Friday, July 21, 2006

ch ch chain, chain of fools

It took about ten visits to Chili's over the course of my thirteenth year before I realized that my life was not going to become the neverending party depicted in their TV commercials. That was a disappointment.

It didn't help any that I'd finally discovered that Chili's was not a unique and beautiful flower in the restaurant prairie, that there were a zillion of them dotting the plains and they were identical in a way no naturally-made flower could be. Before too long, the scales fell away from my eyes and I found myself hemmed in on all sides by leering, carnivorous seedlings all birthed from a few ovules - Bennigan's! Friday's! La Madeleine! Le Peep! They were all so cute and fun and their commercials promised me the social life I'd been longing for and it was all a big fat lie.

Every day a new deceiver revealed itself - the slick menu, the shiny sign, the uniformity of the uniforms, the silly ad copy on the tables, the standardize greetings, the manufactured kitsch. They didn't just want me to eat their food, they wanted me to assimilate. "Resistance is futile." they whispered under their climate-controlled breezes.

I don't know what life is like for your average thirteen year old. I hear that every one is miserable, anxious, and depressed and that every one is in a life or death struggle to create an identity separate from their parents and more aligned with their peers. Having grown up in Stepford (ie Plano), Texas, I wasn't as focused on separating from my parents as from nearly everyone and every thing that was within 15 feet of me. I was surrounded by, drowning in, buried under homogeneity, and the tonnage mounted higher with each passing day.

When I was really little, Plano was where we went to play soccer. It was mostly long stretches of blank, green plain crisscrossed by creeks and the thatch of trees that followed them. We'd play a game of soccer and then we'd eat either at the Feedbag or at a pizza place whose name I cannot remember. By the time I left home for college, most of those soccer fields had become parking lots and the chain-filled strip malls clinging to them.

You can make a hundred arguments in favor of chains and a hundred against. At college, far away from Plano, the arguments against chains came at me regularly - loss of local control, local economy, local color. The snob factor plays a role in these arguments also - chains are "low class," "mediocre quality," and "highly uninteresting." There are broader political, economic, and environmental implications to consider when evaluating the concept of chains.

But I don't really care about any of that crap.

For me, stepping into a chain of any kind is like stepping into an alternate universe. Or better yet, you find yourself in one bubble of a series along the wormholes that connect the Chain universe, completely separate from the space time continuum. It is true! The evidence is damning!!! They all look the same on the inside. They have exactly the same stuff! You're bound to meet people from Poughkeepsie or Branson or Indianapolis in a chain. Have you noticed that there are never clocks on the walls!?!

Think about that for a second. Hmmm? Hmmm? Yeah, mm hmm. Told ya.

Your personal identity gets stripped away inside a chain too. You have been reduced to row in a demographic chart. I used to babysit the kids of the VP of marketing for a big soda company. So confident was he of his department's research that he stocked his garage with sodas just for me without bothering to ask which I liked.

There are those who say that identity is a construct. That this feeling we have of separateness from others is an invention of our ego and that we are all part of one greater being. The universe is not made up of individuals leading their separate lives but of threads in a fabric so complex that we're connected to everybody and to God in ways that we cannot possibly fathom.

Which means that the inventors of chains are spiritual geniuses.

But I'd still rather buy local.


Post a Comment

<< Home