Conversations For Transformation: Essays Inspired By The Ideas Of Werner Erhard

Conversations For Transformation

Essays By Laurence Platt

Inspired By The Ideas Of Werner Erhard

Window Shopping

Main Street, St Helena, California, USA

October 20, 2016

"We could be driving down a street, and he would say 'Stop the car!', and we would get out and walk for blocks looking in store windows - just because it was fascinating and interesting to him."
...   Elaine Cronin, close associate of Werner in founding est, sharing her experience of Werner with Professor William Warren "Bill" Bartley III, Werner's official biographer, in the account titled "The Zen Art Of Bookselling" in the chapter called "Quest" in part II, "Education", of "Werner Erhard: The Transformation of a Man - The Founding of est"
This essay, Window Shopping, is the companion piece to Brightness On Main Street.

Photograph courtesy Google Earth
Main Street, St Helena, California, USA

It's a quaint, historic town whose residents and town fathers have painstakingly restored many of its old brick buildings to their former glory ie their original authentic look and feel. Given the aesthetic of what's purveyed in its stores, St Helena is arguably one of the two "high end" towns of the seven Napa Valley towns (the other being Yountville) although it's not located at the "high end" of the Napa Valley - that would be Calistoga, its well-preserved gold rush, wild west  outpost. St Helena's business district on Main Street is barely half a mile long stretching from the traffic light at the south end of town to the other at its north end. Mall of America it ain't.

One of my favorite things to do whenever I'm clear to spontaneously drop everything and make the time, is getting into my car and driving up valley to St Helena, parking near the traffic light at the one end of town, then slowly ambling up Main Street, looking into store windows and, should the urge strike (and it often does), walking into and exploring inside the stores themselves (both their décor and their wares), until I get to the traffic light at the other end of town, at which point I cross over Main Street, then slowly amble back to my car, looking into store windows and exploring inside the rest of them along the way down the other side of the street.

Some stores (many of them actually, given the size of the town) are art galleries. There's a certain way art galleries are set up to showcase their wares. In this town's theme, most of the stores have this art gallery style of showcasing whatever's  inside, making Main Street St Helena into one big eclectic art collection. I eagerly move from one to the next, gazing into their windows, which almost always attracts me to stroll inside and look around. I enjoy art galleries' interiors. Ostensibly they're set up to showcase art. What they also showcase as a byproduct of that process, is the "being"  of "human being". I'm at ease, at home in these spaces. It's hard for me to leave one to move on to the next. When I do, I thank the storekeeper for letting me come in to look around. Many are surprised (some are delighted) when I do.

Almost everything I see fascinates and interests me: the man with the nicely combed hair surrounded in his store by neatly rolled carpets from Turkey, each of which have waaay  too many trailing zeroes on their price tags; the gal dressed like a 60s "Mod"  enthusiastically (to a fault) showing me oversized prints of everyday scenes painted in unbelievably detailed photographic realism; the soap and bath salts store whose heady blend of scents and aromas literally seduces me to come inside from the street to peruse its wares displayed on rough unfinished wooden fixtures; the olive oil store with ten or more different olive oils to taste - I dip small bits of bland bread into tiny paper cups of their product, savoring each delicately, letting them activate different sensory colors on my tongue as they will (it's the palate's palette?).

One of the things I love about just being (I'm speaking about the being of human being), is its pure luxury. That's right: luxury. It has a luxurious element to it, luxury which doesn't cost anything, luxury which isn't only the bailwick of the wealthy. I'm walking, but there's nowhere to go. I'm looking, but it's all equally interesting. It's luxurious. It's fascinating. What's fascinating for me isn't a specific component of what I'm looking at (the threads of the carpets, the method of oversized prints, the recipe for fine soaps and bath salts, the subtleties of making olive oil). No, what fascinates me is that they exist at all  ie that they "are"  in the first place. We're on the planet, we're alive  ... and there are carpets  and there are soaps and bath salts and there are oversized prints and there's olive oil. How mind-bogglingly extraordinary is that!  No, it's even more than that. It's how mysterious  is it that we really do have the capacity to miss the extraordinariness completely by taking it all for granted.

We're more than bees in hives, more than ants in heaps: we're humans on Main Street. Perhaps what distingishes us is unlike bees and ants, for us context is enough.

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