There was some pragmatism there

When my brain tries to access some abstraction like "consumption," I picture a desert landscape clogged with antiseptic palaces of commerce and shambling anonymous masses that look suspiciously like the Little People. But when I think about the ties that bind people to their things, the images become more complex.

In the last few months of my marriage, I remember becoming fiercely attached to the family computer. The computer was the first (and last) brand-new electronic device I'd bought as an adult and it upset me that I wouldn't be around to benefit from it. More importantly, it was the perfect size to hold disappointed hopes. Some nights I couldn't even speak to my husband, couldn't look at him, but the poignancy of the G3 always moved me. I never thought of taking it with me. I kissed it gently good-bye before dragging my suitcases downstairs.

So I'm thinking about the puzzle of us and our things, the ways we substitute dead matter for lost parts of ourselves.

Could Belgian things be the most enigmatic of all things? Belgian is Magritte and Simenon and Ensor's masks (his landscape only slightly more frightening than that of the Little People). Perhaps these Belgian things are the central mystery of capitalist enchantment.

The men were here to get your Belgian things

They waltzed right through the door and went fluorescent

Their boots were black and shiny

and your treasures gleamed like stars

Bones from deep down in the Fertile Crescent

Jack-booted thugs, hints of expropriations past...what is this absurd world? Maybe something like this? And why? Why must we protect these strange and dangerous things? Jesus, what a mess.

Things do have therapeutic benefits.

but to keep from going out of my mind

I move the furniture around

Maybe this guy is not a people person? He certainly seems happier by the end of the song.

Everybody moved out of my building last week

They threw the stuff they didn't want on the ground

Took a look I couldn't believe the wonderful things I found

More furniture to move around

Things make life simpler. I love this version of "Work All Week." I love the utter sweetness of that ploop-ploop guitar, the tinkling thumb piano. I picture a dopey, doughy, doggedly hopeful guy, like a more wistful Little Engine That Could, swinging his arms, loving his hardest in the only way he knows how.

I'll work all week to buy your ring

I'll work all week

Extra hours to get real gold

I'll buy you anything

What woman doesn't want "a love that costs a little more"? That's value-added product. And gold is much more stable than affection.

In the end, though, things are poor substitutes. If "Work All Week" is a buy-in, "Boots of Spanish Leather" is a buy-off - the departing lover hiding behind a parting gift. This song intrigues me. I don't entirely buy the gender reversal here. Maybe it's because the lover is "sailing away" and the sailor-at-sea archetype is so very male. The lovers fight masked: in the language of things he's saying, please don't leave and she's saying, I'm already gone. He'll have to settle for the boots, or maybe a nice, new G3.