there are piglet squeals coming from the fitting room: one girl is lounged lazily on a leather couch while her friend performs archiac dance moves. mc hammer meets a barbershop quartet, knees flailing, testing the mettle of a pair of sweatpants with "abercrombie" scrawled in tiny letters across the tiny ass. after retreating back into the fitting room, the girl calls out to her friend: i don't know! i don't want to look like a lesbian gym teacher! and there is a collective sigh of relief from lesbian gym teachers everywhere.
the vacant-eyed muscle is wearing a chunky silver wedding ring. he looks younger than the 12 inch strand of hair that has been protruding from my stomach since 10th grade. i search the store for which equally-vacant-eyed pixie he knocked up at junior prom. his arms are cartoonishly out of proportion to the rest of his body. they going to bust through the sleeves of his polo shirt. there is going to be striped pastel flying everywhere! that's no kind of advertising.
he hunts and pecks at the cash register -- no amount of muscle will make this easier. he struggles folding three consecutive tops, seems overwhelmed by the various sizes of bags he can select. wonders what to do with the receipt.
when we first got an abercrombie in rochester, i remember hearing that only certain people would be hired. an aesthetic must be met. i wonder if that is still true, and i wonder how this is justified. still, i've been shopping at abercrombie for years and i've never seen a flabby arm or muffin top. frizzy hair or acne.
everyone who works in this store is wearing flip flops. you may think this is the misguided footware selection of teenagers with cute feet who think life is a beach. you are only half right. a few years ago, i bought a pair of complicated pants with zippers and buttons and a strange amount of flare and cargo pockets and i asked a girl what kind of shoes i should wear with these pants. she led me to the abercrombie break room and showed me a chart of appropriate, abercrombie-approved footware. it was very specific, listed brands and styles and colors. with photos.
"you have to wear certain shoes?" i asked.
"most of us just wear flip flops," she pointed to the flip flop photo. "that's the easiest."
two girls join muscle behind the counter. one is texting; the other is playing with a security tag. they look bored. i bet i look annoyed. "you got this covered?" one asks muscles. "'cuz we're leaving. ... and we don't know where keeley is." he nods slowly.
recently a friend told me that a fued had unfurled between abercrombie and hot topic, which is about three doors down. something about loud music and management got involved.
"mall politics," chuck said when i told him the story later.
"mall-itics," i corrected him.
muscles greets me cheerfully when it's my turn. another customer he can put into a trance with what seems to be a mime of what he would look like ringing up customers underwater. i wish that abercrombie had a self-check out, like cub foods.
i then skip through barnes and noble for a spontaneous book buy. i'm met with such efficiency that i begin writing a 'what if' scenario in my head: what if the employees of barnes and noble and abercrombie switched jobs for the day?
later i try to explain why i continue to shop at abercrombie. on this day, it's because the softest sweatshirt i've ever felt is on sale. two weeks ago it was because i needed new jeans. and i like how the store smells?
"would you wear a sweatshirt that said 'montgomery wards' on it?" chuck asks.
"absolutely not," i say.
i think it is because i dress the same every day. some version of jeans, a tank top and a sweatshirt. and abercrombie is rich in all of the above. its like going to your favorite restaurant, unsure of what you'll eat, but positive you'll like it. other stores like that don't exist for me, not in duluth. i could drop abercrombie cold turkey in favor of the gap -- but about four times a year i walk into the gap and it looks like it was broadsided by a minivan filled with PTA members. and everytime i have purchased gap jeans, i've felt like there was enough room in the crotch for two or three of my own.
so, whatever. i don't shop often, but this is where i shop. among the vacant-eyed, flip flop wearing sector that i will continue to mock. whatever. i like their clothes. they fit how i want, they're comfortable and until i put them on my person, they smell good. and this sweatshirt? this sweatshirt is awesome.