American Apparel

When I was a young girl, maybe 10 or so, I came perilously close to being killed – along with my Mother, my younger sister and my little brother, too.

Like any brush with death, the event occurred without warning: Mom had just picked the three of us up from our swimming lessons at the North Shore Winter Club and as any Vancouverite would tell you, unless you’re heading to Burnaby along Hwy. 1, the only way home from “the club” is straight up one of two frightfully steep roads. For us, the drive home meant a long and steady upward climb, off one hill and onto the next, until a few miles before the base of Grouse Mountain we’d turn left onto Queens Avenue – itself a precipitous slope, except that Queens Ave headed straight down. And it was there, at the top of Queen’s Avenue, that the brakes on my Mom’s old ’68 Vauxhall gave way.

I hadn’t noticed that anything was especially out of the ordinary until my Mom began pumping the brakes at a quicker, more aggressive pace than usual. Then, she began stomping on the impotent pedal – stomping it and stomping it while frantically looking this way and that. As we quickly picked up speed my Mother, having done everything in her power to kick that stupid pedal into order, cried out:

Kids! I…don’t have any brakes. Hang on!”

And down we went, rolling ever faster and faster, blowing through intersections one after another, and leaving a series of honks and shaking fists in our wake.

We don’t have any brakes!” we kids tried screaming out to the angry cars, as kids will do.

Mom kept trying to find a way to save us all from the unthinkable, as Moms will do.

She was terrified.

And then suddenly, just when we were headed toward the main intersection at the foot of the hill, we felt the car slowing down. Having somehow regained her composure my Mom had remembered that by shifting down, she could attenuate our speed. So with incredible presence of mind, she’d carefully shifted into third gear, and then into second, leaving us to roll, as casually as ever (save for the tranny that was screaming to be shifted up), right through the major Queen’s Ave./Westview Blvd. intersection.

I still wonder about those who witnessed our car, the obnoxious little Vauxhall that didn’t even pause to look both ways as it ploughed straight through the red light, seemingly without a care in the world.

It was this event that sprung to mind today after one particularly harrowing incident at American Apparel.

Ahh, “American Apparel”.  If ever there were a slippery slope where personal well-being is concerned it would be when the 47 year old woman waltzes into American Apparel to buy a single pair of black stretchy pants. Truth be told, I’d rather crawl across shards of broken glass than set foot in any of those teen-ager targeting behemoths but it was either that, or fork out triple the price for the same few meters of black stretch cotton at a more age-appropriate outlet. So I told myself to suck it up.

Not having had the patience to wash and curl my hair for a simple trip to the store, I’d thrown it into one of those messy little buns the kids are parading around in these days, assuring myself that the look was unquestionably de rigueur, and that it didn’t at all showcase the bags under my eyes or the droopy jowls that the dental assistant had so kindly pointed out during my last visit. And that’s where the decision to wrap a large scarf around my neck and mouth came in. It’s also about the same time I grabbed the sunglasses, in spite of the cloudy weather. My face may have conveyed that weather-worn look, but certainly it was upstaged by my wise choice in accessories.

Still though, as I plunked my coins into the parking meter just outside of American Apparel, I noticed that old familiar twinge of insecurity grabbing hold of my stomach – the one I’d wrestled with so rigorously in high school. I stole a last look at my reflection in the car’s window and wondered how weird it would be if I kept my glasses on, and the lower part of my face covered, while I shopped? I turned toward American Apparel and quickly removed my scarf and glasses.Too weird, I thought.

So with my head down and my arms crossed over my stomach I leaned into my walk and ventured forward through the grand white and silver pillars that mark the entrance to south Granville’s American Apparel. Stealing a few furtive glances here and there, I was able to get a quick feel for the lay of the land, and realized that the leggings racks were located in the front left section of the store. Perfect! It was shaping up to be a quick and anonymous stretch pant procurement when out of nowhere appeared the diminutive Retail Sales Associate, and her very odd point of view upon personal style. Was she really wearing a below-the-knee camel coloured A-Line skirt, in a heavy poly blend? With knee socks? Yes she was. And she’d finished the disaster off with a white blouse, buttoned straight up to the collar, and a kerchief around her head! The look was positively Amish.

“Can I help you with anything today?” she offered in a slightly condescending tone which I was willing to forgive because of how stupid she looked.

