Friday, December 10, 2010

Friday's Music Moment: In the Neighborhood by Tom Waits

Back in the early nineties my husband and I lived in Georgetown, in Washington, DC. We had a regular Saturday morning routine: walk through the geometrically spaced streets towards the Potomac River for a big breakfast bagel at Booeymongers, then a quick stop next door to Burton Opticians. 

Its shopkeeper and namesake, Virgina Burton, was a dark-haired Texan with the gift of perfect taste. She could look at a whole wall full of eyeglass frames and find the one pair that was made for your skin tone, your face shape, your eye color, and your astrological sign. Plus, she pronounced Turquoise "turkwaaahs" which I found endearing. Soon the husband and I each had a selection of frames to choose from when we got dressed every day (this was before parenthood bankrupted us.) For every five referrals we sent to Virginia - and people always noticed our frames because Virginia made sure they were perfect - she'd sell us frames for half price, so it soon became a self-sustaining practice. I think I still have some Burton Opticians cards in one of my purses, to hand out just in case.

Once my best friend came to visit for the weekend. She still tells the story of how we took her out for her breakfast bagel and then popped in to introduce her to Virginia. As soon as we opened the door of the shop, Virginia yelled, "Oh, the Khos! I'm so glad you're here. I just got some frames you are going to love - they are SO EXPENSIVE!" 

If it was strange to shop at the same eyeglass frame store every single week of the first term of the Clinton presidency, it never felt that way to us. Virginia was a friend who happened to own a funky, one-of-a-kind store in our neighborhood and who knew us well enough to make informed suggestions.

A couple of years ago I wrote an essay that appeared in the SFChron about the importance of shopping locally during the holidays, to help keep our neighborhood businesses afloat. When I wrote it the recession was in its infancy. I had no idea how hard it would get, assumed it would be a bump in the road, six months maybe of bad news before things turned around.

Two years on and small businesses are still struggling I read in the news that the recession is over, but I'm having a hard time matching that up to anecdotal evidence.

I wrote a few weeks ago about my shopping aversion - I should have been more specific about it being MALL shopping aversion. No longer in Georgetown, now I look forward to visiting the local shops (and their owners) that give character to my corner of the Bay Area: Chris at Eden Bicycles, Kathleen at Great Good Place for Books, Nathan at Nathan and Co., Jennifer at Someone's in the Kitchen. Maybe because it doesn't really feel like shopping, though in the course of the conversation they inevitably have a suggestion for something I'll love (or in Chris' case, that the husband will love.) I feel good about the money that changes hands, knowing that it helps my friends earn their living, and that more of the money will stay in my community - $68 of every $100 spent locally vs. $43 of every $100 spent in chain stores, according to one study.

I don't think anyone sings a more appealing dirge than Tom Waits, and this one's a beauty. Here the Gravel Voiced King shares a cautionary tale of an apocalyptic future, one about a neighborhood where "the kids can't get ice cream 'cause the market burned down and the newspaper sleeping bags blow down the lane." The video quality isn't great, and when I found a lovely high def version of Peter Gabriel covering the song I was tempted to use it. But when you want Tom Waits, there's really no substitution.

How's about this weekend consider doing your holiday shopping locally and keeping those newspaper sleeping bags at bay for another day?


  1. Had planned to hit both GGP and SITK this morning, after Pelago yesterday - shopping's good in the neighborhood!

  2. Ahh - Booeymongers! Used to eat there every Saturday circa 1993 when I too lived in Gtown - they supplied 90% of the cups in my apartment. You may have seen me - I was the one in oversize John Lennon spectacles eating a turkey melt.

    When you all come visit us in CT, we will take you to the local donut shop. Best donuts in the state - just ask Martha Stewart ;-)

  3. Brett, I probably asked you to pass the ketchup at some point. Little did we know that our paths would continue to cross, nicht wahr?


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