I needed soup bones, so I went to the bone store. I didn’t know any better. This place called “Bone Emporium” had opened up just down the block from me, and that was with “Skeletons, Skeletons, Skeletons” and “Bonez ‘R’ Us” both at the mall a mile away.
I didn’t know what people needed bones for. I’m not plugged into the culture like I’m used to. Mostly I’m happy if I get through the day with eight hours of productive work, some good socializing at lunch, some exercise in the early evening, a good dinner with Susan, some work in the studio after dinner, an hour with a good book, some good correspondence with old friends after reading, some good conversation with Susan after that, good sex after that, a light midnight snack, and a decent night’s sleep. That’s all it takes, I don’t ask for much. I don’t have the energy to be up on trends most days.
So on Tuesday Susan told me she was gonna make pho Thursday, and asked me to pick up some bones on the way home from work so she could get the broth going. I was glad to do it. One, I love Susan. Two, it was in my own interest, I love pho—in a different way than I love Susan, more consistent but less emotional, more hungry and less humane, more like an object than like a human. Three, it was very practical, Susan works from home most days, whereas I go out for work Monday through Friday. And four, I had been meaning to check out the Bone Emporium ever since they set it up down the block.
The Bone Emporium was in this big warehoiuse space that had been a record store a long time ago. They had tried it as a PC Richards & Sons, too, and a shoe store, sort of a knockoff Payless. None of those businesses had caught on, and as the neighborhood had priced up it had seemed even harder to fill. The new residents liked smaller stores.
But the Bone Emporium was really popping.The sign that said “BE” (for “Bone Emporium”) spanned two and a half stories, and the glass facade was festooned with whimsical skulls, bones, and skeletons. I saw people goiing in and out of it all the time. It had even made it onto the bus stop map, and the pizza place had put “across from the Bone Emporium” on its menu.
I came in after work. It was a rest day from my weights anyway, so it didn’t disrupt my routine.
The ceilings in the main room were very high, at least 25 feet, maybe 30. Skeletons dangled from the walls on the right. On the left, the wall was made up of little cubbies, each of which had a different bone in it. In between, the floor was covered with tables, or maybe you wouldn’t call them tables exactly. They were square slabs about three feet high. These slabs were covered in burlap or canvas, and bones of all shapes and sizes were spread across them.
I must have looked confused, or at least stood out it some way. I assumed it was confused because that’s how I felt, but now that I think about it the employee could have been reacting to something else.
“May I help you?” he said.
“Sure. I’m looking for soup bones,” I said.
“What kind of soup bones?”
“Oh, damn, I didn’t ask. Hmm… what kind do you make pho with?”
“Are you saying that because I’m Vietnamese?”
I told him no, I didn’t even know he was Vietnamese.
“You couldn’t tell? Are you saying all Asians look alike?”
He was a blue-eyed blonde kid. I didn’t tell him that, though, I just apologized.
“And I wasn’t saying ‘you,’ you. I mean, what soups does one use to make pho?”
“Jessica! Someone’s here with a broth question.”
Jessica came over in about three minutes.
“Are you making a bone broth?” she asked.
“Yeah,” I said. “Pho.”
“Pho isn’t a bone broth,” she said.
“My wife said there’s bones in it.”
“A broth with bones isn’t a bone broth. Pho is a soup broth. Bone broth is a superfood broth, sold on its own.”
Eventually she stopped explaining bone broth to me and I tried again.
“So could I get bones for pho here?”
“No. Pho would be made with cow or chicken bones. You need a grocery store or a butcher.”
I was surprised that a place with bones, and bones specifically, wouldn’t have all the bones I wanted, but then again I did feel like I had never really gotten this place.
“So, if you don’t mind explaining, what is this place.”
Jessica was very friendly and understanding, and seemed happy to explain the whole thing. Basically, a lot of people had been getting killed recently, some by the government, some by civilians, but most by corporations trying to collect on a debt. Usually, even if it wasn’t a corporate killing directly, the corporation would hold some kind of bone-collection rights. The skeleton was the most valuable part of the body. But sometimes they could be got for good prices.
Skeleton resale was branded pretty well—it was sold as a vanity purchase, a spiritual thing, a good luck charm, an aesthetic choice, and a political signalling mechanism for a variety of causes, many of which competed and each of which had their own singature skeleton style or bones.
Most recently, people started ironically buying bones as a statement on the destruction and consumerism of our capitalist society. This was helped along by a very strong ad campaign by the bone people, which include overt, gauche pro-bone ads to establish the item as campy, and a subtler placement-based, low-key campaign to establish buying the skeletons as a way to react to skeleton marketing. Bone emporium served the ironic wave of skeleton-buying customers, but most of its customers were still early-wavers who either missed the irony or were seduced by the prices anyway. To the more ironic customers, shopping alongside genuine credulous bone buyers gave the place more cred.
Jessica was happy to explain this, she said, because they had a way to fold honesty into their customer engagement strategy. “Honesty is marketing. Marketing is honesty,” she said.
I asked her again about the broth bones.
“Sorry, we only have human bones. They could be great for a bone broth, but I wouldn’t use them for a bone-based broth”
to be continued?…