“No thanks” I replied. “This is all I need, a simple pair of black stretch pants”. And then I added “I’m going to buy a size Large, just to be safe”.

“Would you like to try them on?” she asked.

“Oh, no thanks” I returned, blushing slightly, which is what always happens when I don’t know what to say to 20 year old Amish girls. “They’re stretchy, and I’m buying the “Large”, so it should be fine. I mean, if “Large” doesn’t fit, then I’d really be in trouble, wouldn’t I” And then I meant to chuckle in that cool, nonchalant way that confidence would prompt, but what came up sounded more like a contorted burp, than anything else.

The 20 year old Amish attendant gave me the once over, and not very discreetly I might add. “Just keep your receipts and your tags, then” she offered in a tone that resembled those short stone pillars I bump into a lot.

“Oh, um, ok, thank you”.

Why do I do that? Why do I thank people when they insult me? Clearly what I should have said was “you might want to pull that A-line skirt of yours up over your head dear, like they’re doing in Paris this season” that’s what I should have said.

I made my way over to the cash register and tried my best not to apologize for buying the large black stretch pant. My unabashed arrogance aside, black? Who buys black? American Apparel is all about the neon, baby! The bright pinks and the glowing lime greens, those colours that have a magical way of amplifying all traces of cellulite so that it quickly becomes the theme of any ensemble. Good grief, have neon pants ever signalled anything more than deranged disco anarchist?  Or Borat?

A second tiny woman wearing a headband made out of camel coloured rags kindly rang me in as I pondered the duplicity I was witnessing at American Apparel. Neon over there, yet, camel over here…

Make sure to keep your tags” she advised. “For exchanges or store credit but no returns”.

“O-tay” I responded obediently, and made my way out of American Apparel and into the safety of my Porsche.

God I love my Porsche. It makes me feel so much better about myself. I mean, it makes me feel so much better about, stuff. I mean, ok just forget it. What I’m trying to say is that in some very pathetic way, and just like emulating the Amish signals the presence of some kind of ultra-cool non-conformist, climbing into my Porsche automatically keeps me from wondering about people questioning, well, me. Just… let me have that. It’s really all I’ve got, can’t you see?

Once home I tossed my conventional, black, fatty pants onto the kitchen counter and then I grabbed the receipt so I could throw it away when suddenly, the echo of both Retail Sales Associates’ warnings bounced around in my head, in unison, reminding me to “keeeeep the receeeeeipt, lard assssssssssss”. So I put the receipt down, and I paused to reflect upon my pants.

What if they really don’t fit? What if all that beer, and all those french fries yesterday, and all that wine I like to sling back as though it were free-flowing mineral water, what if little by little it’s all added up and I can no longer fit into a pair of large pants? Large pants with ample give, no less! And say I can’t squeeze into these pants, do I really have what it takes to head back to American Apparel, head bowed in shame as I fork over my size “Large”, while Amish girl hands me the “Xtra Large”? Oh God no! No I don’t have it in me there’s no way in hell. I put my hand on the pants, and then I took it off again. It was too soon. I wasn’t ready.

Hours later, after having occupied much time cleaning a clean kitchen, something inside of me rose up. It rose up like a pig out of hell. It was The Fire of Determination! The thing that pushes one forward, into the dreaded abyss, come what may.

I headed over to the pants.

I headed over toward them like I meant business and I snatched up that size Large bitch, strode into the bedroom, and came face to face with what was to be my fate.

One leg first, and then the other, and up we go!

What a non-event.

There was no problem at all. In fact, if anything, the pants were a touch baggy, affording me a blessed saggy-ass look. A look that never figured in my equation. One big, beautiful, saggy-assed droop!

Not only did they fit, they were too big. I was going to have to return these pants for a “medium”. Oh “medium”, I barely remember ye!

So that’s it then! First thing tomorrow, after I lay out my best shopping clothes, and I wash and curl my hair so that I look really, really ridiculously great – the way a 47 year old woman who wears a “Medium” stretch pant might look – I’m heading back to American Apparel for the exchange.

Good thing I decided to keep those receipts. I mean, just incase I needed a smaller size, ‘n all. I might even consider buying a second pair. In daffodil yellow. Because, turns out American Apparel, I’m not too big for your britches.

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