Monday, September 08, 2008

I am leaving Olympia, Washington in three days. This is a short enough period of time that I can be relatively assured of the fact that every time I see someone, it will probably be the last time, and I can then tell them that this is then their last chance to either jump my bones or tell me that they hope my plane crashes. I have lived in Olympia for five years, which is long enough to predict with utter certainty what everyone will choose: To look stunned, and then walk away.

What I will miss most about Olympia is the Grocery Outlet. This is a store that only exists because the town is economically depressed, with a great many people on food stamps. But because of Olympia's large hippie population, organic foods and granola sometimes find their way to the shelves at a discounted price, where they are sure to be consumed. It is only through this that I ever ended up eating Seeds Of Change pasta sauce, which is delicious. There's also varieties of utter garbage for sale, sometimes with amusing things about the packaging: A drink called Ayds, a cereal called Crispy Hexagons. With its inconsistent stock, it pretty much stopped me from getting any sort of brand loyalty or keeping an eating habit up for an extended period of time: I've stopped making pancakes now that they've stopped selling pure maple syrup in glass bottles. It dictated my free will, the same way Olympia as a whole did during the time I lived there.

It was the kind of awful place that seemed to highlight the magic of Olympia even more. Seeing music being performed by the person who sells you your frozen consumables is a hell of a thing. Even if the music isn't that good, it is at least something going on in their lives, and so you don't have to be depressed every time you go into the grocery store, like I did once I saw that guy who was in my first class at college working at Safeway after he received his B.A.

The place where most people of the people I still know in Olympia congregate, the Capitol Theater, home of the Olympia Film Society, is pretty much the opposite of that. It's a volunteer-run organization, and the few paid positions don't offer that high of a wage. Everyone that is there is so for the love of it, for the thing they think it could be but almost never is. It's too financially struggling to show independent and foreign films all the time, and so shows a lot of second-run Hollywood movies, that the volunteer staff appreciates the chance to see for free even as they lament the downturn. There's not the same surprise when you see the people who volunteer there doing interesting things, it's half-expected, and if no one did anything you would maybe suspect them of being a kind of hipster hanger-on, a creature of habit with no real ambition besides being where the cool kids congregate. (At least of the twenty-and-thirty-somethings: The children and senior citizens are one of the few things that make you feel like you are actually, thank god, in a wider community, where there are people not your immediate peers that nonetheless share interests with you, which is nice in a sometimes oppressively small town.)

Obviously there is a handful of people that I will actually miss, but I take it for granted that they'll move on to bigger and better things: That one day, using Grocery Outlet as a metonym for Olympia, they'll go down the street and a bunch of the things that they knew would never last will be gone, and the few things they can get there will no longer seem appealing- can't be used in a recipe without the missing ingredients- and their habits will change and everyone will be scattered to the wind. All of these people- and even the ones that I will not actually miss except as symbols of Olympia are free to take refuge in my home, wherever that will be, if our lives cross paths on travels. That is actually a thing I am really excited about, maybe moreso than I am about the general idea and act of moving.


benjamin said...

ha... the grocery outlet was one of the only things i missed about olympia too. and now we have one in portland and it's way better than the olympia one! crazy, huh? have fun in batimore, brian. hopefully i can make it out there to visit some time!

inclement greenburg said...

so where are you now?


vanessa said...

firstly, grocery outlet is a capitalist answer to expiration dates on processed foods and rotting produce (just because I used the word capitalism, doesn't mean i am riled up about this). traditionally, food reaching close to its expiration date would have been donated to a food bank, homeless shelter or church food pantry. In 1946, Jim Read (Groc Out's founder) purchased excess government surplus food at a reduced price and opened a store referred to at the time as Cannery Sales, because undoubtedly everything was canned. In 1946, the economy was in such a place that the leftover depression-era habit of giving expiring/expired food away morphed into a niche market. This niche has grown and in every state there can be found a retail food outlet selling you things that in another time would've been free if americans weren't such an entrepreneurial breed. Not to say that I haven't bought many a thing at Aldi's (CHI's version of groc out, where they sell Matt's Cookies of all things) and Groc Out (where i purchased literally hundreds of Amy's Kitchen's products to survive my time here at TESC's)
secondly, i feel this is a most appropriate metonym for olympia.
thirdly, i am reading this on my last day in town...

Brian said...

I mean synecdoche where I say metonym. Whoops.

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