Dispatches from a Culture in Decline: A Visit to FYE

2011-01-16-12.12.00

By JIM SABATASO | STAFF

[Originally published on The Plaid Crew on Sept. 13, 2010.]

I’m not good at consumerism. I rarely buy things I don’t need, and when I do I usually experience heavy bouts of remorse. Often, I will spend long periods of time in a store asking myself if I really need whatever is in my hand only to put it down and walk out, unable to seal the deal. It’s downright un-American.

So imagine my surprise when I found myself in the middle of an FYE yesterday afternoon, looking for discount DVDs. I entered the store after already failing twice that day at buying something: strike one was for a jacket in a style that I may have completely imagined; and strike two was for a pair of cheap Newbies to replace the ones which I’ve been wearing for the past four years.

These ones to be exact.

These ones to be exact.

I had seen FYE from across the parking lot, and thought, “What the hell, maybe, this trip won’t be a complete bust.” What followed was as soul-eviscerating descent into madness. For those of you who don’t know what an FYE is, it’s what used to be archaically referred to as a “record store.” They sell CDs, DVDs, and shitty electronics (think: cheap headphones and off-brand iPod accessories).

Upon entering, I immediately found what I knew would be the only purchase I’d be making: Season 3 of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia on DVD. My friends and I had been bingeing Sunny lately. For $25, I figured it was worth it.

It could have ended there, but buoyed by my good fortune, I decided to browse around to see what else I might be able to find. As I meandered through the aisles, wondering to myself what kind of sad, troubled individuals would actually buy DVDs of Two and a Half Men, I began to notice how odd everything was. The space was cluttered and dingy. Piles of yet-to-be shelved CDs and DVDs sat in stacks around and on top of the check out counter, forcing customers to step around them to make their purchases. Only half the lights in the store were on — either being burnt out, broken, or just not turned on due to apathy.

Then, there were the customers. Disheveled, confused and skiddish, these people looked like refugees from another era whose time machine crashed into the store while on its was back to 1989. Their attire was what I’d call I-don’t- -give-a-fuck-anymore casual, composed mainly of sweatpants and complemented with a too-tight, t-shirt or a too-big hoodie.

The staff — of which there were at least four by my count — wasn’t much better off. One enthusiastic, young employee periodically shouted out things while dancing in place in a manner that in no way matched the music that was playing in the store. Wanting to give him the benefit of the doubt, I checked to see if he was maybe wearing ear-buds. (He was not.)

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Picture this, but in an FYE.

Taking in the scene, I suddenly realized what had happened: this store had become completely obsolete. It deals in a medium that is almost completely extinct. CDs are a memory and DVDs are getting there, too. Think about it, I can buy an album online for $10, and use it on multiple media platforms. I can also stream it for free. Or I can just steal it. The same goes for movies and TV shows.

Meanwhile, this store it attempting to hawk these cultural artifacts for $20-plus a piece. The only benefit of shopping there is when you can score something used or cheap, like I did, but honestly, even that’s not worth it since I can get these items for even less from Amazon. The only advantage here is instant gratification.

This store was a wasteland — like a post-apocalyptic pop-culture ghetto. In addition to CDs, DVDs, and their respective accessories, the store also featured a veritable flea market of useless bric-a-brac like Snuggies, Silly Bandz, and those beer pong balls with lame sayings on them that only a total d-bag would buy.

Beer-ping-pong-balls

A real “Pong Champ” doesn’t advertise, brah.

After I had seen enough, I made my way to the checkout line where I had to wait for way too long behind a couple of dudes who looked like the types of people who would have a solid future in human trafficking.

Once the cashier cleared away a pile of the aforementioned CDs, he asked me if I wanted to purchase the $1.99 two-year warranty for the DVD I was about to buy. I declined — you know because it’s a fucking DVD — and reluctantly handed over my debit card, convinced that my checking account would be empty by the time I got home.

All the while, Footloose Kid, who apparently lacks boundaries and respect for people’s personal space, is carrying on an unintelligible and way too-in-your-face conversation with my cashier.

Kinda like this, but even weirder somehow.

Kinda like this, but even weirder somehow.

I exited the store. feeling slightly off. It had only been 15 minutes, but it felt like I had been stuck in there for 10 years — like a creepier version of the Island from Lost. I tore out of the parking lot vowing never to return, and lamenting another awkward attempt at consumerism.

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