Shopping malls are their own special kind of hell. They aren’t mentioned in Inferno because they weren’t around then, but you can bet that if they had been, my man Dante would have given them a big shout-out.
Nothing bores me more than looking through hundreds of items I have no intention of buying. I have a hard enough time with commitment that deciding whether or not to purchase something is agonizing. My feet get way more sore walking around a department store than they do climbing a mountain, and I firmly believe there’s something magical about shopping centers that makes a two-person line for the cash register seem longer than a twenty-person line at the DMV. At this point, my family knows better than to suggest a lengthy shopping trip when I’m around. On the rare occasion they do, I often end up sitting on a bench in the store sulking with the other kids whose families dragged them along. The only difference is that they are half my age and I’m an adult who should have kissed his sulking days goodbye when he stopped being a teenager.
A huge part of my disdain for shopping comes from my inability to do it well. I have no idea what size actually looks best on me, so if left to my own devices, I will unwittingly come home with a circus tent trying to pass as a shirt or pants that ride several inches above my ankles. I know a functioning adult should know the rules about wearing navy and black, which buttons to leave undone on a vest, and which fabrics will make you a sweaty mess in any month other than January, but I don’t. Hey, I’m the guy who bought a steamer last year so he would never have to learn to iron. Lower your expectations a little.
I realize that I’m not like everyone. Some people love nothing more than a nice, drawn-out shopping trip. The mall may be hellish for me, but for others it’s heaven on earth. I guess that’s to be expected. My idea of paradise — a camping trip where my closest friends and I eat pizza with anchovies, discuss British literature, reenact all three Lord of the Rings movies, and sing our favorite showtunes — probably isn’t for everyone. In short, some people love shopping and are really good at it. I am not one of those people.
My brother is one of those people. He can find clothing that looks good in any situation and he’s so good at looking for deals that stores practically pay him to take whatever he wants. Sometimes even I benefit from this special skill of his. I recently had a professional engagement in Texas where I needed to conform to a detailed dress code that aimed for a smart casual aesthetic. As it turns out, smart casual doesn’t mean showing up in sweatpants and reciting the quadratic formula. It requires a little more effort than that.
When I mentioned the dress code to my brother in a “help me because I don’t know what I’m doing and I have a feeling if this goes wrong I’ll be a laughing stock” sort of way, he took me to his closet and started handing me clothes.
The last thing he handed me was this grey blazer. Even I, with no sartorial expertise, could tell this blazer was beautiful. It was soft (Are you kidding? Of course I don’t know what material it was) and was one of those articles of clothing that seems to go with everything. It was at once form-fitting and able to hide love handles. Even though it was a jacket, it would cause me no problems in the Texas heat. Simply put, anyone caught wearing this jacket was a stylish man about town. When my brother handed me the jacket, the only thing he said was “Please make sure I get this back.”
I’m sure you can see where this is going.
There are several things I can say about myself with pride. If you tell me the juiciest secret in the world, I will take it to the grave without telling a soul. I have the kind of knack for conversation that serves people well in job interviews or introductions to the parents of significant others. I have an almost annoying talent for looking on the bright side of things. These are all strengths of mine. Responsibility is not.
If you know me and this surprises you, it’s because I’m really good at faking responsibility. I always turned assignments in on time at school, but that was more out of my desperate need to please others than my own responsibility. I am on time for everything due to my fear of missing out if I’m late. I am pretty decent in leadership roles, but that’s because I am a younger sibling and relish the opportunity to tell other people I’m in charge.
But I am not inherently responsible.
Back to my story: I have never felt more like a boss than when I was wearing that grey blazer. Several people on the trip asked me where I got it. They commented on the fabric, the color, and the fit. It was perfect.
Until it wasn’t.
I had worn and loved this jacket off and on for an entire week. Tragedy struck, however, when I arrived at my airport gate to board my plane back to Boston. I was being super adult-y. I had gotten there very early. I was holding a grande Chai latte (with skim milk as if I didn’t have enough street cred already) and was answering emails on my work computer. Because Texas in September can be toasty, I’d hung the jacket over the back of my chair.
Hindsight is 20/20. In this scenario, foresight probably should have been 20/20.
Sure enough, an hour later I was sitting on the plane watching the Dallas airport shrink and wondering if I had the courage to confess to my brother that I had done the one thing he asked me not to do. Honestly, running away seemed like a pretty good option.
And then I found my courage. I knew this wasn’t the end of the world. I knew my brother would be forgiving. I knew what I had to do when I got off that plane. I just needed to hop over to the store where my brother had bought the jacket in the first place, find the same jacket (two years after he’d bought it), figure out the size I needed (a real adult would have remembered), buy it, and give it to my brother without him ever knowing any difference. It was quite simple, really.
Except that it wasn’t.
For one thing, the blazer was meant for summer. It was September. But I convinced myself that summer was still very much in full swing and that this jacket was sooooo stylish the store would keep it in stock for years to come. So it was with a hopeful heart that I entered the store.
Despite the September heat, the store had fully embraced the coming of autumn. I honestly wouldn’t have been surprised to see the Sanderson sisters pop out of the clothing racks to offer pumpkin spice lattes and bouquets of sharpened pencils to the customers. It became very clear that I would not find the summer blazer in here. “It’s fine,” I thought. “This is why God made online shopping.”
If there is one thing I do worse than shopping, however, it’s online shopping. After thirty minutes on Google, I was ready to throw my phone in a pond and move into a cave where I would spend the rest of my days renouncing technology and commercialism. This was off the syllabus.
I was left with four options:
- Take classes in the dead of night to become a seamster until I was skilled enough to make a blazer that would pass as the original.
- Fake my death and move to the coast of Scotland where I would run a bed and breakfast out of an abandoned lighthouse with my herd of friendly sheep.
- Fabricate a story about an armed heist at the airport during which I bravely saved several tourists from the robbers but failed to save the blazer.
- Tell my brother the truth.
I didn’t go with the first option because I already have so much student debt and because I don’t function without eight hours of sleep each night. I couldn’t go with choice number two because I can barely be trusted to care for myself, much less other people (or sheep). My brother knows me well enough to know that I would totally mess things up if I tried to help during an armed heist, so the only other option was honesty. Can you believe it?
“Can you please call me? I have to tell you something”
That’s the text I sent my brother. I figured if he saw that he would immediately assume I was terminally ill or that one of our parents had been taken hostage. That way, he’d be pleasantly surprised when he found out I had just lost the jacket.
Sure enough, he called me in .2 seconds and was clearly stealing himself for some really life-altering news. I took a deep breath and told him everything. After a long pause, he said “I think you’re more upset about this than I am, but I’m really busy so we can talk about this later.”
That was it. I braved the store for that. I went shopping. I went online shopping. And all for that.
I learned two lessons from all this. Firstly, life sometimes forces us to do things we don’t want to do for the good of others. Do you think I would have spent thirty minutes wandering around a clothing store if I wanted to disappoint my brother? Secondly, honesty is the best policy. And sometimes that means the right answer when someone asks you “Now you won’t lose this will you?” is “Yes.”