Wednesday, June 22, 2011

What Used To Be Home Pt. 4


"All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy." Can anyone reach back into the deepest crevices of their mind to recall this old aphorism, created on what must have been a different planet from the one we're now living on? Today we have nerds, geeks, dweebs, overachievers, and the like, but nary a "dull boy." The very idea of dullness as a human quality seems to have vanished along with a slew of faded memories.

No matter. Barbara and I were determined that, in addition to the time we spent visiting with Barbara's mother, taking care of chores for her, and proffering advice on this and that, we would make time for some less stressful activities. I was determined to head down to Washington D.C. so that we could poke around at least one or two museums. We needed some time to visit with friends and other family members; plus, we had left room in our luggage for all the clothing and other items we planned to buy.

I should begin with the following disclaimer: there are plenty of stores in Israel, and there is very little you can't get here. Still, there is something to be said about the mind-numbing quantity and quality of merchandise in The States and the awe-inspiring dimensions of the suburban mall. The first things we needed were a few basic food items for the nearly empty refrigerator in Gwen's apartment, milk, OJ, apples (to replace the ones confiscated at the airport), some snack; so we headed to one of the (appropriately named) Giant supermarkets in the area. The sheer size of the place did not seem to faze the Maryland shoppers who were wheeling their carts around from aisle to aisle -- as if it were run-of-the-mill to be shopping in a place the size of a small village, but I admit that, after four year's of shopping on a smaller scale, I was duly impressed. So much food! Of course, once my rational self reasserted its control, I realized that a lot of what they had didn't need to be there. One could buy lawn furniture, greeting cards, and auto supplies elsewhere. Plus......... while their deli and cheese counters looked opulent and their barbecued chickens smelled wonderful, none of it was going to do me any good. You want kosher deli meat or cheese?, find the refrigerated case all the way in the back with the limited selection of packaged kosher products. I noticed as I walked up and down the aisles, that I had retained my skill at package-flipping, turning the box or the can this way and that to seek out the kosher symbol that may or may not be on the label. The fact is that there was less for the kosher consumer to purchase in this store the size of five bowling alleys and a football field than in the relatively modest MisterZol here in the Ma'ale Adumim kanyon.

Clothing? That's another story. I have to admit that I've done so little shopping for items of apparel in the four years we've been here that I don't even know what Israeli equivalent sizes I would wear. 34x30 pants, size 10 1/2 shoes? Now you're talking. There's lots to say about the mallification of America. On the one hand, you will find pretty much the same clothing, sporting goods, housewares, and bookstores anywhere in America. On the other hand, you will find pretty much the same clothing, sporting goods, housewares, and bookstores anywhere in America. If you're looking for something different, you won't find it; if you're looking for something familiar, you will find it. Actually, here in The Land you will also find the same ten or so clothing chains anywhere in the country you go. But each store is quite small. You couldn't house a Boeing 747 in any of them as you could in many of Old Navy or The Gap's that I've been in.

Among the items I planned to buy was a pair of sneakers. Barbara had brought me back a pair on one of her earlier trips; even though it was a size 10, what I normally wear, it was too small. From now on, I will try on any pair of footwear I buy. So I went hiking around an enormous strip mall in search of something appropriate for my size and wallet. Marshall's? Nothing that fit and much too disorganized. T.J. Maxx's? Nothing much there. One place left to go, a quintessential American mega-store, The Sports Authority. When we were lads, if you wanted a ball, or a bat, or a mitt, you went to a hole-in-the-wall establishment on Jerome Avenue in The Bronx called, if memory serves me -- and it sometimes does -- Hi-Jinx. And you were happy to have that bat, or that ball, or that mitt. The only baseball glove I ever owned was a fielder's mitt with the signature of one Johnny Lindell, a journeyman outfielder whose all-time batting ranking according to one ranking is number 1083 (one above Babe Phelps). The fact that he was a righty and I was a lefty never dawned upon me because I had no idea at the time who he was. It wouldn't have mattered anyway; that was my glove, and I did take care of it. Who would have imagined that the stuff you used to be able to find in a ten foot wide store under the elevated train line would now fill aisle after aisle, row after row, in mega-stores in malls throughout the country. You want to play indoors in your basement or outside in a stadium? You want to play croquet or bocce, pitch horseshoes or softballs, jump on a pogo stick or a trampoline? You want sticks, bats, clubs, gloves, mitts, mats, nets, balls of every size and shape, rackets for any sport? Your son wants a replica of his favorite athlete's uniform -- even if he is three foot six and his idol is six foot ten? You want to play a sport that no true American would be caught dead playing, like soccer or cricket? You want your computer screen to be your playing field, a couch to be your seat on the bench? Well, actually, I wanted none of the above. I just needed a pair of sneakers to replace the ones I was wearing which were falling apart. Today, as some of you know, there is no such thing as a simple pair of sneakers. They must have at least thirty different kinds of athletic shoes, depending on what you plan to do. Who in his right mind would wear basketball shoes to go skateboarding? Think about it.

Passing by row after row of esoteric footwear, I finally found "walking shoes," which I figured would be the default description of what I was looking for. Sure enough, there was half an aisle of eight foot high shelves, meaning there might have been five hundred pairs of 'walking shoes' in different sizes and different brands. Unlike in a lot of other stores which might have a hundred pairs of a particular item -- all in the same size, invariably not my size -- here, after trying on ten pairs, I found one that fit perfectly, size 10 1/2EEE. How did my feet get so big???? A question without an answer.

I remember my first pair of sneakers -- they were just called that back then when we were in junior high. There were several options for colors but only one style: hightops, and only one brand: Keds. Part of the 'common wisdom' was that sneakers were bad for our feet, so it took quite a bit of persuading to get my parents to buy a pair for each of us. The footwear certainly got a lot of use, thousands of hours if you added them up, of two on two or three on three half-court basketball games that we played every day in the playgrounds and schoolyards of my childhood. Now that I think of it, none of the equipment we used, the sneakers, the balls -- even the 'spaldeens' that we used for stickball -- had any player's name on it. Just my mitt, the signature of Johnny Lindell. I wonder what happened to that left-handed fielder's glove, and when I decided that I needed it no longer. I didn't ask, but I'm pretty sure I couldn't find another even in a mega-store like The Sports Authority. The shopping district under the elevated Jerome Ave. line has changed greatly in the last fifty years. I wonder what has replaced Hi-Jinx; whatever it is, they probably don't carry any Johnny Lindell mitts either.

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