Chapter 9: Young Americans, Part 1

Bill watched me enter the bathroom as nothing but a sophomoric representation of the millennial generation. It wasn’t just a relief from the ordinary build up of bodily fluid I was looking for. No matter how hard we try, the clever front eventually unravels, and behind the sophisticated tools of social media are the timid souls of a lost generation, the ones longing for an escape, but too damn proud to admit it. Here I was in the nicest hotel in Des Moines, still holding onto an immaturity of potty jokes, chasing after women that I would never have a chance with, and silly grudges that never provided the fulfillment I was looking for. It was an adolescent comfort that prevented me from truly experiencing life, and there was no end in sight. My blessings were my curse, one that could easily be discard, but instead would hold onto for a long, long time. I entered that bathroom, a boy, a statistical product of the 20 year old demographic, and yet, just another hopeless case of desultoriness.

Then within a minute, a flush of the toilet, a quick splash of running water, and a turn of a doorknob, my life changed forever. Bill’s whole face widened, taken aback at the sight. In front of him was a man, an acute image of resolve and wisdom. An intense purpose filled the eyes that were staring back at him, combined with a grin that resounded confidence, and my face thickened with a steady complexion, years of knowledge accumulated over a lifetime of trials and tribulations. I stepped out of that bathroom 30 years old—a new man. It was at that moment, that I vowed to change my juvenile ways, to go forth and conquer the world… to fulfill my destiny as a man, and to never look back…

Well, that only lasted about a day…

***

“Ok, 15 minutes. We’re in, we’re out, and then we eat some Juicy Lucy’s,” I told Bill, throwing my arms around in swift, short motions, matching each beat of the sentence. I was a little exasperated at the fact that H&M was our first stop in Minnesota, not a planned endeavor by any stretch, and I let Bill know it, for it was still unclear of why he was so insistent about going to that particular establishment vs. a Macy’s or a Nordstrom, stores much more equipped for wedding apparel. It was my birthday after all, and I felt like I deserved to know!

The drive from Des Moines to Minneapolis was short, a purposefully planned four-hour trek with an even distribution of Ben Woodward, Gretch, Rush, and then silence. We had a BIG day ahead of us, packed with old friends, your typical Minnesota delicacies (aka any edible substance you can cover with batter and fry), breweries, and most importantly, the search for the boundary babe (see my former blog post The Boundary Babe). That I would not miss, and there would be little room for error, so 15 minutes was all that was allowed, as dictated by the parking meter.

We walked up the escalator to the upper level of the store, supposedly the men’s section, but more a cluster of articles placed about, a jungle of textiles barely traversable. Bill froze at its sight, overwhelmed at the unorganized chaos spread before him. A worker brushed passed him, a wavy, blond haired hunk in a thin-sleeved, nipple exposing tanktop, twisting his torso parallel to Bill’s as if his presence was an inconvenience to his prudent mission to restock clothing, of which he was doing a terrible job. A moment later, another worker passed, this one with scruffy, poorly groomed facial hair and a bundle of curly hair bunched together in the back with one side of his head shaved, a rather stupid look if you ask me, especially paired with his thick-rimmed glasses (sorry, I’m not always down with these non-symmetrical hair styles that seem to be the craze of the hipster crowd lately). No eye contact was afforded from any of the workers, only indirect looks of annoyance as they passed.

Bill looked as though he were about to hyperventilate. Everything was getting to him; the overwhelming pressure, the humiliation from the workers, the disorganization, the time constraint thrust upon him—this was going to take much longer than 15 minutes.

“Follow me,” I commanded. I had too as a natural instinct, for the severity of the moment called for it. “Try these pants on, and these… Are you 32, 34? Slim, Regular? Well, let’s just grab them all and find out.” I was grabbing pants left and right, not even looking at the style or color. It was a total crapshoot at this point, but it didn’t matter, as long as we got the job done. “What about shirts? Short sleeve? Long sleeve is classier, but it’s going to be hot. Medium? Large? And how about a jacket? I got one, you might as well have one too…” The clothes kept piling, I kept commanding, and Bill kept following; it was the only thing he could do.

