Yes, three-quarters of Americans believe in angels. They leap to follow the most obvious charlatans, from Oprah Winfrey's feel-good magical thinking, to the caustic, near-Masonic conspiracy theories of Fox News.
And as a rule, I don't resent people their fantasies. The unvarnished facts of life are hard (all of nature including us is a fuzz on a tiny planet in an obscure corner of an unimaginably enormous and utterly indifferent cosmos. Nothing you do matters in the long run). So yes, squinch your eyes together and conjure up a God who loves you. I'm not going to pop your bubble, this present post notwithstanding.
But I do get surprised, sometimes, when mystic hoo-ha spiritualism intrudes where I do not expect it, like in the ABC Carpet & Home store on E. 19th Street in New York City. I had seen their advertisements for years and years in the New York Times. Pillows and poufs, coffee tables and candlesticks, silverware and ceramic bowls. I was excited to finally see the place, so as soon as we finished our brunch at their high-end eatery, abcV, I hurried over to check out the store.
Yes, rich for my blood. Five hundred dollar baby quilts. Many, many types of salt cellars. But it was the Marianne Williamson books that first tipped me off. They had a lot of them, various titles scattered around. Here I had just gratefully seen her vanish from the presidential debate stage, and her especially risible brand of empower-yourself-by-enriching-me shysterism is suddenly peppering department stores.
But nothing over the top. Not until the big display of giant crystals.
"These pristine quartz specimens were sustainably and ethically sourced from the Zigras Mine in the Ouachita Mountains of Arkansas by Avant Mining," the placard begins, rationally enough. "With exceptional clarity, luster, and quality, the raw, un-cut crystals emit a powerful aura of positive energy."
What if they don't? Can you return them? "I'm sorry, but the energy radiating from this crystal just isn't as positive I expected it to be..."
Looking for a price online, I kept running into the most atrocious ABC swami ballyhoo. "Crystals are powerful wisdom keepers..." "Cosmic release. Grounding by nature, smokey quartz detoxifies and balances the energies to the free the mind of anxiety and stress." That isn't even grammatically correct, with the unnecessary definite article before "free." All for a piece of rock that is 13 inches wide, 16 inches deep and 9 inches high. For $10,000.
It suddenly became important to me that someone in New York City has already mocked these people. Can a place as cynical and free-wheeling as NYC simply permit a place to sell snake oil along with $9,000 chandeliers without a few Bronx cheers of derision flung their way? The Times comes close with, "A Souk for Trust-Fund Hobbits" by Ruth La Ferla. That ran almost 10 years ago, so we know ABC didn't just recently slide into the occult. A "souk," by the way, is an Arab market or bazaar:
Part souk, part woodsy-mossy Middle Earth, the ground floor of this temple of eclecticism was conceived as a magnet for the tribes of self-styled aristo-gypsies and unregenerate hippies who maintain riads in Essaouira or thatched lean-tos in Bali — if only in their dreams.But the story swerves into an appreciative shopping spree, tutting only at the cost of the merchandise. Please, New York readers, tell me somebody is pouring derision on this place. It can't just be me.
Maybe ABC Carpet is too local. Ridicule is certainly heaped upon national hucksters, like that movie-star-turned-P.T.-Barnum-in-yoga-pants charlatan Gwyneth Paltrow and her jaw-dropping Goop brand separating trophy wives from their money for a variety of galaxy lotions, young forever creams and detoxifying cleanses. Of course, now that I look at Goop's web site, with its "cosmic health" and rejuvenation tonics, tongue cleaners and—oh look — $80 crystal water bottles, suddenly ABC Carpet looks as practical as Ace Hardware.