to have access to are too limited, too specific in their appeal. They are the sort of needs that arise from a very specific, idiosyncratic cocktail of nostalgia and romanticism, and maybe just a little pretentiousness as well. (Pretentious? Moi?) Still, that doesn’t stop me from yearning for a version of reality that is more in line with my moonstruck ideals.
I imagine I’m not the only one who frequently feels this way. I think there are many out there who are just as dewy-eyed and romantic as I am. It’s even possible, Dear reader, that you are one of those kindred spirits. Our specific tastes may be very different, but perhaps we both experience that strange, wistful feeling of being slightly – perhaps more than slightly – out of step with the workings of the modern world. Maybe we both yearn to return to a time that has never really existed, return home to a place we have never actually been. As the brilliant Paul Simon pointed out, “The thought that life could be better/ Is woven indelibly / Into our hearts and our brains”.