A couple of weeks ago, I had a nervous breakdown at Burlington Coat Factory.
Let me explain.
I make lists constantly and obsessively. Every time I think of something I should do, it goes On The List. Each day, I try to get some thing done, so I have the satisfaction of crossing something off the list. I wait to rewrite the list until I’m out of room on the page, because the ranks and files of crossed-off tasks are evidence that I can, if forced (by a list) to be productive, I get things done.
I recently moved to Philadelphia from points south, and I don’t have proper winter clothes. So, of course, I wrote “buy thermal underwear” and “buy warm hat” and “buy gloves if I can’t find the gloves I theoretically own” on my list. (These need to be separate entries in case I don’t find everything the same day.) And they stayed on the list for a while until there was a brief cold snap, and I breathed a grouchy sigh and went to Burlington Coat Factory with my boyfriend.
There is a mall in Central Philadelphia called The Gallery. It’s a weird mixture of actual stores, market stands, and a major train station. It’s a lot like the Tel Aviv Central Bus Station, except not as big or surreal, and the Muslims are Nation of Islam women screaming “fuck” into cell phones tucked into their headscarves instead of, you know, actual Muslims. The anchor stores in this mall are a K-Mart, two discrete food courts, and the damn Burlington Coat Factory. The rest is the usual mall filler crap: mobile carts that sell perfume, a bar that has drink specials clearly aimed at non-drinkers with names like “Tooty Slam Fizz” that feature about three liqueurs and no actual adult booze, DVD stores, and various “discount” stores - the ones that technically have a big inventory and wide range of merchandise, but it all looks kind of dusty and post-Soviet.
I hate crowds with a desperation and intensity missing from most of my emotional responses. My definition of a crowd is also fairly strict – when two or more are gathered, I try my damnedest not to be between them. Because I hate and avoid them so much, I have a hard time understanding them. It honestly didn’t occur to me that the first cold Saturday of the season was the dumbest Goddamn time to go to the cold-weather-clothing store if you hate crowds, so to the BCF I went.
No one, not a single person, looks where they’re going anymore. I blame the Obama campaign. He spent so much time looking past audiences into a glorious future somewhere in the middle distance that people started to assume that it was more seemly not to look directly at things, but instead to focus one’s eyes slightly up and left at all times. Then, when someone doing this almost runs into another person, the middle-distance-gazer invariably gets pissed off and says “Watch where you’re going!” This happened about three times before I even got in the door.
BCF is on three levels, and so to help (that is, ensnare) shoppers, there are big signs all over listing categories of merchandise - coats, hats, etc. – with arrows. I’d rather have an old map that says “Here There be Tygers.” Does the up arrow mean forward, or up? Is this arrow pointing past the escalator or to it? The last thing I want to do is browse. I want to get in and out like a bad lover, but the damn arrows are holding me in the bed and insisting that BCF get off too.
I had to pee. I always have to pee. Nervous men with small bladders who drink a lot and take ADHD medicine spend half their lives peeing and the other half saying, “Wow, this ADHD medicine makes me really able to concentrate on trying to find a place I can pee.” I hate public restrooms because of the crowd aspect, because of hearing other people’s bowel sounds, and because I spend so much time in them, but the BCF restrooms added a new insult: I had to be buzzed in. Straight up had to press a button and wait for the buzzer. I am twenty-four years old. I do not have to ask to use the potty anymore. I would have just pissed in the corner, but if I’d gotten nabbed by mall security I would have had to stay there even longer.
So, bladder empty and blood pressure rising, I found the men’s underwear section. I hate buying underwear because of the beefcake packaging. I am exactly average-looking, which is fine. There are people in the world who like to have sex with abrasive, red-haired elitists, and enough of them are lanky brown dudes with tattoos and a history of substance abuse that I’ve been able to have a good sex life. That said, shit. I don’t need someone with no paunch modeling my underwear. If I looked like the guys on the undergarment packaging, I wouldn’t need underwear, I could just go around naked on the porch of my older gentleman friend’s villa in French Polynesia. When I buy a book, there’s not an essay on it stapled to the title page, written by someone smarter than I am. Cookbooks are not captioned “We both know you’re just going to boil everything.” I once had someone tell me after sex that I was the second best he’d ever had, so I stopped seeing him. (Silver medals are for Canada.) Everyday life has enough insults built in without having to print them on socks. This advertising was especially odd because there were no small or medium undershirts. They started at large, and spiralled to a 5X-large for the forklift-funeral set, which… at that point, just rock a caftan.