Monday, September 5, 2011

Excuse Me, Is This Seat Taken?

Yesterday after church, I was heading to an espresso bar to do some reading. It was a really nice day out, and as I was on my way, I stumbled upon what looked like a cute little French deli-type thing.
The French, of course, value food too much to serve it in a deli-style atmosphere, and I'm sure I'll be getting hate mail from Sarkozy after that comment. In reality, it's an epicerie (it comes from the french word for spice), and is actually a real market/grocery/deli kind of thing. This one is called Epicerie Boulud, and it's kind of like the food court in a Whole Foods, except instead of being inside a grocery store, it was attached to a sit-down bar and restaurant of the same name.

I was able to get a really exquisite florentine egg tartine on brioche, and it was painstakingly garnished, and it only cost me $4.50, and I was sure that this was going to be a wonderful day. Since it was too nice a day to sit inside, I wanted to find outdoor seating. There were only three tables, and they all appeared to be in various levels of use. I went to the one on the end, asked the group who was haphazardly saving seats (while trying to look like they were being really considerate and not taking up all the seating out there) if I could sit there, and they skeptically said yes.

I had a nice little seat on the fringe of this table, and started doing my homework and eating my tartine. When the group left, I had the table all to myself. A middle-aged man drank a small coffee at my table and left, and then a jogger and her random European man-friend came and sat for a bit (they nicely watched my stuff while I stepped away for a moment). I ran in and bought a salad, but I didn't leave my things at my table. When I came out, salad in hand, someone new had taken my seat at the table, so I headed to the park.

I know what you're thinking. "How does it feel to have stumbled upon so pure an example of Lockean property theory in my everyday life?" Exhilarating, that's how. For my readers with a slightly less-nerdy reaction, let me explain.

John Locke defended private property by saying (generally) that men owned themselves, and so as an extension of that, they owned the work they produced. Since they owned the fruit of their labor, they were entitled to keep it and protect it. He created a sort of founding myth, in which land is unlimited, so everyone can have as much as he wants. He's entitled to everything that he works, as his own property. If he has more than he can work or use profitably though, and if someone else who works the land comes along, the new guy can lay claim to it.

This theory is far from perfect, but I was excited to get to live it. There wasn't unlimited land/table space, but the first group of people had more than they needed. I got a little bit of it. When they left, tables were "unlimited" from my point of view, so I laid claim to a larger share. I couldn't use all of it profitably though, so when others came along and asked, I was willing to let them have a bit too. Then the couple watched my stuff, acting a little bit like tenant farmers. When I left the table permanently, I ceded my rights to it, and it was snatched up by the next opportunist.

Here's the amazing thing: people came up and asked my permission to sit at a table owned by the restaurant. They didn't have to do that - theoretically they could have just sat down. I also didn't have to let them sit there - theoretically I could have been a jerk and told them to go find another table. But in a polite, Lockean society, you can give strangers permission to share your outdoor table at an epicerie. It's the kind of society that creates carefully garnished tartines on brioche. It's a nice place to live.

I had my property rights legitimized (and bid adieu to summer clothing) in:
Orange halter-top dress, white hibiscus earrings, white, yellow, and orange watch, and white open-toed stilettos.