Tuesday, February 17, 2004

Sears, Smurfs and Self-Esteem 

Strangely, one of my favorite activities when I was younger was ordering from the Sears Catalog. There was the obvious thrill of getting something new, anything new. It was fun to browse through the catalog, looking at all the pictures and thinking how cool it would be to have all the things that one could possibly desire...My Dad got his pants through the Sears catalog, so every few months, there would be a trek to the Sears location for the activity that I looked forward to the most...

Picking up a catalog order.

The Sears location at Southgate is an older, stand-alone Sears. A department store that was built before shopping malls were king, when the department store was the DESTINATION, not the anchor. Things have changed a lot from when I was younger, this Sears has since become an anchor of a larger shopping area with a Home Depot, an On The Border, a Bed Bath and Beyond and other places. But back when I was growing up, this Sears stood alone...This Sears had a little coffee shop inside. This Sears had a catalog pickup department.

I liked the catalog pickup department.

It's now the automotive service area. Back then, it was a place where you took your catalog order confirmation to a desk and the desk folk turned you loose back in the catalog order warehouse TO PICK UP YOUR OWN STUFF! IT WAS SO COOL! Wandering through the maze of shelving, wondering what treasure awaited you when you finally found your designated slot. One time, there was extra stuff in our slot that we didn't order. It was awesome stuff that my sister and I had both wanted! It was a very happy mistake! My Mom told us both that it wasn't ours, we'd have to send it back, BUT IF WE WERE VERY GOOD we could keep it.

This, of course, was all BS...It WAS ours, a special gift at an unexpected, totally random time of year. My Mom loved playing little psychological games with my sister and I. We did behave and I did get to keep my new Popeye pajamas. Oh, Hell yeah.

in 1983, however, a not-so-happy catalog order mistake befell me. I will have to admit, in the course of telling this story, that I really liked the Smurfs. I had Smurf figures, Smurf toys, a Smurf record and even saw the Smurf movie, even though it was totally confusing because, while the TV show had been nicely translated from French, the movie wasn't so much. These Smurfs had accents. It was weird. Either way, I dug the Smurfs...

My Mom had let me order a couple of things from the catalog...One of the items I chose was a simple white sweatshirt with a Smurf on the front. The Smurf was singing. In the catalog photo, this was it. Smurf singing. White shirt. This was it. I was gonna look so cool wearing THIS to school. YEAH!

Time passed. The catalog order came in, we went to Sears, picked it up, we all got our individual stuff and unpacked it, laid it out and stared at our bounty. Then something caught my eye. Something horrifying. Something NOT pictured in the catalog illustration.

Before I explain, I should also admit that I was a total FREAK about Popeye when I was a kid. I drew Popeye, I tried to talk like Popeye (which in retrospect probably sounded like a very tortured squeak) and I wanted to wear Popeye clothes. My mom found me a shirt once, probably at Anthony's (another store, now long gone), that was a perfect replica of Popeye's shirt, replete with red collar and yellow buttons. I was overjoyed and wore the hell out of it. One day, I happened to glance at the tag. The brand name of this shirt was "Growing Girl." I shit you not. I had been wearing a girl's shirt all along. I'd been totally snookered. It just wasn't as cool after I found this out. But back to the smurf shirt...The smurf shirt eclipsed the popeye shirt incident tenfold...

The sweatshirt was indeed white. It had long sleeves, like I had expected. It had a full color smurf on the front, singing. It was the right size and looked like it would fit very nicely. However, in place of the little music note that was coming from the Smurf in the catalog illustration, there was the phrase "Love me Tender" in script across the whole chest of the shirt. Love me fucking tender. It may as well have said "go easy on me, boys...It's my first time." I was instantly and completely terrified. I couldn't wear this to school! This was a girls' shirt! I was a boy! It was bad enough that my parents never cut my hair and all of the restaurant servers and department store employees in town THOUGHT I was a girl EVERYTIME I APPEARED IN PUBLIC, now I had TO DRESS IN GIRLS' CLOTHING! GODDAMMIT!

I started to feel sick.

I had a great quandary on my hands. (I was 8...maybe 9...this, to me, was the biggest problem I would EVER have to tackle.) What do I do? I couldn't NOT wear it...Mom had paid for it...I didn't think I could send it back, I had taken it home and unwrapped it...I couldn't wear it to school, I'd look like a moron. I was crushed. As time passed, it became clear that I'd have to at least wear this stupid shirt once. And wear it I did. I mustered up all the courage I could and put that shirt on come Monday. I went to school. I kept my jacket zipped all the way up on the playground...I hunched very very far over my desk...I covered my whole chest with my arm during the pledge of allegiance...I wore my coat to lunch and offered no explanation. I wore the fucking shirt to school.

And I survived.

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