A man wrestles with his mid-lfe issues while chaperoning his teen-aged daughters and their friend at the mall.
Back in the days when I had to wear a tie to work, I used to buy my preppie uniform at Abercrombie & Fitch. This venerable company offered comfortable, high-quality chinos and the best oxford shirts you could find anywhere. They were 100% cotton, tough, durable, and nicely cut. Really good stuff...
One day, back in the 90's, I stepped in there to replenish the wardrobe and was stunned to discover that they had been bought out or something, and had completely revamped their image and marketing strategy. The store was full of the teen-age grunge fashion that was in style at that time, and there were huge posters on the walls that looked like they were of questionable legality, considering the age of the models concerned. Suddenly, "Biff" was in the buff! "Buffy" was in the buff too. The L.L. Bean and Lake Wobegon image was gone, gone, gone... This was a curious thing to me. What had happened? I remember when movies like Animal House used to make fun of the notion of WASPs attempting sex. Now all of a sudden Mayflower-stock, Yankee sex was all the rage. It was like seeing "The Choate Squash Club and the Daughters of the American Revolution Gone Wild." I guess this merchandising switch turned out to be a profitable move for them, and saved them from Chapter 11. Shopping malls have never been the same since... By the way... If you feel hard-body-enough, and you've got your six-pack in order, you can apply to be an Abercrombie model here.
What the heck is it with men shaving off all their body hair anyway? Is that a metro thing? What's that all about? See, like with thumb rings on guys and tattoos on women, this shows how out of touch I am. There's nothing like a visit to a shopping mall, when you haven't been in a while, to bring it home to you how much older you've become and how your own generation's time has come and gone. I honestly can't really tell the difference, for example, between the music and the fashion of this decade, and those of the 90's. It all seems pretty much the same to me.
Ah, the mall... Welcome to the Universe of the 14-Year-Old Girl...
A lot of parents just drop their kids off at the mall and leave them there. That just seems incredibly lax and irresponsible to Anne and I, so one of us always accompanies them when they go, which isn't very often. My daughters actually prefer to go with me, because Anne rushes them and usually goes off on a rant about all the skin on display, how expensive everything is, how much she hates the crowds and the traffic, and how much she hates... well.. the mall. My daughters and their friends often feel bad about making me wait so long every place they go, but I don't mind because I'm sort of fascinated by the whole sociological aspect of it, and I tend to get caught up in my own reveries, hearkening back to the days when I actually felt comfortable browsing and shopping in a place like Urban Outfitters in Harvard Square. For a father chaperoning his kids, the most challenging aspect is to assume a stance in the entryway of a store like Aeropostale in a way that reassures the hired help that you are a "mall dad" and not some stalking "mall perv". Thankfully, I'm usually not alone. There's usually another foot-weary dad or two around with whom you can exchange the wry look or comment.
To my wife's point, it is amazing how much expensive and absolutely useless junk there is to be found for sale across the wide acreage of a mall, where hardly anything is a necessity. It's hard not to get caught up in it, though... Cruising through the paneled rooms full of piles of soft jeans and sweatshirts in Ruehl, I almost can see myself wanting to try to wear some of this stuff until I pass one of the full-length mirrors and see the guy with the gray hair staring back at me. NNYAAGHHH! My daughters laugh. They assure me with precise acumen that the age of 38 is about the limit that someone can get away with for wearing this stuff. It sort of feels like when someone call you "sir" for the first time.
Jeans, jeans everywhere, and the rest of everything else is downright fugly. Do you know, I haven't bought a pair of jeans for myself since I was married 15 years ago? That's right. When I got married I had a 31-inch waist. Anne's a really good cook, and I put on the "stomach of happiness" within a year, going up to a 33. I never bothered to replace my jeans, and I guess there was some ethos that I inherited that told me that now that I was a married grown-up, it was time to put away the blue jeans for good in favor of chinos, dockers, and boxer shorts. Now, I know that designer jeans have always been expensive, going back to the Calvin Klein era, but when my daughters point out to me that Sevens for All Mankind go for a couple of hundred dollars apiece, I'm thinking to myself, "What the ...?" Who in the world doesn't know now that these things are made overseas for pennies? Where in the world do they get the brass to ask for...? You know what I mean? Ah, whatever...
Different decade, different stuff, but the same kind of young faces I remember from long ago, only they are often jaded faces now. Electronics and flesh everywhere. Ubiquitous cell-phone conversations and texting. Now, everyone who has read this blog for a while knows by now that I am hardly what you would call a prude, but between Victoria's Secret, Abercorombie, and all of their imitators, I do get kind of frosted. Big business has pushed so much skin at kids in their relentless marketing campaigns, that even pubsecent kids have become non-plussed and unfazed by it. They hardly even take notice. Even my daughters, who are more sheltered than most of their peers, consider it a bore and a joke. Big business has not only taken all that is holy and sacred out of sex, but they have managed to take a lot of the excitement and fun out of it too, which is a damned shame. I feel sorry for young people nowadays. If flesh and everything else to with sex has become so commonplace and banal, where is mystery and erotic charge supposed to come from other than hormones?
In spite of all that, materialistic consumerism is the real challenge. A lot of my kid's friends have their own credit cards, charge cards, and seemingly unlimited funds for their shopping. We try to limit ours to what they've earned with their own babysitting jobs (and some small "under $20" loans from dad). It has made them more discerning, I have to say. I'm amazed at some of the deals the've managed to find. It's fascinating to see what the effect is of having to reach inside of their own pockets instead of somebody else's. Like mine. :-)
Anyhow, if you happened to be at Hollister a couple of weeks ago, and saw the middle-aged guy waiting in the over-stuffed chair, squinting in the dark without his reading glasses while he was frantically trying to find something familiar to read about in a copy of SPIN magazine, that was me...
Actually, I did find something familiar! I read that Morrissey was going back on tour in the US. Back in the 80's I was a fan of Stephen Morrissey, avowed-celibate and front-man for the band The Smiths. Morrissey and I were born a day apart. I always got a laugh out of him with his dry, droll sense of humor. Great lyricist. He was the King of Angst, and I was always a fan of the music, even if I couldn't personally identify with the story of the artistic son of first generation Irish immigrants, struggling not to disappoint his parents with his same-sex attraction, because their ideal picture of manhood would be a midfielder for Manchester United FC with no trace of fey ways. Even though I couldn't personally identify, it was a story I've seen played out in my ethnic group many, many times.
Anyway, here's a live version of The Smiths playing a song off of their Meat is Murder album, Barbarism Begins at Home. Nice guitar work by Johnny Marr, and this tune has a great bass line played by Andy Rourke. Too bad there's no Chess King in the mall anymore in which to buy parachute pants...
Who will not grow up
Must be taken in hand
Who will not settle down
They must be taken in hand
A crack on the head
Is what you get for not asking
And a crack on the head
Is what you get for asking