9 Oct


Now when you become a Basement Person, you drop out of the system . You have to give up, as I did, your above-ground apartment and all of the silly matte black objects inside as well as the meaningless rectangle of minimalist art above the oatmeal-colored sofa and the semidisposable furniture from Sweden. Basement people rent basement suites; the air above is too middle-class.

I stopped cutting my hair. I began drinking too many baby coffees as strong as heroin in small cafĂ©s where sixteen year-old boys and girls with nose rings daily invented new salad dressings by selecting spices with the most exotic sounding names (‘Oooh! Cardamom! Let’s try a teaspoon of that!‘). I developed new friends who yapped endlessly about South American novelists never getting enough attention. I ate lentils. I wore llama motif serapes, smoked brave little cigarettes (Nazionali’s, from Italy, I remember). In short, I was earnest.

Basement subculture is strictly codified: wardrobes consisted primarily of tie-dyed and faded T-shirts bearing images of Schopenhauer or Ethele and Julius Rosenberg, all accessorized with Rasta doohickeys and badges. The girls all seemed to be ferocious dikey redheads, and the boys were untanned and sullen. No one ever seemed to have sex, saving their intensity instead for discussions of social work and generating the best idea for the most obscure and politically correct travel destination (the Nama valley in Nambia – but only to see the daisies). Movies were in black and white and frequently Brazilian.

And after a while of living the Basement life-style, I began to adopt more of its attitudes. I began occupational slumming: taking jobs so beneath my abilities that people would have to look at me and say, “Well of course he could do better‘. I also got into cult employment, the best form of which was tree planting in the interior of British Columbia one summer in a not unpleasant blitz of pot and crad live and drag races in beat up spray painted old Chevelles and Biscaynes.

All of this was to try and shake the taint that marketing had given me, that had indulged my need for control too bloodlessly, that had, in some way, taught me to not really like myself. Marketing is essentially about feeding the poop back to diners fast enough to make them think they’re still getting real food. It’s not creation, really, but theft, and no one ever feels good about stealing.

But basically my life-style escape wasn’t working. I was only using the real Basement People to my own ends – no different than the way design people exploit artists for new design riffs. I was an imposter, and in the end my situation got so bad that I finally had my Mid-twenties Breakdown. That’s when things got pharmaceutical, when they hit bottom, and when all voices of comfort began to fail.

Douglas Coupland
Generation X, 1991


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