Under the Sun
America, for some, the land of plenty -- and no place to put it all
THE reason people in other countries don't like Americans, a British comedian told Jon Stewart on a recent segment of "The Daily Show," is because we have all the good stuff.
He was angling for a laugh and got it, but he meant what he said. And for the most part, it is true; Americans do possess good stuff -- good food, good clothing, good homes, good cars, good TVs, good cellphones, good computers -- and so darn much of it.
Years back, I happened upon a group of citizens from the then-Soviet Union. They were on some government-sponsored conference at the University of Hawaii and one stop on their tour was a supermarket in Manoa.
To me, the market was your ordinary, run-of-mill grocery store, but to them, it was an astonishing creation of abundance. They stood stock-still in amazement in front of the meat counter, staring at the glistening, plastic-covered flats as if steaks, chops and chicken were precious jewels. They wandered through the shelves of canned peaches, spinach, corn and juices, occasionally picking up packages of macaroni and cheese and cereals, turning them in their hands to examine the vividly colored boxes with pictures of the products held within.
The produce section was a major attraction, drawing oohs and aahs of marvel for garden-variety pineapples, papayas, lettuce and won bok.
In the religion of consumerism, America is the holy grail. Not only do we have stuff, we have the widest array and selection of commodities in the world. Price-wise, there's discount, economy, mid-range, expensive, luxury and super-luxury. Size-wise, there's mini to maxi and everything in between.
Events and occasions are all about selling and buying stuff. Christmas is a given for sales, but even the more obscure holidays, like Presidents' Day, are an excuse for hitting the mall. Seasons also have become cause for celebratory spending. Springtime means clearing away the old and bringing in the new whether you need fresh stuff or not.
It's no wonder that across Oahu, businesses that stash stuff seem to be flourishing. New buildings from Kaimuki to Kakaako to Hawaii Kai soon will be open so people can store things they can't fit in their homes, garages or the trunks of their cars.
Some might be items people want to shield from burglars or thieves, but I'll bet a lot of it is just excess, an accumulation of belongings people don't exactly need, but don't want to part with.
Which is fine, I guess. Few of us are immune to the desire to possess, the itch to gather objects and articles, either of monetary or emotional value. But when the stuff begins to smother living spaces, then what?
Well, this being America, where there's a need -- perceived or real -- there's someone willing to fill it and make bucks doing it.
So storage enterprises have come into being big-time. Space -- gym-style lockers to 200-square-foot and larger "climate controlled" rooms -- are available for rent. But it isn't cheap. Berthing a bed, chest of drawers, bed tables and a mirror can run nearly $500 a month in certain Honolulu locations. Rates can go up at any time as demand increases, as it obviously has been, according to one company, or it wouldn't be investing in new structures.
I'm not sure what to make of this situation, a seemingly freaky disorder that as some struggle just to find a place to live, the storehouses go up for others who have too much to keep within the walls of their dwellings. But I suppose that's a characteristic of an affluent nation, or at least of an America in which the byword is buy.
has been on the staff of the Star-Bulletin since 1976. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org