The parking attendant is a friendly, mature gentleman in his forties. That’s old in Hollywood. He greets clients with unsettling geniality. Is he really that happy or is he an actor? He probably earns about three dollars an hour. Visibly indignant, he refuses a tip. So he is an actor after all. From the parking lot into paradise lost. Who needs nature when they can have something like this – loud Hawaii shirts. Fake palm trees. People looking spaced-out eyeing other people eyeing the produce. A place where only the beautiful gather. The staff, the customers, it’s as if those who don’t have the ideal vital statistics dare not cross the threshold. Perfection through selection.
Supermarket chain Trader Joe’s is a subsidiary of German discounter Aldi. And they have next to nothing in common. The cardboard liverwurst merchants whose food products all seem to be made of sawdust are responsible for this miracle of salesmanship. Shopping as a political statement. Everything is cheap here, almost socially democratic in a way, home brands cheerfully display fair trade stickers, the vegetables are Green, the cows wear daisy chains. This is how modern people shop, politically correct, frugal, not entirely comfortable with capitalism, yet not able to come up with a better solution either. There are no alternatives, of course, maybe things could be nationalized a bit, that’s always an idea, but it’s too late to get rid of capitalism anyway. Retail therapy makes people happy.
Believe me, I am one of the last contemporary witnesses of a socialist city made up of unimpeachable half-timbered architecture and steaming garbage cans into which hot ashes were tipped in winter. The air always full of ash during winter, mingling with the cold and then off you went half-heartedly to the Konsum cooperative store, the supermarket of Eastern Europe, both parts of the word a farce. That modest shop always smelled of cabbage. Cabbage was sold there. White or red, along with a few punky apples, mixed-grain bread with a suspicious whiff of cement, staple foodstuffs were provided, the joy of consumption was not. So young people had to make do with reading Rilke and learning how to play wind instruments, the elderly with drinking schnapps, lugging cabbage into decaying housing, as renovations did not feature in the five-year plan. People need to have faith that their living conditions will improve. Otherwise they become depressive and don’t consume anymore. That simply wasn’t a problem under socialism. Nada to consume anyway, just people with blank eyes stumbling through the ash-filled air. At least in the capitalist system it’s only those who can’t share in it who are unhappy. Everyone else is satisfied. They can buy friendliness.
After my third visit to Trader Joe’s everybody who works there has become my friend. They are genuinely interested in how I’ve spent my day. Wonderful. I did absolutely nothing. In the stronghold of the class enemy this is my little socialist boycott. To do nothing and eat Trader Joe’s salad. In the hills of Hollywood, watching the sun setting behind empty houses, celebrating the decline. And, in a wonderfully splendid mood.
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Sibylle Berg, born in Weimar, Germany, currently lives in Zurich. She has published twelve books to date. Sibylle Berg’s latest novel “Man, Asleep” was published by the German publishing company Hanser in the fall of 2009. Plays by Sibylle Berg («Helges Leben», «Hund, Mann, Frau», «Hauptsache Arbeit!», «Nur Nachts», etc.) are being performed in a number of theaters at home and abroad. (Photo: © Katja Hoffmann)
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