Years of childhood suffering at various department stores had finally seemed to pay off, assimilating into a type of leadership role I never knew existed. As a young boy, my mother was fervent that I try on outfit upon outfit whenever there was a sale at the Gap, a day long event of which my resistance was quite vocal and my rebellion on full display—every time. Each outing was a set of demands that brought about a long string of pouting, hiding in shirt rings and pants racks, being dragged by the arm, stern scoldings, pointed fingers, tense faces, more pouting, yelling, dirty looks, embarrassment, and at the end of it all, after 100’s of outfits, I’d come out with a couple articles of clothing that I loathed, but was forced to wear by decree. And with 1000’s of hours of experience under my belt, I was now the one barking out orders unto my friend, whom followed obediently as he carried a pile of clothes under his arms that towered over his head. “Ok, go to the dressing room. Try all of these on. Report your findings. I’m going to refill the meter. By the time I get back, you should be done. Understood? Now go. GO!”

I swiftly added 30 minutes to the meter and rushed back into the store; didn’t want to keep Bill waiting. And the sooner we got out of this catastrophe, the sooner we’d find ourselves surrounded by a variety of fine, deep-fried Midwest dishes, the one’s I’d had a hankering for ever since we passed the first of 10,000 lakes. Oh how I had longed to sink my teeth into the hamburger contraption indigenous to Minneapolis called the Juicy Lucy, a conglomerate of cheeses stuffed in the middle of a burger patty. An uncontrollable release of saliva filled my mouth every time I thought about the creamy ooze of melted cheddar pouring out onto a collection of fried cheese curds, pickles, and spam bites each time I sunk my teeth into the succulent burger patty, making it that much more crucial that this unscheduled deviation run as smooth as possible. And wouldn’t you know; Bill was already waiting for me, clothes in hand.

“Alright! Which ones did you like?”

“Uh, I haven’t really tried any on yet…”

“Wait…” I closed my eyes and shook my head side to side in swift, succinct movements as a means to process the statement. As my eyes reopened wide and stared directly into his, I was ready for the real answer. “What?”

“Nobody’s given me a room yet.” I looked back. Sure enough, all those workers, aka “dingleberry’s” were pre-occupied, walking around with a sense of self-importance and their own stacks of clothing, the line of customers at the dressing room non-existent. “Man, they must really suck at restocking clothing if that’s all they do,” I thought to myself. I couldn’t imagine that it was that hard, but then again, who am I to say, being that I’ve never worked retail.

A man walked out of one of the rooms, the door quickly coming to a close, only to lock behind him and prevent anybody else from its use; such a waste of valuable real estate. “Quick Bill, an open room. GO!” I pushed him towards the door before it shut and locked us out forever, Bill running at the mercy of my direction, blinded by the stack of clothes in his hands that was flying off piece by piece during our mad dash to the dressing room, of which we barely got in. “Don’t forget these,” I said, throwing each article of clothing dropped on the ground over the door with full confidence that they were all being caught by some appendage of his body.

I sat on a bench next to a large pile of clothing tangled about, one of many garbage heaps lying around in the dressing area. The weakness from the lack of sustenance grew within me, the cravings sifting into my cranium and swallowing the working portions of my brain. “Snap out of it!” I told myself as I whipped out my phone to check my social media standings, anything I could do in the few spare minutes to get my mind off the hunger, the omelet eaten at breakfast hardly sustainable for the amount of stamina required.

“Holy crap, 15 notifications!” It was an exciting reaction, for that hardly ever happens on Facebook. “Wait…” Upon further inspection, it was the typical inundation of Happy Birthday posts one always receives on a yearly basis. “Oh great, now I have to respond to every single one of them. Let’s see, who in the world is—oh yea, we played basketball with him in Jr. High. I guess that’s cool. And God, I haven’t talked to her in ages, but that was nice of her. Nah, don’t really want to respond to her—but I’ll feel like such a piece of crap if I don’t… Well, she invited me to her wedding, so I gotta respond… Great, Didi’s gonna throw a fit if I don’t say something back, especially since I responded to Jill. Gotta make her feel nice and important. Wow, Gibson hasn’t wished me a happy birthday yet. So much for that friendship… Really Bill? You couldn’t just say happy birthday in car? You had to go on Facebook to make a statement—Oh God, my sister wrote a freaking novel! Man, that was super nice of her, and she deserves a novel back, but that’s going to take at least 10-15 minutes! I don’t have time for that, not now at least! God, she’s going to suspect something wrong if I take too long though. Jesus Christ, I haven’t even responded to a quarter of these, and they keep popping up! What am I going to—“

 

A dense presence hovered in front of me. I looked up at Bill, standing before me as if he had just laid eyes on Medusa. I was afraid to speak, but did so out of a sense of duty. “Did you like anything?”

