Sun 4 Mar 2007 7:39 PM
Thirty years of working just to put food on the plate. Once you went to Paris but the place wasn’t that great.
Before the European adventure became a right of passage for recent college graduates visiting Paris seemed to be strictly a behavior of the ultra-rich, idealistic artistes and Joe-Schmo working-man after securing a good percentage on a mortgage and a decade straight of enduring helpful suggestions from the wife about how to blaze through the meager savings desperately accrued through hard labor and drinking the cheaper beer. Most never made it across the Atlantic and it’s a wonder that Hawaii hasn’t become the island version of Las Vegas.
Yet I find a deeper truth in the toss-off couplet provided by entertainment consultant Gene Defcon in his song celebrating and deriding the blue collar journeymen which must still populate the Texas plains like rib-shacks and meth-labs. What the fuck is Paris all about and why do you end up going there? It’s expensive, full of snooty closet-cases and Amsterdam has the hookers and pot. You can’t buy MeisterbraÃ¼ or even Schlitz, McDonalds is not the McDonalds you’re used to and no one seems to know about French Fries. Good luck finding a bar with a game on unless you wanna spend all afternoon watching some limp-wrists running around in shorts. Understandably this is still preferable to standing with the wife’s purse in every boutique up and down the Champs d’Elysee.
Or that’s hogwash, if you feel you have different vacation requirements. Paris is the center of so many worlds how can you resist being sucked in? Fashion, art, cinema, history– often times all four will converge on one point and you can stand there where it happened. You know you can spend days in the Louvre and still not see everything? The Grand Cafe where the Lumiere brothers showed the first motion picture ever made is right near the opera. Notre Dame, the Seine, Sarte used to sit at this cafe and watch people pass… Centuries of lives have been spent here, colliding and mutating and rocketing off into the distance to explode in blue, white and red.
Somewhere in between the hot-dog munching heathens and the hated messily-coiffed dilettantes lies moi. One day, I’m sure, after I’ve resigned myself to the ruin of being a gigalo I’ll find myself on the wrong end of a pearl leash winging it over the Atlantic to the city of lights. I’ll shift uncomfortably on my feet while the blue-hair procures designer purses but marvel at the streets while walking through the city. Cramped restaurants will make me nervous and sidewalk cafes will put me at ease. I can handle up to three hours in a museum and about half that time spent on a boat ride down the Seine. Trying to ignore the prattling dowager I’ll become immersed in the pamphlets explaining a thousand historical monuments. I might even try to find the grave of Stiv Bators but I’ll never confess. Mostly I’ll do what I do everytime I’m anywhere different– I’ll enjoy being there while avoiding the places that everyone travels there to see.
Until then I’ll have to rely on the word of others, such as my friend Aaron who’s recently returned from his cherry-poppin’ Parisian experience. It’s nice, I dunno, it’s alright. It’s a small town, cool architecture, but nothing much to do. It’s all restaurants and bakeries and stores and cafes– I didn’t see people really doing anything. Where do people work?
Okay, it’s not his words verbatim but that’s the general idea and it’s not like Aaron doesn’t know how to have a good time either. It’s just that his interests would be entertained more by Hong Kong than a place where spending five hours smoking cigarettes and people watching at a cafe is a day’s worth of work.
Where do people work? As you may have read there was a lot of shops and bakeries and cafes and restaurants in Paris and we can assume a fair amount of people work at these places but this isn’t what he meant. Aaron’s interested in business and likes to see how things happen. Paris is a place to go on vacation, a place to leave your own world for a week and let your mind unwind but if you’re dying to see how the French economy rolls and how they make all those clothes dominate the world fashion market you’re high and dry.
Predominantly France operates on a tourism economy– Paris manufactures and sells being Paris. Sure, there’s vineyards in the south and the French dominate the bottled water market but the money flies in on intercontinental flights. Unfortunately this has proven to come up a little short in the state coffers and now France is having to sell itself a little harder these days.
Is this something to be concerned about? Maybe we’re so inured to the sale of identity and culture we can’t imagine a multi-billion dollar operation like a sports team paying rent on their stadium without having another multi-billion dollar operation like a software company paying third world nation economies for naming rights.
We buy and sell; we repackage an idea previously sold and pay a marketing department to sell it for even more money again. We buy patents, pay the Chinese to manufacture something, pay the shipping company to bring the product over, pay the importer, pay the taxes, pay the truckers, pay the warehouse, pay the truckers again, pay the store staff and pay the ads so that the truckers and the importer’s daughter and the pizza delivery guy can come buy it. Sometimes people come over from other countries, maybe even China, and after paying for the hotel and the cab and their meal (did they tip? Is it their custom?) they can waltz into the store and buy it as well. Sometimes another company will try and sell a product that’s a little too similar so the lawyers get paid to beat them off with a stick and garner a handsome fine, half of which they collect and pay themselves off so they can go to the store and buy it too. Sometimes the product isn’t selling as fast as we’d thought so we pay some marketing geniuses to devise a campaign to convince people that they need this and they need it now. We buy and sell.
I tried to get the numbers from various sources like the government to see if my hunch is right; with manufacturing jobs all but gone and agriculture being run by unemployed assembly line machines where do people work? College graduates realize the best they can do is win some hotly contested administrative position at a law firm duck and cover and flee to grad school. The rest of us become absorbed in the ever growing service economy.
With all this buying and selling there needs to be people to open the cash register. There need to be people manning the counter at the Panda Express for you to refuel before going to the shoe store, there needs to be someone you can yell at over the phone when your credit card is declined, there needs to be someone to transfer you to who can cheerfully explain your problem to you and there needs to be someone to put the $300 pair of shoes back after you threw them across the room and stormed out.
Innovation is now a business term. Communication moves at the speed of business. Business is buying and selling. As much as I enjoy watching the stock market fall I’m not as anti-money as most people who wear as much black as I do. I think carrying a twenty to the corner store is a lot easier than trying to trade a chicken for a pack of cigarettes and a beer and I’m not going to massage you for a pound of beans and a sack of potatos. Still, it bothers me when I try to wrap my head around making my way to the finish line of life without living out of a shopping cart or having the coveted cubicle next to the coffee machine.
Anyways, we have to invent jobs so that people can make money, but there seems to be less to do. Instead of being a society of intellectuals we’re becoming a society of inventing a new administrative position for someone who just graduated with a doctorate. Everyone else can get into the ever-growing service industry– job satisfaction number one! Information technology and the demands of productivity push product which requires constant reinvestment– working in offices has taught me that 99% of computer users use 1% of their computer but still you have to continue to upgrade just to run the programs than people don’t really use anyways. Seems like madness to me.
And it’s spreading– Germany and France have to extend their work week and cut back on benefits just to keep pace with a growing global economy. Why are people that’ve been better educated and more healthy than us being forced to play our game? Meanwhile the third world gets called the developing world where our enjoyment of cheap thrills and cheaper product is rationalized as helping them out of poverty. As if you can get everything you want for pennies on the dollar without there being a world of poor, sick, and uneducated people to make it for a bowl of rice a day.
Somewhere in the margins are businesses I do admire– ones which do interest me. Mr. Defcon had his first CDs released by a bedroom operation I’d dream to be able to have myself. It’s not going to feed you and it’s not gonna compete with the big dogs but it’s something that can maybe make you feel like less of a tool like your shitty day job.