Appalling, isn’t it? Today, I drove over thirty miles to the parking lot outside an establishment known colloquially as “the mall.” With the direct and sole intent of entering said establishment.
“How?!” you cry in agonized astonishment.
It gets worse.
I entered a department store. I entered five department stores. And I looked at clothes.
This breach of conduct had a very specific reason, even merit. I needed new dress shirts. I’ve become frustrated with the way “full cut” shirts bunch in front under sport coats and so was in pursuit of something known as “fitted cut” or “tailored fit,” depending on the marketer involved. At summer’s outset, I had announced my intention of procuring such shirts for dancing, but it took tomorrow’s wedding to finally spur me to put action with words.
Inside the building, the usual feeling of doom associated with shopping outside a hardware store settled in. The very acoustically-live build of the place, the fluid masses of molecularly erratic human beings oozing everywhere while chatting on cellphones, the hawkers in their kiosks, moody stores dimly lit to impede customers seeing just how shoddy the merchandise. At the overabundance of high school females, I made note that this would be the appropriate setting to broadcast the utterly creepy but eerily catchy Dean Martin song “Standing on the Corner.”
My first stop was Sears. It was slightly comforting to pass through the tool aisles en route to the escalator and the men’s department.
I was looking for shirts of $10-$15. The cheapest I found were $34 shirts on sale for $17. I suspected the words “Modern Cut” were meant as a trendy way to signify the “fitted cut” I sought. I made note of them and proceeded to compare prices in other stores.
It probably evidences my masculinity that passing through the stalls that bottleneck the entrance to Macy’s evoked a flashback to the market scene in Blade Runner. No Miracle on 34th Street for me!
The prices, by the way, seemed to go up with each store. But in the fourth, I picked up a gray shirt of plain material, turned it over to see the price, and was pleased by the thought of the sought-after $15 price tag. That pleasure lasted about half a second while my brain came into focus. One five five point zero zero. I blinked. O.K., so somebody made a typo on the tag gun, right? My eyes flicked about the other items on the table. Hundred and twenty five dollar jeans and the like. I placed the shirt in its original position slowly and took a step back. Here was a piece of cloth being sold for more than I spent on my first car.
The experience almost gave me an aneurysm, but it was hard to stop smiling for a few hours after that. The cheapest dress shirt in the store, by the way, turned out to be $50, but a picky shopper could compromise and get one of somewhat lower quality for $85.
The fifth and final store was an experience in itself. I was pleased to see things spread out a little more--I didn’t have to dodge those exiting on my way in. And I immediately realized that I was being serenaded by a live, semi-classical jazz pianist. First thought: That’s kinda cool. Second thought: That’s gonna show up on the price tag.
I raised the tag on one of the simplest dress shirts and smiled at the coincidence. This shirt, too, had a price tag of exactly $155 plus tax. I turned to a shirt on its left (my right) and found this one to be $228. I left quickly.
Back at Sears, I found the now-cherished $17 shirts. Of the colors I liked, only two were available in my size. Wanting to cover myself (bad pun), I took one to a set of three store employees and asked if they knew what “Modern Cut” meant. None of them did. After some seconds of agreeing with each other that they didn’t know, one of them finally decided it would be best if she simply read the tag aloud to me and explained it line by line.
“O.K., this thing is the size of the shirt, sixteen to sixteen and a half is the neck, and this thirty-four thirty-five is the size of the pants you should wear with it.”
I tried valiantly (but perhaps unsuccessfully) not to smile at that last helpful bit and asked the location of the dressing room.
I tried it on, it fit, the mirror confirmed my suspicions as to the meaning of “Modern Cut,” and I purchased two shirts.