“…No.” It was the only word he could muster before receding back into his petrified state. The blond bombshell squeezed in between us; again, no eye contact, signaling a raging urge to yell an obscenity at the top of my lungs. It was quite evident now that Mr. Tanktop Nipples wouldn’t be caught dead out in public with guys like us, just a couple of squares in his book whose lack of style was an unoriginal combination of a t-shirt and a pair of jeans. The feeling was mutual.

“Well, I better put another hour in the meter,” I said, using everything in my power to prevent an outburst. I had to… for Bill’s sake.

***

“Oh my gosh, I actually like this shirt,” said Bill. What a miracle! “Do they have it in Medium?”

“Let’s see. Small, small, large, XL, XXL… nope, no mediums. This one isn’t bad, and look, here’s a medium!”

Bill examined the shirt then shook his head in disapproval. “It’s regular fit. I need a slim fit.”

“Well crap. Can you fit into a small regular?”

“Not anymore! I drank too much beer!”

“Well c’mon man! You have to pick—oh, here’s a medium slim right here. Try this.”

“Uh… no, can’t do it. It’s too dark. I’ll sweat right through it!”

“Well how about this one? It’s stylish isn’t it?”

“It doesn’t even have a collar! I can’t wear a tie with that! Why would anybody consider that acceptable to wear?”

Oh my God. I stepped back and took a deep breath. “Don’t freak out, you know you can do this, you’re good—“ no you’re not, you’re a bad boy—“No, I’m good, I know I am…” Acquiescence is the key. Just go with it, and it’ll all be over soon. “Bill, you’re right. What in the hell? What were they even thinking? Why would they even make a shirt like this? Here’s a short sleeve, medium slim. Try this one on.”

“I guess, but I don’t know want to wear a short sleeve—”

“Screw it. We’re looking at some pants. Let’s see, 30 slim, 32 regular, 32 slim. What was yours again?”

“34 slim.”

“Here’s a nice pair. Do you like these?”

“Uh… not ideal, but I guess they’ll do.”

“Great. Here we go. 30 slim, 32 regular, 32 slim, 33 slim, 33 regular, 34 regular, 34 relaxed, 36 slim—Ah c’mon!”

30 minutes later we found ourselves back at the dressing room with a new pile of clothes, none of which were to Bill’s preference, but a selection that was clawed and dug through to find some form of a presentable outfit, the loathsome combinations being the best we could do with the limited resources provided. I sat next to the heap of clothes again, my body parts a string of wet noodles weighed down a gravitational force growing proportionally stronger with the worsening effects of starvation. “I’m so weak… I… I cant… no, must resist…” I turned my phone over, my eyes drooping and my body wavering, exposing a series of apps with one obtruding over the others. The giant F inside the blue square pulsated in front of me, offering its fix. “You’re delusional. You don’t need this,” I told myself while shaking my head. “Don’t do it… don’t do it.” My thumb hovered over the square, the trigger to send the needle deep into my veins. “…I guess a little bit wouldn’t hurt. All I need is a quick peek. So maybe just a little…” In a subconscious effort, my thumb made contact with the glass and a screen opened to a long scroll of updates. “15 more notifications? Oh God please. No… no!”

 

Bill walked out of the dressing room, all droplets of life evaporated into the departmental hell we had been sulking in. A set of clothes was in his hands; clothes he detested, but accepted. The will to care had long been eviscerated, coupled with his will to live.

“Oh, can I help you guys with anything?” asked an unfamiliar voice. Both of us turned our disturbed faces towards the sound with repulsive confusion—it was the kid with the stupid haircut.

Gee, yea, we really could’ve used some freaking help the first time you passed us, or the second time, even the fifth time for that matter. I’m so glad you found it necessary as part of job description to interact with your customers, to ask them a question, to once acknowledge their existence after an hour and a FREAKING half of scrambling to find a couple articles of clothing. Yes, we could have used some help to find a nice set of freaking clothes. A pair of freaking pants, a nice freaking shirt, and a freaking coat with a freakin’ tie! Thank you for taking the time out of your freakin’ day to FINALLY ask us for freaking help. Did I mention that it’s my FREAKING BIRTHDAY TODAY!?!?

