ForcingChoices


"More choices rarely produce better results …"

Sixty years ago, when this time of year arrived, my siblings and I would begin our annual attempt to hog the new seasonal Sears Wishbook catalogue, where we'd imagine alternative universes in preparation for Christmas. I'd eyeball almost everything, mentally trying on that sweater and playing electronic football, making lists, chucking them many more times than twice, overwhelmed by the sudden appearance of so many choices. Knowing that I'd ultimately pare down my list to a bare handful only made making my choices more exasperating. The greater the number of choices, the more difficult the choosing because any choice excluded dozens of alternatives. I welcomed the early days, just after the Wishbook arrived, but after five or six weeks of concerted study, I was ready to settle for anything, or even nothing, just to conclude the ordeal of choosing.

This season, no Wishbook arrived. The local Sears sports a huge Going Out Of Business sign.
My laptop holds access to ten thousand times ten thousand more choices than the Wishbook ever offered, which means the choosing seems even more daunting now and the possibility of stumbling upon some item I'd never imagined wanting seems shriveled. Paging through a catalogue provides opportunities for stumbling upon, the source of seasonal synchronicity. Ogle the ladies undergarments. Check out lawn tractors. Imagining unimagined possibilities, that's what the Wishbook was for. Internet-assisted searches often yield exactly what I want along with the clear understanding that I cannot possibly get that; a disappointment machine. Shopping at a Big Box hardware store this morning, I knew exactly what I came looking for. Their website assured me that it was in stock, but the clerk explained that the item was in stock in a warehouse somewhere. Free shipping to the store of my choice, but no chance for delivery this morning, when I need it. I received a Hobson's Choice, a lousy alternative option, which I choose feeling demeaned in the act. I'd accepted a ForcedChoice.

I would have felt better about myself had I refused the alternate, but that decision would have encumbered my plans to finish painting before the next snowstorm arrives. I'm not at all certain that the alternate will serve my needs, but I'll try to hide my deep disappointment long enough to at least attempt to use the damned thing. Maybe it will perform perfectly. I only know going into the chore that I've been thrown into this position before and that I don't like it. I consider never returning to that store. They've baited and switched me many times before. I will keep going back anyway. I could more easily forgive a little mom and pop shop, for they never pretend to stock everything my heart might desire. There, my heart grows wise choosing between less than a spare handful of alternatives. My eyes never expand beyond their rightful size. I leave delighted. Give me ten thousand times ten thousand choices and I'll leave nine thousand nine hundred and ninety nine times ten thousand times disappointed.

I almost never shop for The Best. Who would I have to be to expect to be worthy of The Best? I warmly accept serviceable in a pinch, and I cannot ever recall not being subjected to some sort of pinch whatever my heart's desire. Desire seems an infinite quantity, hardly human-scaled. The scaling might render it human, not happily-ever-after, but properly grounded human. The Wishbook was a dream degrading into a fairly predictable nightmare. Almost everything in there photographed better than it ever existed. The perfectly photogenic sweater made me itch and never seemed to fit me properly. The futuristic electronic football game needed minutes of numbingly boring set-up effort for every second of frustratingly vibrating "action." I made my choice and gracefully accepted the consequences. Given a seemingly infinite number of choices, I'd managed to select two real dogs. More choices rarely produce better results, though they do reliably produce more forced choices. ForcingChoices always was the primary purpose of the retail trade. How I cope with that turns out to be my primary occupation.

©2018 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved









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