Monday, June 25, 2007

Ninja Turtles Don't Wear Denim: My Shopping Disease

A column:

When I was six years old, my mom would drag me to TJ Maxx, and there, like clockwork, I would get a headache. This was not a reflection of any irrational fear of low prices, brand names, or Warhol-like paintings of women in pantsuits. My headaches were a symptom of a chronic disease: the inability to shop for new clothes-itis. Look it up in a medical journal. It’s real, it’s scary, and it will mess you up.

As a little kid, the cure for my affliction came not from Tylenol, but from a dutiful watching of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I escaped from a world of jangling coat racks and where-are-the-boys-jeans to an animated Gotham of wise-cracking, pizza-eating turtle crimefighters. Master Splinter was a wise, elderly rat; he didn’t need to try on three varieties of denim shorts to gain that wisdom. And Michaelangelo didn’t need a five-pack of Hanes whitey-tighties to make him happy. So why did I?

The mere thought of squeezing my little head into another turtleneck made me cringe, cough, and contemplate life as a nudist. So as I grew older, my mom spoiled me. While she bought me pairs of Bugle Boy jeans, I snuck into the bookstore next door and read Goosebumps. The mom-as-personal-shopper routine continued through middle school, and I didn’t mind maintaining that arrangement as long as she would remember my preference for zipper shirts over button-down ones. Fine, I wasn’t a trendsetter. I didn’t dress like a Backstreet Boy. I sported the average-guy look and I couldn’t be happier. I left the fashion experimentation to my friend Mike, who confidently wore Budweiser-inspired I love you, man! ties over short-sleeved Hawaiian shirts. I’d greet him with an “aloha” in the hallway, comfortable in my own zipper-shirted, khaki-panted greatness.

But then my mom discovered FUBU. For those who don’t know, FUBU is a clothing brand created and popularized by black Americans. LL Cool J is one of its celebrity supporters. FUBU is shorthand for “For Us By Us,” and the “Us” does not refer to Jewish kids with choir boy haircuts from the suburbs. My mom did not know this. She bought me a chunky yellow coat from FUBU. Contrary to popular belief, I was not applying for a role in Boyz N the Hood 2. Mom returned the coat, and years later, I decided, finally, to take some responsibility for the clothes on my back.

Well, at least some responsibility. During freshman year of college, I sought the shopping expertise of two girls from my dorm. “We know what will look perfect on you,” they claimed, and so I believed them, partly because I didn’t know Polo from Lacoste, and partly because I was interested in one of these girls romantically. Big mistake. With their “perfect” advice, I found myself the proud owner of jeans so long they dragged like a bride’s dress and a red Polo shirt so oversized it looked like a superhero’s cape. If only I had kept my yellow FUBU, I would have been the cover boy for Esquire’s “This Dude, Why’s He Wearing That?” issue.

As of two weeks ago, I’m a college graduate. I wish I could say that I’ve grown beyond the days of moms and girlfriends helping me pick and choose my wardrobe, but I can’t quite say that. I still need help; I still don’t like to shop. I don’t get the headaches anymore, but I do suffer from the itis.

In fact, my mother, father, sister and I were recently trolling the streets of Chicago. It was an ordinary day that somehow turned into an odyssey to buy me a new pair of jeans. Everybody in the family knows of my disease; you could almost say they revel in it. And so I found myself again in the changing room, slithering into pants by turns too loose and too testicle-hugging tight. I entertained myself in the mirrors by arching my eye brows exaggeratedly, my best Jim Carry-circa-The-Mask impression. I couldn’t help myself.

Did I really have to buy new clothes? Could I live a life where I didn’t? The life of a stay-at-home telemarketer, pyramid-schemer, or hell, writer? Maybe my only escape from new jeans is a mutant ooze. Forget the denim. I will transform myself into a not-so-teenage mutant ninja turtle.

And Master Splinter will be proud of me.



Anonymous said...

great column-- I followed your articles in The Hub and I'm ecstatic to see more from you! Keep the great writing coming. I love it!!
-NK, Atlanta, GA

Michael said...

I say beer inspired tie designs and Hawaiian shirts are going to make a comeback really soon.

Anonymous said...

Wonderfully clever!

Anonymous said...

Tough Skins from Sears RULE! LOL