These are the stores with faded, gaudy signs advertising permanent 60-percent-off sales.
They’re the ones where the boarded window says they offer “merchandise,” no explanation what that merchandise is. Some just list a $1 or $1.99 price limit.
They have names like “Jerusalem” or “Mecca,” sometimes names in Spanish or general business terms. They line Chicago Avenue where East Ukie Village meets just general West Town.
At Mecca, a chubby man with a shaved head poked through an outdoor rack until he found some sleeveless basketball jerseys he liked. Racks of shirts and shorts always clog the entranceways to these stores — that’s a universal.
“How much are those?” he asked a woman with a tattoo on her left breast.
“A dollar ninety-nine,” the woman replied.
The man called to his girlfriend, who had been browsing shorts on the other side of the entrance.
“Boo! Boo! A dollar ninety-nine!”
I was there to buy some shorts that would feed the clown monster.
Physically, I blend. I’m neither tall nor short, thin nor fat, ugly nor super-hot. I walk into a room and people forget I’m there, which is a great trait for a reporter. I look like I belong anywhere.
But as a man, I sometimes like to stand out a bit, to peacock a little and show the ladies what they’re missing. Then out comes the clown monster.
A lime-green button-up with jagged, symptomatic triangles. A patterned Thai shirt the same color scheme as a 1970s Burger King. Pinstriped jams. I don’t blend then. The clown monster doesn’t stop until he hurts someone’s eyes.
Looking through the purple and orange plaid shorts on the outdoor racks, realizing they came so low they would basically be pants on me and seeing the bright bright red of a pair I could make a survival tent out of, I realized I was outdone. The clown monster had met his match and had run off to get chinos and a Lacoste. A monochrome one.
I eventually settled on a rather fetching orange plaid pair from the $1.99 rack where the chubby man and his boo checked out jerseys. Unlike the hip-hop tents of the $9.99 rack, this orange plaid was cheap, chic, went to a reasonable length and looked like it would fit my ass and personality to a T.
“Those are women’s, sweetie,” the woman with a tattoo on her breast said.
“Oh, thanks,” I replied, putting the shorts back. “I wondered what 11 meant.”
Inside the store, a man told me where I could try on a $9.99 light cotton pair with an excessive amount of elastic bands. I walked past racks of $69 and $89 suits with matching hats, walls of $200 suits of the type where the coat goes to your knees.
The fitting room was covered in posters for the Steve Harvey collection. The same picture of the dapper comedian was Photoshopped into different locations on each poster. On one, someone had poked out Harvey’s left eye.
The shorts did fit. They are currently the lightest, breeziest, most comfortable thing I own. I have no doubt they will disintegrate into elastic bands and a khaki-colored foam with the first wash.
“You’re getting a good deal on them,” the man told me when I walked back out.
These are the stores with faded, gaudy signs advertising permanent 60-percent-off sales. They’re where people shop to look swank for less than a twenty. They’re where folks who otherwise can’t afford it get dapper like Harvey. It’s the only spot yet to scare off the clown monster.
I’m totally going back.