Chalk it up to synchronicity, but within an hour I opened a package in my mailbox and found a patch I ordered for my baseball cap that says, BECAUSE FUCK YOU, THAT’S WHY. Then I drove half a mile into town and saw a new store about to open. It was called the Little Shoppe of Positivity. I wanted to throw a brick through the window.
I have no idea what kind of merchandise they will carry in the Little Shoppe of Positivity, so I asked some friends having coffee at that café next door what a positivity shoppe would sell. “All kinds of angel paraphernalia I would imagine,” one said. “Needlepoint pillows with positive thoughts,” said another. “I don’t know, but every time I drive by it I feel happy,” said a third. Now I needed a second brick.
My basic Eeyore-like personality cringes at a shop full of geegaws and posters, key rings and statuettes demanding that I look on the sunny side of life. I remember the first time I came face-to-face with enforced positivity. It was the seventies and the yellow smiley face was all the rage. It was on buttons, coffee mugs, decals, and bumper stickers. It went along with the salutation “Have a Nice Day.” The seventies teemed with false positivity. The radio oozed love songs that were buoyant and cheerful, happy bright primary colors tainted clothing, and “cute” was a high compliment. Like a vampire exposed to the sun, I cringed in the face of this blinding optimism. At least I never ran barefoot along a beach with a kite, wore eyeglasses with pink lenses, and I certainly never walked around town bearing flowers and wearing a gauzy dress that fluttered in the breeze.
I liked the Beatles when I first heard them on the radio. I did not like them when I saw them in the movies. On the big screen they were squishy cute (especially Paul) and always seemed to be skipping aimlessly around with open Union Jack umbrellas or making silly faces at dour train conductors just to be naughty. I much preferred the Rolling Stones, who were the opposite of cute. Their sullen postures and “eat shit” expressions were far more appealing to me. My favorite was Brian Jones, who, of course, would be dead first.
It was around this time during the seventies when I became fascinated with astrology. Everyone liked astrology back then: you could go up to a stranger and say, What’s your sign? and start a conversation. What made me a lifetime devotee of the discipline is my own sun sign, Scorpio. I finally had an explanation for my inherent dark side and aversion to positivity. The sign of Scorpio rules sex and death, two of my favorite topics.
Years later, I went to a professional astrologer to broaden what the daily horoscope in the newspaper told me. I learned I had five out of twelve planets in Scorpio, a very rare thing, and something I shared with both Ivan the Terrible and Charles Manson. I learned that the majority of serial killers and war lords have been Scorpios. I learned Scorpios were the darkest and most dangerous sign in the zodiac and like real scorpions they like to lurk in the shadows capable of deadly danger. Compared to Ivan the Terrible and Manson, I am a Scorpio pissant but I still like the vibe. I can now shrug and say, Blame my planet, if people think I’m a downer.
Inspired by this, I am considering renting my own storefront and calling it the Little Shoppe of Negativity. It took me all of ten minutes to come up with ideas for merchandise. It would have videotapes of Altamont but not Woodstock, as well as T-shirts and jacket patches that say, I COME, I FUCK SHIT UP, I LEAVE and MAKE AMERICA VIOLENT AGAIN.
Dim lighting would showcase highly illegal switchblade knives and ready-made nooses. There would be a shelf of the collected works of Poe, Plath, and Sartre, statuettes of famous beatniks from Jack Kerouac to Maynard G. Krebs, key rings bearing the faces of Kurt Cobain and Jim Morrison, DVDs of great film noir like Touch of Evil, hard-to-find books like Fifty Shades of Black, A Guide to Tarantulas as Pets, and Do-It-Yourself Grand Guignol for the Beginner. I would hold flash sales where you would get 10 percent off if a close friend or relative were in the hospital, 15 percent if they were terminal.
If my store lasted a month before I said, Why bother, I would be surprised. Free at last, I could then skulk away into the moonless night, drink some absinthe, and read the local paper to see who died. Not a bad evening, I think.
Jane Stern is the author of more than forty books, including, most recently, Confessions of a Tarot Reader. With Michael Stern, she coauthored the popular Roadfood guidebook series. The Sterns recently donated forty years of archival materials to the Smithsonian museum, documenting the atmosphere, stories, and history of various restaurants, diners, and regional food events.