--Tom Turnipseed, first victim of Lee Atwater
OKAY, so, I'm not a shopper. You might've guessed. I'm not quite so opposed to shopping as my socialist/anarcho-syndacalist/Luddite/contempto-elitist alter-ego might lead you to believe, or as he might wish; truth is it's really just the inertia.
Like any sensible person with a trip around the block to his credit, I'm aware that a) Capitalism is out to get me, personally, and b) this is nothing personal, at least not for the Capitalists themselves. For example, between this chair and the nearest Off-Ramp Mall there used to be two "sporting goods" stores, not counting a nearby Target, or the Wal*Mart I'll never enter, where a selection of doppelgängers and congruencies of such goods can be found. Now, thanks to mindless avarice, there are two counting a newly more-nearby Target and that Wal*Mart, and once I get to the Mall I find a retailer of sweatshop-manufactured apparel masquerading as a Sporting Lifestyle Specialist, the aptly-named Dick's, which I would forgive its faults on the grounds that it drove the once-even-worse local geniuses of Galyan's out of business, except that 1) Galyan's CEO Joel Silverman then wound up tapped to run Indiana's BMV, which he did as abysmally as he'd run Galyan's, and 2) somehow this didn't cost Mitch Daniels his reelection. So no gratitude from me. As far as I can tell, the main thing that came out of all that is that BMV employees wound up with a dress code that requires them to go to work looking like Joel Silverman does on his way to the links. Excepting, of course, that Silverman had a couple free closets worth of that get-up he'd amassed via regional sales-rep supplicants. Not that it isn't a great look, though, golf shirts and khakis. It makes you look as though you almost are dressed to break a sweat or do something useful, except you have no intention of ever doing either. Like a golfer.
And I had to go there yesterday--there was no real alternative--and I figured while I was there I might as well check out a particular store that might carry something I was thinking of as an Ift-gay for the Or-pay Ife-way, if you take my meaning. Dick's has its own entrances to the Mall, so I can't even tell you what year I last stepped anywhere else in the place. Probably the year I bought the Lava Lamp.
I made it through the intervening Food Court by pulling my sweatshirt up and breathing through it, shallowly, though I might as well not have bothered, since I came out into the Endless Plain of the Kiosk. They were stacked up, almost literally, from one end of the place to the other, or at least as far as I could see; I wasn't curious enough to go further. And they contained, without exception, the biggest collection of crap merchandise, useless geegaws, and celebrations of unwarranted vanity I have ever seen in my life, and I've been to several carnivals and once sat in the same room for ten minutes while my mother watched the Home Shopping Network.
And--I hesitate to mention it, really--the entire place seemed geared for "consumers" too young to drive or be gainfully employed except as Disney stars or child prostitutes. Which is precisely the taste the merchandise reflected.
Yes, yes, I'm old. Got it. But I couldn't help thinking back to my own mid-Boomer youth, where it required a great deal of effort--this is the era now popularly imagined to have been controlled by dirty hippies, mind you, though admittedly it's also the Midwest--it took a great deal of effort, I say, to avoid having someone dress you like Joel Silverman. There was nothing in the entire place anyone over the age and IQ of 22 could possibly have wanted; even if the shit somehow had managed to have taste, you wouldn't want it. Chains, jewel-encrusted cellphone skins, jewel-encrusted license-plate holders, jewel-encrusted cell phone plans; it was a freakin' phantasmagoria of Awful even allowing for the quote taste endquote of the target audience. I mean, fine, I know things are tough all over, but don't responsible adults buy clothes anymore? The most tasteful stuff I saw was at Dick's, the jackets, parkas, workout clothes, hats, gloves, booties, and thermal underwear in woodland camo, or else with THE NORTH FACE scrawled across them by some corporate-shill tagger with severe visual-field impairment.
I did press on to my destination, fourteen Kiosks of Krap down the road, which trip took me past not one, not two, but three barkers with neck tattoos and no apparent awareness of soap. Maybe if they jewel-encrusted it.
Anyway, somewhere between Tattoos #2 (Carnival Geek settled in for the winter) and #3 (Recently Paroled Sniffer of Playground Swing Seats), and on my way to a bonus headache from whatever "fragrance" the mall was assaulting shoppers with via the HVAC ducts, it occurred to me, like a moment of seemingly impossible clarity in the middle of a twenty-car pile up: one needs to navigate through the modern age as though everyone one meets has had six or seven drinks, beginning when he or she woke up, probably within the hour. It explains everything.