Architects rendering, lifted from the website of
the Budweiser Brewery in Merrimack, NH
Recently, a large number of my shirts have been getting frayed at the neck all at once. I don't mind (more than) a bit of wear and tear on my clothes, and even embrace that thrifty Yankee habit of wearing things well past their expiration date. It's helpful when all you own was owned before to have a romantic justification for the fact that your stuff is basically just worn out and, you know, old. However, with a few extra bucks in the bank account, I decided some new shirts were in order. Being the consummate cheapskate I am, I headed not for a reputable retail store, but to a favorite thrift shop forty minutes North in New Hampshire. Please don't think I'm being a snob. I desire new things as much as anyone. It's just that over the course of so many years of thrift shopping and being a skin flint, I tend to stay away from the places where new stuff can be had, and then it takes a chisel to separate me from my money.
Along the way, I noticed a bill board for Merrimack Premium Outlets, just another ten minutes up the road from the thrift shop. I immediately figured being a new outlet mall of "premium" brands, there must be a Brooks Bothers and Polo store there. Those two brands don't miss a trick, especially when it comes to appearing high end while dealing low end. I suppose I do the same thing, no cracks please.
The trip to the thrift shop turned up nothing in the way of shirts, though I did get a pretty good pair of forward pleat brushed twill chinos for $3.99, by none other than Polo (of course). Afterwards, stationed in a booth in the McDonald's across the street, while my children ran and screamed in the Playzone, while parents shivered in the ice cold air conditioning, I looked up the outlet mall, and sure enough, Brooks Brothers and Polo were both on tap. Having just bribed my poor kids with junk food, I decided to subject them to some straight up American retail shopping, something they are not used to when in their father's charge.
I suppose when we passed a huge complex of a place, some sort of factory, belching smoke and steam, looking like a relic of the late 1960s, not in a good way, that turned out to be the outpost brewery of Budweiser, I should have read the omen and turned tail. Make of that what you will.
Upon arrival, I found the immense sprawling parking lot so bursting with cars that men in orange vests were directing traffic with dayglo wands...and still I refused to read the writing on the wall. Apparently, it was some kind of holiday this weekend, the kind with big sales or something. Having worked in retail so long I never enjoy these three day weekends. Having avoided shopping retail so long, I forgot the ugliness that is a massive American "Sale" holiday. I can only hope to forget it again soon. Bodies everywhere, children whining and screaming ( my own included), people laden with bags and bags full of brand name goods they almost certainly don't need, all of it under a cloud of false superiority lodged firmly in the overt labels stuck like glue on the surface of cheaply made, wasteful goods.
Eventually, we found a space and I dragged my none-too-thrilled into what my five year old son called a "fake store town" and located the Brooks Brothers store. There were plenty of shirts, all non-iron. I'll wear non-iron in a pinch, but I'm not about to pay $47.50 for it. Finally, I found a small display, practically hidden in a corner like a bastard stepchild, of thick oxford wrinkling cotton shirts in white, blue, yellow and pink. For a moment I was happy, and ready to buy, before I realized the only sizes available were 14 neck and 17 1/2. Tiny and huge. I guess average sizes like 15 1/2 go quick in a holiday shopping 25% off frenzy. Or something.
I found a Brooks Brothers employee, a fine fellow ten years my junior dressed in puddling long charcoal slacks and a huge non iron button down, open at the neck with no tie. I asked him, already fairly certain of the answer, about these old oxfords that unfortunately seemed so incongruous in their native environment if there were any others besides those on display. He immediately began to actually apologize for the fact that these shirts were not non-iron, as though he were embarrassed for me that I should ask about these, of all things. "We probably won't carry them much longer" he stated, then proceeded to compliment my "ink" and tell me all about his. Ugh.
The whole time, my kids were tugging at my belt, talking at the same time, fighting with one another, running and throwing themselves on the floor. All this among wall to wall people consumed with materialistic avarice.
Not having learned my lesson, I decide we needed to hit the Polo shop. More of the same, with the avarice and brand name label orgy multiplied exponentially. After what may have been the longest and most unpleasant hour of my life, we left. As I dragged (literally) my two wailing banshees with me back to the car, I considered throwing in the towel and dressing myself in only sack cloth and horsehair if this is what it would take to do otherwise.
I did get some nice socks, though.