This week Management dragged me to the mall to buy clothes--for me. You have to understand that I HATE shopping of any kind: for cars, for houses, for food, for gifts, for tools or music or whatever. But shopping for clothes is absolutely the worst of them all. I suppose that is why I haven't been clothes' shopping for 7-8 years. I usually get a shirt or two and a pair of slacks as a gift from some female in my family at Xmas or on my birthday, and that pretty much does it. I never need to go.
My closet contains shirts and sports coats that I bought 20 years ago. I'm comfortable with how they look and how they feel, and they are happy to be worn once in a while. When I adorn myself with that old gray button-down, long-sleeve Gant, it is like taking a buddy out for a beer. We have grown old together and when my wife makes me turn a shirt over to the Salvation Army receiving center, it is like the death of an old friend. I mourn for a couple of days and then stand in front of my closet trying to explain to the clothes gang I have in there how badly I feel, and that they are not going to be next if I have anything to say about it. I tell them, "Just remain inconspicuous in here and she will never notice you. But when I decide to wear you, you need to look fresh and new, or else."
Well, push came to shove this month. Next week, there is a big family wedding in Chicago. The daughter of my wife's sister is getting married into a large Irish Chicago family. We have a small family. So there will be about 400 of them and about 13 of us, so the ratio of their eyes on us to our eyes on them is overwhelming. My sister-in-law has been shopping for dresses for months, and the social pressure of this wedding has been transmitted to my wife and, in turn, to me. "You will look sharp at this wedding!" (Realize there is not enough ink in this computer to put all the exclamation points inherent in my wife's voice at the end of that last sentence.) So yesterday, we went to the Bon-Ton.
As we entered the largish department store with the French-sounding name, my knees got a little weak as I uttered a French-sounding phrase (SACRE BLEU!) under my breath. I'm sure there is a more appropriate exclamation in French, but I don't carry a cell phone with that kind of app. The Bon-Ton tries to be helpful in that it was constructed with a set of marble stones embedded in the floor as you enter that you can follow, like the yellow brick road in the Wizard of Oz. I even found myself whistling that tune from the movie as I stepped onto the path and skipped past the perfume section. After that, the path winds around through women's shoes, women's dresses, and finally (my whistling stopped abruptly), at the men's clothing department. The path even forks a couple of times along the way, taking you to other delightful departments with kitchen appliances and children's toys. But we were having none of that fun this day. We headed straight for the clothing area, a direction with which my wife seemed all too familiar. "Hi Evelyn, hello Beverly", she spoke to various clerks as we strode past their various stations. She was on a first-name basis with those who take those plastic cards and swipe them through those dangerous devices they have behind their counter. I swear, I felt the wallet in my back pocket almost jump out of my pants when I realized how comfortable Management was in this foreign land.
We immediately looked for new jeans for me. Mine are pretty worn, or don't fit my butt right, or are considered out of style, or whatever, according to HER. What size, she asks. I usually take 34x32, but in some styles I can wear a 33x32, but if they come short I need 34 or 33 x 33. I'll show her just how technical shopping for men's clothes can be. She'll never want to bring me here again, I thought. So I lugged four pair to the changing room, modeled them all, and bought three. Fifteen minutes tops, and I knocked off three items. Then we examined the shirt racks. I need a shirt for a sports coat I have in my closet (one of the old friends), I need a new shirt to go with my suit, and I need a couple to wear during the four days we will be out and about in Chicago. What size, she asks? Now I can really lay it on her. Well, last time I bought one of these my neck was 15 1/2 and sleeve length was 33. So I tried one of those, after removing a dozen pins, a piece of plastic wrap, and a cardboard stave around the neck of the garment. Oops. My neck is larger now and the sleeves seem short. So I need to try a 16 neck with a 34 sleeve, but she can't find the same color in that size. But I try that size in the wrong color and realize I need a 16 1/2 neck anyway. So we really need a 16 1/2 neck with a 33-34 sleeve, but you need to try every shirt on because different brands fit differently. Geesh I hate this. Stick a pin in my eye please. More pins to remove, more staves to discard, plastic and cardboard everywhere. Who cleans up this mess? I find three shirts eventually, some black socks, a new belt, two new ties, and a partridge in a pear tree. Completely done in under an hour.
And matching the colors of shirts, with ties, and with sports coats or suits is totally beyond this color-blind guy. It is like playing a game without rules. Here is how it goes:
Wife: "I think the green stripe in this shirt goes well with that tie."
Wife: "But maybe there is too much blue in that tie for your sports coat."
Wife: "I really like the way this shirt picks up the brown tint in the coat and matches the tie."
At this point, I am no longer even listening.
Wife: "Are you paying attention to my suggestions?"
When it came time to pay the bill, I saw a little red sign by the cash register that said "20% OFF ON NEARLY EVERYTHING". Wow! That will take some of the pain out of this uninspiring hour. But when I read the fine print on that placard, it said you get 20% off if you apply for a Bon-Ton credit card today. Damn! We already have a Bon-Ton card. So you don't get 20% off after they have already sucked you in; they only give you 20% off during the sucking-in process. And by the way, the "20% OFF" must have been in 36 font, while the "if you apply today" must have been in 4 font. At this point, I have invested significant time out of my retirement trying on these clothes, and we are standing there with a pile of garments that Management is sure will make me look sharp, and I know that the moment we get home she will call her sister to enumerate the items that will contribute to my potential sharpness. In other words, there is no turning back now, even if the placard had read we will charge you 20% MORE because you hate shopping and you look like a senior citizen. If I backed out now, the pressure from the female side of my family would have crushed me like a cheap glass under a leather shoe at a Jewish wedding.
So I'm ready. I have the clothes, a great-looking wife, and by next week I'll have an attitude appropriate for the big city event. There may be 800 eyeballs looking us up and down next week, but let them look. And when they ask me how it is I look so nice, I will say in my best Al Capone voice, "The Bon-Ton. Evelyn sent me."