Monday, February 11, 2008

Retail Therapy

I am one of those people to whom many stories are told. From dusty tales of Mexican laundry folders who drink too much on Saturday nights to one very nervous cop aiming his gun at me as I exited my apartment to dispose of recyclables, to my traveling companions on overstuffed M100 buses, to underappreciated and aggravated secretaries, public school teachers with unruly students, to Wall Street workers coming off an exhilarating trade, the shopping bag of disclosure is open and ready for unpacking.

It happens most often while I shop. From tomatoes to turtlenecks, the hordes corner me like some sort of exalted celebrity as I’m preoccupied with finding the right size, shape, or shoe: dapper shoe salesmen complain about women who send them scurrying to the storeroom as they spend their weekends being waited on hand and well, feet; chubby cashiers at Target, Saks, and Duane Reade point out their swollen ankles; and the chic who shop at the Gap and Henri Bendel invite me into the operating room as they describe gallbladder and appendix removals. I’ve listened to tales of cheating boyfriends, sloppy husbands, and dirty landlords from the minions who purchase and pander at Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s; epics reveal painful shoes, poor diet, bad bosses, bad days – my bunions and I could be standing on line to pay in the world’s most remote shop or tugging on a too small skirt in a dressing room separated from the sales floor by a curtain. I keep thinking that if I set up a series of couches near cash registers I can get the chats and complaints over all at once.

Move over, Dr. Phil. I’m hanging out my shingle for retail therapy.

The lineage of women among the sales racks can be traced back, I’m convinced, to the early days of hunters and gathers. On the back walls of some muddy cave, maybe in northern Spain and in France, or perhaps in uptown Manhattan’s Inwood Hill Park, charcoal paintings of cavewomen wielding clubs beating their way to sales racks are just waiting to be unearthed. During their hunting and gathering days, the female half of the species stayed behind. tending to huts, caves, and children, ripping roots and plants from the soil, while the male half of the species men hunted big game with bows, arrows, and spears. The women waved goodbye while their mates went after dinner, and this communal commiserating, companionship, and co-parenting kept the community alive. And thus began the origins of the group shop. I know there’s a shopping bag from the Ice Age hidden deep in the core of our planet just waiting to be carbon dated.

To be continued...

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