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DANA PARSONS

Sidestepping a duty to spend

November 28, 2008|DANA PARSONS

My Toyota has 160,000 miles on it, and my TV is a 27-inch relic from the cathode ray days. I don't have a home computer or a cellphone, let alone a BlackBerry or iPod. Plus, I could use some new clothes and maybe a mattress. At the very least, how about some new towels and washcloths?

It is not lost on me that I'm exactly the kind of person the country is looking for right now -- the kind of person to jump-start the economy with some timely purchases.

But instead of revving up my engines, I'm idling.

Instead of shopping till I drop, I'm hanging back.

Mine is a world with no cha-ching.

I know the country is counting on me to come through. I haven't felt this needed by the government since I was draft bait. This time around, Uncle Sam isn't even asking me to tote a gun. He just wants me to tote my wallet to the nearest retail outlet. He's not asking me to lay my life on the line, just some cash.

So, what am I doing about it? How am I responding to this national call to arms?

I'm taking a powder. Instead of taking my money to the mall, I'm taking it to Bank of America. Instead of disposing of my income like a loyal American should, I'm hoarding it like a battlefield coward in full retreat.

In the past, I had ready-made excuses for not shopping: the crowds, the parking hassles, the taking of money out of my wallet and giving it to someone else.

I disliked the whole dance. So demeaning. Sure, I was cheap, too.

But nobody cared then. A weekend without shopping was totally guilt-free.

I wasn't needed to help grease the economic wheels. We weren't in Great Depression II mode.

Nowadays, everyone with extra money should be pitching in. I know that, but can't seem to get off my duff. You couldn't get my wallet open with a Swiss Army knife.

I'm the retailers' worst nightmare -- the guy who has money to spend but won't spend it.

Even the thought of window shopping makes me uncomfortable. How, in these troubled times, could I justify going to a store, walking around for 30 minutes, building up the hopes of the sales forces and then leaving without buying anything?

That sounds cruel to me. "How can you torment us like that? My God, man, don't you know what we're going through?"

I'm trying to account for my cowardice under fire. Economists talk about the psychology during economic downturns like this, when uncertainty makes consumers fearful and cautious.

Fearful and cautious. That's me. Throw in gloomy and filled with dread and you have the complete portrait.

I'm trying to remember the last thing I bought retail. It was a, uh, hmm, let's see. . . . It might have been an $8 picture frame. A month ago. And I just did that to impress my mother, who was visiting.

Pathetic.

Unpatriotic.

Thomas Paine wrote about summer soldiers and sunshine patriots. I know he wasn't talking about holiday shoppers, but it's the same thing. Like colonists of pre-Revolutionary War America, I'm being called to duty. But instead of picking up my checkbook and doing my part, I'm lying on the sofa.

When I think of the sacrifices other Americans have made through the generations, would it be asking too much of myself to buy a flat-screen TV before Christmas? Or a lousy dress shirt and a pair of pants? Would it kill me to get my next book at Barnes & Noble instead of the library?

How could a kid stirred long ago by the words of Patrick Henry now be unwilling, when his country most needs it, to shop for linens?

Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their retail sector.

I wish with all my heart I were a better man.

--

dana.parsons@latimes.com

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