“Take off your shoes.” He rustled underneath my Abercrombie & Fitch uniform.
“Take off my shoes? You want me to… take off my shoes?” There was kissing, pecks here and there along the side of my neck. But no more.
“Yes, take your shoes off.” Realizing it wasn’t funny, he stopped and looked at me.
“Not my pants… or my shirt? My shoes?”
“Your shoes.” He shrugged, rolled his eyes down to his feet, and reached down to start pulling at the laces. There was a bit of struggling as he made the knot bigger and tighter. In the meantime, I leaned up enough to ungracefully pull and tug on my shirt until it ruffled my hair in the final stages of pull-tug-off-drop-fall.
“Let’s do another one, boys!” And we looked up at him, one of us in half a shoe, the other with bed head and partially naked.
“Another one? You want us to do another one? As in, start over from scratch?” He nodded.
So I reached down to the floor to pick up my wrinkled shirt, tossing my hair around to make it look halfway molded, and began to get dressed again. My partner, on the other hand, was so irritated with his shoe that he just mumbled something about doing the shot without shoes. No one seemed opposed.
* * *
This week, I wandered around the upper floor of the mall. Some things in a mall you can’t escape; some are too bold and intoxicating to pass by without at least a sigh or a pause. Others are so shocking that a volte-face, mouth wide open, is appropriate. Or, at the very least, is understandable.
As I walked by Abercrombie & Fitch, torn between staring at the $26 t-shirts on the window models and ignoring the store altogether, I noticed a group of teenage boys and girls gawking at an advertising poster. But – no – it wasn’t really an advertising poster. It was the greeting for all shoppers to the over-priced clothing barn. Joining them briefly in a curious moment, I looked in at the entrance that occupied them. True to its theme, A&F had taken the bold move of putting me in black and white, mostly-naked glory at the entrance to their store.
“Damn, he’s hot,” one girl said.
“He’s alright,” the other nodded indifferently. “Too skinny.” And the boyfriends, convinced the placard boys were no threat, gawked in similar fashion, wondering how those boys might be worthy of more attention than themselves.
“Would you really date someone like that?”
“Nah, they’re probably all pompous bastards. Plus, I bet they wear A&F all the time. How boring. No personality.” I couldn’t tell, hiding behind a large fake plant, whether all of these comments were attempts at reconciling their own perceived ordinariness with advertising models, or whether there was truth in what they said. It didn’t matter. I felt small, far too small to be the centerpiece on a black and white mural so prominently displayed.
They nodded one more time, now over the allure of the nudity dramatized in front of them. The intrigue faded so quickly for them, that I wondered if that one-dimensional picture held anything worthwhile. Maybe I was as one-dimensional as the picture. Maybe. But maybe I was more and just afraid to show it.
They scurried off at the mention of Starbucks, and I was left more or less alone behind my plant, in front of the store I marked with my own bare chest. I stepped out into the walkway and stared straight at myself. What was this? Who was I? A symbol, a gadget, a thing. A thing so easily stared at and shrugged off in minutes. It was hard to swallow. I wished I could be somebody who was like everyone else.
Starbucks. That sounded good. So I indulged in ordinariness, convincing myself that a double latte would be more real and more ordinary than just about anything else. I don’t think I ever want to go back to that mall again. And every time I see A&F, I cringe. In fact, I’m starting my own private boycott… a boycott of myself in black and white.
What do I wear these days? Doesn’t matter, really. I need to buy some new clothes actually. Isn’t Ross having a sale? If not, there’s a Target just around the corner. But nothing attracts me to a sale more than a real person wearing real clothes, not fictional nudes forgetting the clothing they’re advertising.