It is always weird when you bicycle to the mall. Bikes don’t belong there. Malls are for cars and for car-people, an especial kind of car-people actually, car-mall-people. They dress up as best they can with the best they have in order to buy more things they can’t afford to wear to the mall the following week.
This time I was going to Dick’s Sporting Goods, where I had never been before. I was pretty sure they had sporting goods, and what could be more sporty than camping? Ringoro’s fifth birthday was coming up and I wanted to get him some camping gear, but not for his birthday because birthdays suck.
I hated birthdays when I was a kid, except my own, of course. My brother’s birthday, two days later than mine, was horrible because I’d already opened all my presents. Also, my birthday was on Christmas so even though I pretended to be Jesus I knew they were really celebrating someone else, atheist family that we were. Also I despised the twofer, “It’s for Christmas AND your birthday.”
I resolved this year not to get Ringoro anything for his birthday and was headed to Dick’s to effect that. However, on the day before his birthday I was going to show up at his house on my bike with a bunch of unwrapped new items to give him. And I was going to bring a passel of the same stuff to Kohaku, so that even though his brother’s birthday was coming, he would have some cool stuff.
What could be cooler than a Spider Man backpack with a kiddie sleeping bag inside? A Yeti mug just like Grandpa’s out of which we could eat camp-cooked Mac-n-cheese? A mini-flashlight that doubled as a tent lantern? A pair of green carabiners to clip onto your toes?
And of course, what on earth could be cooler than a tent? Intead of gramps’s delicate, lacewing bikepacker tent, what about a gnarly ol’ Coleman big enough for four that you could throw a hootenanny in and still have room for a keg of beer and a dozen empty whiskey bottles?
I’ll tell you what is cooler than all that stuff put together. T-shirts. Yep, t-shirts.
I noticed the minute I walked into Dick’s that it wasn’t a sporting goods store if by sporting goods store you mean a store filled with sporting goods. It was a clothes store filled with clothes that had a few sporting items hidden on the periphery.
And it was packed, which was weird, because Del Amo Mall, which is the largest mall in the U.S.A., was mostly empty, like all pandemic malls, running on fumes. I watched the car-mall-people greedily hump, grab, rustle, fondle, toss, and choose the t-shirts.
“What the fuck is it with the t-shirts?” I wondered as I slowly walked over to the tiny camping corner. Then I read one of them. “Dodgers 2020 World Series Champions” it said.
Which made me inordinately proud. Apparently the stick-waving, ball-hitting millionaires had swatted the football through the net posts more than the other guys and had won the right to call themselves the World Champion T-Shirt Profiteers for the next 365 days. My pride stemmed not from this amazing t-shirt sales victory, but from the streams of sand that trickled off my head, down my neck, and into my shoes.
You see, my head has been buried in the sand for so long that I was wholly unaware of this amazing t-shirt sales victory. It is an accomplishment and a testimony to willful ignorance if you have gone from Jan. to Oct. and have no idea which football team won the sprint, which basketball team hit the most home runs, and which flyswatter team won the World Series of North America Only. I had seen a Trump lady with a t-shirt that said, idiotically, “De-fund the Media,” and I realized that by sticking my head in the sand, that’s kind of what I had done.
And I further realized that ignorance isn’t only bliss, it’s really cheap.
Because as I gazed at the sharply attired shoppers, it struck me, as such things always do, that the consumers are mostly flat fucking broke and paying $45 for a t-shirt, times five for the whole family. And I think about how people, through mindless consumption, somehow identify with the ball swatters, take pride in their net-swishing, and are willing to spend rent money on gewgaws that show how much money they spend to emotionally and financially support the ball swatters.
Before I stopped eating the daily news and went on the diet of an Imaginarian, I actually knew which swatters were out-t-shirting whom. In 1981 I was spending the night at Karl Ward’s house with Robh Ruppel. Karl’s dad was a Houston fireman. The Dodgers were playing the somebodies and it was a big deal. The Houston fly swatters had never won anything and there was no Internet or personal tracking device and so people with teevees, which was everybody but me, got invested in whatever faraway fly swatters were battling for the t-shirts that year, because it was never the Houston Astroturfers.
I don’t remember who the Dodgers were beating, but I do remember falling asleep on the couch. And I do remember feeling an uncontrollable urge to pee. And I do remember peeing on Karl’s couch. And I do remember being awoken by screaming hilarity. And I do remember seeing my hand in a pitcher of warm water, which they had gently placed my hand in.
“It worked!” they howled. “It worked!”
I was now soaked along with the couch and pretty mortified by the prank. So I shuffled into the kitchen, grabbed a couple of eggs, came back into the living room, and smashed them on Robh’s skull.
The thing about pranks is that they are fun to pull on someone else but not at all fun when they are pulled on you and the egg yolk is drizzling into your eyebrows.
The night ended with us nearly falling into a three-way fistfight which I would have completely lost, as Robh was a bodybuilder/swimmer and Karl was just massive. I called my mom to come take me home, and in the meantime the LA Flyswatters won their galactic crown.
That’s how long it had been, according to the Internet, since LA’s last t-shirt championship.
I paid for the camping goods standing in line with people who were greedily clutching their symbols of success, emblazoned on caps, t-shirts, bags. This was their moment and they would savor it, had been savoring it, for a long time or until Thursday, whichever came first.
My symbol of success was going to be more modest. Mac-n-cheese out of a cup in a tent watching Ultraman with my two tiny tots, followed by a couple of freeze-dried ice cream sandwiches. But I somehow felt like my success was going to last longer.
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