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I am not much of a shopper. At all. Some people like shopping, making an event of it, a delightful way to spend the day. Some of these people are dudes. Some of these people are even straight dudes. (One of my best friends is one of these men.) I am not.


But sometimes, it just has to be done. Especially when you have a hole in your shoe. And everyone hates your emergency winter coat. And you need gloves. And you cut your uncombed but fascinating locks to sport a closely cropped haircut. So all these forces combined and forced me out of my office and into the streets to buy things. Oh, how I dreaded the thought. And today’s shopping experience did everything to live down to the hype.


My expectations, by the way, for any shopping trip are much like my expectations for hooking up with someone I know I really shouldn’t. Yeah, I need it and I want it, and I have to have it more than I care to admit, but it’s going to feel far too long, and I am going to be so relieved when it’s over and I can get the hell out of there.


Armed with my debit card, a grim determination that “Hey, at least I’m not at work,” and sheer necessity as it rained lightly in the streets of New York (meaning my socks were getting wet and therefore, I was possibly courting some sort of disease or newfound respiratory infection), I headed out of work and headed downtown.


First and foremost, the shoe situation had to be rectified, if only because nothing is worse than wet, stank socks when you take them off. I don’t like to see my feet, let alone smell them, thank you very much. So I headed to the same place where I got my last pair of shoes for work, two years ago,  DSW Shoe Warehouse on 14th Street. If you want as low-stress a shopping experience as possible when shopping shoes, this is it. No salesmen, no sullen teens in referee outfits, and waiting for someone to come back just to tell you “No, sir, we don’t have a size 13. But you can get this shoe in 12 or get these really ugly shoes that look even uglier at size 13.” The stock is right below the model, so you can register you disappointment quickly, without waiting, and move on. Eventually I settled on these




Kenneth Cole boots that were simple, brown, and most importantly, without laces. I have never been good at tying my shoes, for whatever reason, and after three decades, I have given up. There was a short line, I paid, and other than the horrific techno song that constantly plays in the hallway, it was a pleasant shopping experience.


Next, it was on to Burlington Coat Factory on Sixth Avenue near 23rd Street to get a coat I could be proud of. Now I had been there a couple of weeks ago, but that was to buy a different sort of coat. This winter is shaping up to be a brutal one in the Northeast, so I thought it might be a good idea to get something simple, cheap and warm. Sure, it would definitely not be styling, but as my mom and other moms have said, “You’re not going to a fashion show.” So I bought a big gray, ugly coat with a hood. It’ll keep you warm and dry, that’s for sure. What it won’t do is get good reviews, as I had to endure shots of all sorts from many of my alleged friends.

As my friend Rod put it, “You look like you’re wearing your father’s coat.” A legitimate criticism, since it is probably two sizes too big from a fit standpoint. “He looks like he’s going to rob us,” another one, is just plain mean.


Well, the plan was to get a more stylish coat in a couple of weeks, as the big gray monster everyone hates is really only supposed to busted out for truly brutal winter’s days. So I went back to the scene of the crime hoping to get a reasonably priced three-quarter overcoat. I didn’t like what I saw at all; the prices seemed a bit steep, even by Burlington standards. I was about to give up on the three-quarter coats and was looking halfheartedly at the shorter ones when somehow, buried amongst the short coats was a pretty decently priced Joseph Abboud number! I couldn’t believe it was sitting there in the wrong spot; I felt lucky, as I looked around for any George Costanza-types hoping to hide the coat and get the deal. Not like I knew if there was a deal, all I knew was that I liked the coat, the style that I wanted and it was cheaper than the standard $120 most of those coats cost. I tried on my $80 find and was pleased to see that if fit perfectly. (a major mistake made with the gray coat. Yes, I hate shopping so much I don’t even like to try things on if I can avoid it, even if it makes sense.) With little time to waste, I headed for the register.


But here’s where you find out how much you really want to save money: the price for finding a nice bargain coat at Burlington Coat Factory is the line. No matter what time of year it is you can count on:

1.     It will be too warm. Somehow.

2.     You will be stuck behind some lady who insists on looking at the accessories like pantyhose, knockoff handbags, and cologne stolen—ahem, procured from Caesars Palace, while trying to keep her place in line.

3.     A ghetto-fabulous family full of screaming kids

4.     A couple who can’t stop kissing because the guy finally gave up and has allowed his lady to dress him

5.     Just when you get close to hearing the magic words “Please step forward to register number….”, some fool will get into a pricing dispute with the staff, and for some reason, instead of one manager handling it, all the other cashiers will slow down what they are doing to get involved and rectify the situation. I mean, it’s great that they’re unified and all, but shouldn’t someone be, you know, in charge?


Finally, though, I was able to get out of there. But surprisingly, they had an incredible lack of accessories, leaving me completely without a scarf, a hat, and some gloves. I could try to go without them, I guess. But years of nagging from women of all ages going “Where is your hat?” and “Where are your gloves?” may have finally gotten to me. (However, I’ll never cave in to the question, “Where is your underwar?” Never!) So, it was over to  Filene’s Basement for some accessories. I got a hat that I will use to keep warm and not to be styling. Because people don’t wear hats anymore. That was accompanied by new gloves and, a far less festive scarf than my current one.


This trip would not have been all that noteworthy if not for the line at Filene’s, where some kid kept ramming herself into the bag with the new shoes. Her mother kept imploring her not to be rude, yet the kid kept running into my bag, then looking up at me dumbfounded that the bag was there, as if it wasn’t the first three times she did. I told the mom that it wasn’t a big deal.


Only because what I really wanted to tell the mom was that maybe her kid didn’t have a politeness problem, that maybe her kid might be suffering some sort of developmental problem, and that the kid might need help. Okay, I would not have been so nice, and influenced by the movie “Tropic Thunder”, the words “full retard” might have come out. And that, kids, is why they say discretion is the better part of valor.


I finally escaped the child and paid for my goods and I was done. The problem was, in the course of going to these three stores, I had failed to take care of an urgent personal need. That’s right, I really, really, really needed to pee. I drink a lot of water, tea, and apple juice at work. A lot. It takes quite a desire to get shopping over with as quickly as possible for me to not pee for a solid 2 1/2 hours. I can’t sit through movies that long without being dehydrated. Holding it in whilst dealing with annoying people and carrying three bags is another matter entirely.


The problem with that was, when I walked out of Filene’s, I had to pee badly. I remembered that the Bed, Bath, and Beyond upstairs had a decent public restroom, but I wasn’t sure how obvious it would be that I had no intention of being a paying customer. This was a bad time to find out that the Barnes and Noble on Sixth had closed. Long a public urination staple, it was no more, as the printed word apparently continues to die. So, left with few options, I headed for the McDonald’s. I knew the bathroom would be open, and I also knew there was no way I was not going to walk out of there without eating. The convenience was too great, not to mention the obviousness of my presence with three bags of burden shuffling through the store. They knew of my existence, and they would be watchful of my exit. After all, the bathroom says “customers only.” I didn’t want my precious new shoes getting taken away as collateral for bathroom use.


So I had an Angus Mushroom and Swiss meal with the sweet tea.


So tonight, as I make frequent trips to the bathroom and occasionally wonder if that weird sensation inside my chest is either a heart attack or a stroke, I can justify my poor nutritional decision on one thing: shopping. For some people, it’s a great way to spend the day, a productive means to express their beings, their spirit, and their identity through consumerism. For the rest of us, we may like the stuff we bought and can’t wait to wear it tomorrow, but we’re so glad the process is over.


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