In Which I Realize Again That Capitalism Is Not My Friend

This was a pre-Christmas post that I discovered in my drafts section and forgot to post, because I spent way, way too much time at the San Mateo Starbucks and started to forget who I was, and why. I thought I’d put it up…

I walk around shopping in San Francisco, looking for presents for my family. Things keep coming into my head, as I do this. Like, Wow, Potrero Hill is really beautiful, and, Why does it feel like capitalism hurts my feelings?… This as I rounded the corner of 18th and Castro. It gets darker and colder and soon I can tell I am going into stores for no good reason, except to get warm. I forgot how to be here, to bring extra clothes. I stop and get a Manhattan at a bar called The Men’s Room, where there are a few regulars getting drinks and laughing loudly at things only they understand.

I started at 10:30 with my mother and sister in a mall in San Mateo, and then went alone to the city by 2PM.

Capitalism is like the friend that only takes, I decide. It wants you to think you get things in return and then later you notice your life is missing important sections, as if after a blackout drunk. But it’s just you, ‘working for money’. And if I die, Capitalism wants me to know, it can replace me, just like that.

I finish my drink.

On the street, it’s warmer from the bourbon. I walk downtown, and take a train to the Lululemon store on Grant Street, something unthinkable to the person I was when I lived here previously.

Yoga clothes are popular presents for everyone in my family.

In my head I go over the details of a conversation from a few days previous, with my friend Fiona in New York. We did yoga teacher training together in 2000, and I remember she and my friend Laura and I all talked a lot about our patterns at that time, something that happens because in doing so much yoga, they become apparent. During that time I used to say, If I have one more realization I’m going to freak out! And yet people in my life feel I was nicer back then.

Fiona and I talk most of that Thursday about trying not to just be the last thing people thought we were. Specifically our family. I’m not going home for Christmas this year, she says that afternoon. I go every year, and it’s never good enough. She tells me her family says things to her like, You don’t know what you’re talking about, to shut her down when she wants to discuss politics. I think of how everyone in my family is afraid of ever saying that to me, ever. Even if I were insane and wanted to set the house on fire for Christmas, they would still hesitate to suggest I didn’t know what was going on. I do not mention this to her.
What’s your family like, she asks. Do you discuss things?

We’re all…kind of the same, I say. We all basically have the same taste and politics. My mom likes to watch the news and get angry and shout at the screen. We all do yoga, even the small children. Some of us are vegetarian and some are not but we still eat together.
Do you talk about politics, she asks.

We sort of do, I say.

I don’t know how to describe my family, though my sister, brother and I once decided we were basically all the same people, at different stages. We were all almost marine biologists. We have anxious relationships to color and prefer to wear black, white and khaki, most of the time. My brother and I have the same phone voice when we answer.

What Fiona and I were talking about that day was how there’s a way your family functions, and the people in it come to depend on your behavior, good or bad, and so you supply it, even though it often leaves you feeling as if you’re a robot. A friend told me about how his girlfriend, who’d said to him, I’ll never break up with you over money, then did break up with him, saying, I just didn’t imagine that I would get serious about someone who couldn’t support me.

So you’re breaking up with me over money, he said.

And then she cried, and he wanted to comfort her, but also, not to comfort her.

She’s in her pattern, I said to him. You pointed out she’d turned into a robot and she didn’t know how to stop it.

I think of all of this as I get into a taxi, so I can make the train home.

Yeah, we don’t do gifts anymore, the taxi driver says. We all just decided it was really for the kids. I wish desperately to be in his family, for just a second.

My family relies on me to be someone who is never shut down, even when he wants to be, it occurs to me. I don’t know if this is true but I fear it is.

By 8, I’m on a Caltrain headed back to San Mateo, tired but successful. I check to make sure I am still myself, and satisfied, I go back to my sister’s house.


  1. I have been feeling empty the past few holidays as a direct result of the monotony of buying presents for people who don’t really need anything. Consumerism I think is a better term… people have forgotten what is truly important and just buy things for the sake of buying things and/or obligation. Ugh…it’s the worst. I wish presents would just disappear and that everyone would just give to those who need it.

  2. Eco Warrior: Thanks.

    lostloveletters: Yes. My sister in law has us give to charity instead of giving presents to her, and increasingly I think it’s the way to go.

  3. One of my friends’ family does the charity thing too; I think I might go that route this upcoming year, as my Mom commented we all knew what we were getting this year down to the last gift (except for my hot chocolate maker, which was the only gift I can use to give gifts to others), why bother?
    And I have been enjoying making hot chocolate for everyone, with all sorts of too expensive gourmet chocolate bars-dark, with nuts, fruit hot peppers. Capitalism tags me again even when I’m trying to give hot tasty drinks to family and friends.

  4. You are quite possibly the best friend, the best teacher, the best human being anyone could ask for.

  5. I am inclined, I think, to agree with your Firend with the Robot Ex– you seem to me to be all of that.

    I especially liked the line “On the street, it’s warmer from the bourbon.”

    It’s interesting how the holidays can turn you into yourself when their supposed purpose is the opposite. Or maybe we’re just different. All I know is, Xmas never turns out right, I am usually broke, and find the whole gift-giving thing an awkward interchange.

    I’m glad you found and posted this.

  6. this is just beautiful. great musings on the family of capitalism — or maybe the capitalism of family. especially important now that we seem to have a collective hangover…
    “Capitalism is like the friend that only takes, I decide. It wants you to think you get things in return and then later you notice your life is missing important sections, as if after a blackout drunk.”

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