Slip Slidin’ Away, Slip Slidin’ Away

We work our jobs
Collect our pay
Believe we’re gliding down the highway
When in fact we’re slip slidin’ away

Paul Simon

Sears. Fading out after 131 years. Slip sliding into retail obscurity. Founded in 1886 in Chicago by Richard Sears and Alvah Roebuck. Started as a mail order business, opening first retail stores in 1925. It was the largest retailer in the United States until 1989, surpassed by Walmart, Target, Best Buy and Home Depot.

Long before I ever saw the store, I was given an old catalog to play with. I was not much of a kid for dolls and playing house, preferred the outdoors, coveting playhouses, swings and pools as I turned the pages. However, I also loved clothes at an early age and so used my little scissors to cut out fashions I admired, filling my imaginary closet.

manekinsAnother ten years before I physically entered a Sears store with my parents and sister, after moving to Los Angeles. We drove miles inland to buy our first television, the only major purchase we needed since our rented beach house was fully furnished.

Another two years and we had our own house, Sears appliances, tools, and a beginning darkroom kit for me that my father helped me set up in the garage.

And then Sears soured in my mind. As a single, working mother trying to establish credit with Sears, I was turned down. Even with my mother co-signing with her 30-year account! A neighbor of hers, an older woman, had worked for Sears forever in the kitchen renovation department. She was gradually pushed out of her position and commission, given worse and worse projects, forcing her to fade away.

I seldom shopped there. A couple of times in 20 years, to buy specifically requested tools for my sons at Christmas or for birthdays.

The nearest Sears was an anchor for our local mall, and a landmark for my friends and family. Name clearly visible on the big stone building from half a mile away. Closest to an easy and spacious parking lot, close to major streets and freeways, next to the university my son attended, a convenient meeting place.

A few weeks ago, I stopped in to use the bathroom. I was shocked at how empty the store was, sales men and women clustering around racks of frumpy lumberjack shirts, directing me upstairs to a restroom hidden behind a maze of stoves and refrigerators.

So, I wasn’t surprised when I soon read the store was closing. Since 2010, Sears has slipped from 3,500 stores to 695.

Yesterday was its last day. And by chance I happened to be in the mall celebrating my birthday week with a friend. We both spotted the flapping plastic Closing! sign above the doors. She had a Sears appliance question, so suggested we go in.

A vast cavern, no answers here. A few rugs, forlorn pieces of clothing and piles of jewelry, mostly store shelves, bookcases, display cabinets, and manikins. The skeletal leftovers. Families and couples hovering and picking the bones. One woman hoisted a rolled rug on her shoulder and strolled out like she was carrying water jugs down to the riverbank. Vans and SUVs lined up outside the automatic doors to swallow the remnants.

The doors first opened in 1977, the year Paul Simon wrote his song about life’s plans slipping away from mere mortals.

Still, Sears had a good run. A flagship leading an era.

Tools for the handymen and busy women, dreams for the workers, immigrants and children.

I hope whatever comes next takes us farther down the highway.

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Merry, Merry Memories

Merry Pig and ElvesI have some extra time after getting my car serviced, so stop in at the mall across the freeway. I’ll just stroll around for a few minutes, maybe get some gift ideas, extra exercise.

It’s crowded, surprising for a week day. I crawl through the honking, swerving cars into the parking structure. Dodge clumps of people in Macy’s, my thoroughfare out to the mall. (San Diego malls are outdoor malls.)

Swoop into the tsunami of humanity. No poking along for me. As I set my sights on a far end, I realize I am charging at full speed, head bent. I am a blur in passing windows. So is everyone else, the running of the bulls, not wanting to be gored in the butt.

Then I realize we are trotting along to Christmas music! “We WISH you a Merry Christmas, we WISH you a Merry Christmas, and … ” Puff, puff, huff, huff, faster, faster, be jolly dammit …

My god, we have not even stuffed and been stuffed with our Thanksgiving turkey! Yes, Christmas decorations went up soon after the pumpkins came down, but isn’t our official first shopping day the day AFTER Thanksgiving, Black Friday? Why pipe in, force feed us, the holiday music so early?

I break away and descend the long escalator. There at the bottom luring us into his candy cane house is Santa. BIG Santa, we’re talking six foot four or more. Handsome. I swear he twinkles his eyes at me. He is probably bored, since only one cranky child lurks on the other side with a father trying so hard to be patient.

I smile at Santa and jump back into the river of merriness. The rapids circle me round and dump me off back where I started. It’s time to go home, to check where I’ve stored my holiday spirit.