 

“Let’s just get the hell out of here,” said Bill in a basic, disgusted tone.

***

We crawled into my car, the air dead silent, much worse than it was after Rush Limbaugh. “Why in the hell did we have to go to H&M Bill? Why did you drag me through nearly two hours of hell on my birthday, when we could’ve easily gone somewhere else and would’ve been well into our Juicy Lucy’s by now? Don’t you see that 30’s a big deal! I’m not a little kid anymore! I can’t be playing childish games like this! Maybe you’re all good at 27 years young, but for me, it’s time to grow up! So please, I’m begging you, help me to understand. Why Bill? Why H&M? Why…”

“I… I just had to, ok?”

“Bull crap. No, it’s not ok. After all of that, I deser—I demand an explanation! A damn good one at that.”

“I… I just can’t, ok.”

“Bill… I’m only going to ask you one last time… There’s a perfectly good mall that has everything we would ever need with great customer service. I’ve been there, so I know. And it’s big. So big they called it the “Mall of America.” Now tell me, why in the world did we pick this store, when we could’ve went to a place that had everything we could have ever wanted… and more? Please Bill. Help me understand… on my birthday…”

Bill took a deep breath, bracing himself for the destruction he was about to cause by following through with my request; his character was on the line. “It’s… because… ok, I’ll tell you… just please, don’t freak out.” I remained silent. I dare not make a promise I know I can’t keep. “Each year for Christmas, for past three years, I’ve been getting H&M gift cards. I never use them, but they keep on coming, so if I didn’t use them soon, they’d… they’d worthless.”

“…So you’re telling me that somebody bought you a gift card one year, and even with the knowledge that you didn’t use that gift card within the span of a year, and had no intention of ever using it, they still thought it would be a good idea to buy you the same exact thing for you the very next year, and the year after that?”

“That… yes, that is correct.”

“Who in the world would ever do such a thing? Why would they buy you the same present, year after year if you never would use it? It just doesn’t make sense, unless this person secretly wanted to bestow as much misery upon you as they possibly could. It’s like they were planning this all along, just for a very moment like this. But again, I don’t know anybody who would be capable of doing such a dastardly—“ I stopped. I had answered my own question right as the words fell out of my mouth. It all made sense now. “…It was her, wasn’t it?”

Bill lowered his head and closed his eyes, pushing the shame back into his head. As he lifted it again and opened his eyes, the shame had transformed into rage. My eyes matched the fury of his while hard breaths went in and out of my nose, the sound effects more fierce and chilling with each succeeding breath. I gritted and grinded my teeth against each other, caused from a violent shake of the head, the same violent shake that nearly caused my carotid artery to explode right out of my tensed neck. My question had been answered.

“…She planned… this whole thing… from the very beginning… Three years… She bought you those stupid gift cards… because she knew it was going to cause pain… It was going to cause misery… She knew… all along… and she purposely made us go the that stupid store… On my BIRTHDAY!!!”

“The nerve… The FREAKING NERVE!”

“GRRRRRREEEEEEEETCH!!!” A loud cry left the car before I stepped on the gas. We sped off 20 feet before coming to a screeching halt. Thanks to her, it just so happened that our time-consuming shopping excursion had landed us smack dab in the middle of rush hour.

“I rolled down both of our windows with the Smashing Pumpkins blasting through the speakers and piercing into our ears… “Intoxicated… with the madness… I’m in love with… my sadness…” The lyrics inserted the fear of God into the innocent and well-mannered folk of Minnesota, sending them a strong message of hate that radiated from our perturbed faces. “We’re from Washington. We’re from Idaho. And we’re pissed off!”

 

Intermittent screams left the car, matched word for word with a series of honks, a combination of sounds that hugged the line of receiving a disturbing the peace citation. We were hungry, we were stuck in traffic, we had no clothes of our liking, and we were sick in the head! And the worst part, there was nothing we could do, nothing except vent; vent and pass on our frustration to the innocent souls walking the streets of Minneapolis, Minnesota, not an ideal representation of the Pacific Northwest… not at all.

I—hate—Grecth—I—hate—her—so—much— I—hate—her—so—baaaaaad—She’s—so—stu—pid—She—will—pay—I—hate—Gretch—I—hate—Gretch—I—hate—Gretch…”

 

“We’re gonna get her… We’re gonna get her…. We’re gonna get her…”

To Be Continued…

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