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Economic Analysis: Sell-By

As the daily newspaper collapses under the lightness of its advertising load, there is one type of advertiser that has become conspicuous by its presence: The full-page advertiser that offers to buy your bangles, bobbles and beads—assuming that they're gold and otherwise precious in the sense of dollars and cents. Just as buildings old and in-becoming are being scavenged for copper, these ostensible "jewelry" firms are propositioning the sacking of your memories for cash. Forget Grandma or your favorite uncle; get rid of the burden of that ring or chain. It's taking up space. You need cash. They'll even provide the envelope.

Yes, it has come to this.

The local TV reporter does a demo. She's in her kitchen. She opens the refrigerator door—a door covered with notes and magnets, grocery lists and drawings, just like regular folk—and reaches in for a container of cottage cheese. Close-up on the sell-by date. Weeks ago. She pops the top. Pulls back the plastic seal. And before sticking in the spoon for a dollop of curdled creaminess, she gives the goo a quick sniff. Then she eats it. It's all a part of a segment on how food that may be thought to have turned really may be edible, how those "best by" labels are really often about "quality, not safety." Which may be a way of saying it may taste inedible, but it may not make you sick, or at least not violently so.

Yes, it has come to this.

We barter our past. We risk our health.

When the newspapers are gone, when the gold is played out, when the refrigerator is empty: What will we use as blankets on the park benches?

Yes, it may come to this.

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