********************

Memories from 30 years ago pop up. My year as a shopping center promotion assistant. Sandwiched in between my careers as an advertising writer and a journalist. My job was to help the marketing director, Irene, write stories about the 60-plus stores for the local paper and plan and set up promotions for the upscale center located on the Palos Verdes Peninsula. An older woman who had returned to college late in life, Irene encouraged me to finish my degree in journalism and let me work a flexible schedule. Her job as head of the merchants association was like working with 60 shrieking children, but she handled it with aplomb and humor. Allowed me to bring my sons to promotions such as Casino Night – play that roulette wheel! – and 4H Club Spring/Easter Farm Days featuring kids’ chickens, goats, pigs. One day a pig got loose from its pen. Irene and I chased it through the shopping center as it rooted its way through the flower beds. We caught him, muck up to our knees.

At Christmas, we set up the Santa house, scheduled the professional freelance Santas and hired local high school students to be the helpful elves, corral kids, take photos. More than one Santa showed up drunk. Up went the sign, “Santa will be right back,” until we could scramble up a replacement. And more often than not, the elves did not show up at all. Irene and I pulled on the elf costumes and stood inside the little house with Santa.

One busy weekend day, we looked out at a long line of parents, grandparents, children.

“Oh my god,” said Irene, under her little elf hat. “There’s my neighbor. I was just bragging to her about my great new job.”

********************Elves and Pig

When I left that job to work down the street for the local paper, Irene gave me a going-away present, a little ceramic pig. “This is to remember.”

The pig has come with me to every job since. Now it sits on my desk. At this time of year, the elves look on.

Window Shopping Other Lives

For me, shopping is like meditation. I prefer to do it alone. If someone is next to me, I want them to be quiet, not asking me if I’m visualizing the tropical beach or if I really need that Hawaiian shirt. The only person I can shop with successfully is my sister. Cut from the same fabric, we are able to go with the flow compatibly, wherever the shopping zone might be. The right combination of closeness when we need it or distance when we need the quiet space to contemplate.

What is it we are contemplating? Like meditation, shopping is a temporary escape from a life where I’ve always worked hard and had a lot of responsibilities. I feel the need to say that, because I know shopping sounds so frivolous compared to activities such as finding a cure for cancer or ladling soup in the ghetto kitchen. Like meditation, if undertaken for short, focused periods, it can enhance our lives. It’s a creative way to contemplate all the pieces of my life, how they might better fit together or come alive with something new … or should I throw them all away and start over? It’s a way to imagine myself in a whole new life even, at least for a couple of hours.

window shoppingInstead of a down-to-earth, work-at-home beach bum who wears jeans most of the time, I can be a business woman, but hipper; a bohemian poet; a punk rock rebel; a tasteful sex bomb; or a sleek athlete. I try these possible lives on in my mind, not in the dressing room, where my dream would be instantly and cruelly shattered. No, no dressing rooms with their three-dimensional mirrors and light blasted directly from the sun. The point of contemplative window shopping is to imagine possibilities and weave their spirit back into my own life. Maybe instead of dressing like a rock star, I just need to listen to music more often or take guitar lessons?

This type of meditative shopping doesn’t have to be just for clothes either. It works with home décor, books, cosmetics, gifts, and many other items. (Maybe that red vase would zap up the beige living room? Maybe I should move to a tropical tree house on the beach?) And it doesn’t have to be just for women.

While most men do not seem to like shopping for clothes or gift items, I’ve seen them disappear for hours in hardware, gizmo-tech, and auto supply stores. They may go in for a computer cable or transmission fluid, but I’m sure it crosses their minds while trolling the aisles of gadgets that the new $5,000 home theater system would fit in the family room, or that the Italian leather key ring would look good dangling from a Ferrari ignition. Maybe they would look good cruising the Amalfi coast? With a hot Italian, of course.

Oh, the possibilities for all of us as we browse the Other Lives selections. We may come home with a small item or two, but that is not the main reason for the shopping trip. Money cannot buy what we bring home: a new way of looking at our lives, some vision that beckons us forward and yet still casts an appreciative glow on what we already have.Shopping at Bloomies

If we’re lucky enough to have a good relationship, we can keep it that way by never shopping together. Unless it’s an emergency, like the couch exploded or you ran out of beer. Even then, it’s better if just one goes. Almost every time I am out shopping – happily alone – I overhear an unhappy couple who have ignored this guideline. The man, often older and newly retired with nothing better to do than bug his wife, is reminding her that she already has three sweaters in that color. Or that she is not the expert on couch construction she thinks she is. I want to pat her on the shoulder and say, “Next time, leave him at home on the remains of the couch.” Or sometimes I see a cute young guy sitting patiently on a couch outside a dressing room. “Hi,” I want to say, “did you know there’s a great hardware store next door? It has everything you can imagine – and more.”