Sunday, April 07, 2013

Extremes of consumption

When I read Ellen Ruppel Shell's Cheap, I remember being somewhat shocked by her finding that factory-outlet stores sell clothing special-made for those stores, and not leftovers from usual production. While outlet malls were not a big part of my childhood, I did grow up with the urban-and-carless version thereof: Century 21, Filene's, sample sales. Part of me felt vindicated, having always suspected that bargain-hunting led to greater spending than simply going to regular stores and buying only things you're actually sure you want, full-priced. Of course, as an adult, if I learn of, say, a Petit Bateau sample sale, something I know I like, for less, I'm there in no time.

Or so it went when I lived in New York. These days, my leisure time centers almost exclusively on learning how to drive on the highway. And... having run out of ideas, we (do you think I'm learning how to merge alone?) ended up with a nearby outlet mall - a short trip involving not one but two highways, and thus the perfect advanced-basic driving lesson. And yes, living far from normal stores (Lululemon doesn't count) has meant that nearly all my clothing is incredibly worn out, so this had a practical component as well.

The mall itself looked like everything else in these parts, but more so - an enormous strip mall. There were announcements over a loudspeaker in a bunch of different languages, including - Coco Chanel is turning over in her grave - French. But there were French-speaking shoppers, so this wasn't some kind of pretentious affectation. Nike pas cher!

If you want to spend under $50 for a pair of new sneakers with a swoosh, without getting in trouble with European counterfeit law, this is the place. I tried on a couple pairs of running shoes, and one fit fine but looked weird, although no weirder than pairs costing twice that. But still, at $60, and not attractive or woods-compatible-seeming, had to say no. Next!

Next was the Brooks Brothers outlet, where I was hoping to find some of those boys' oxfords that are apparently super-chic on women. All I found was the biggest urine stench of any store I'd ever been in. Next! Levi's, for a moment, but we'd already had more than enough. So I can't comment on the relative denim quality as vs. the $30 jeans I've had from the retail store for many years, that are only now on the cusp of falling apart.

Eventually, there was a J.Crew factory store. Which - horrors - has clothing that looks like J.Crew but is significantly cheaper and quite as high-end-seeming as the stuff I admire but don't buy in town. The lower quality was a problem insofar as every single pair of these chambray shorts I liked had a weird crease in them.

Verdict? I need more highway practice. As for the stores themselves, if there weren't the aura of deceptiveness, as if one is getting the same thing but on sale, it wouldn't bother me at all that there are lower-end versions of whichever stores. The criticism I've seen of these stores that seems the most compelling is that their location - middle of nowhere - all but compels browsers to buy something so the trip was worth their while. For me personally, the trip itself was the point, and I'd like to think the striped shorts and neon-pink belt I ended up with - both items I'd already wanted, and cheap - were not make-the-visit-worthwhile purchases. But, could be.


At the other extreme, foraging. After listening to the Leonard Lopate Show interview with Tama Matsuoka Wong, professional forager and New Jerseyan, and then doing a bit more Googling, I figured I'd be able to correctly identify a weed that grows in these parts called wild garlic. Given my obsession with all things allium (ramps, but better yet, green garlic or, mmm, scapes), the possibility that this was just everywhere was intriguing. And indeed, once you know what to look for, and how to confirm (break a piece of this hollow "grass" in half and it smells like garlic), you see that it's everywhere. The woods here are covered in a plant that I'd probably find delicious. And... I took some home, rinsed it off, and tasted a little piece, found it pleasantly garlicky, only to have this incredibly neurotic/sensible moment where I thought, what if this isn't edible? should I believe everything I hear on NPR? what if it was sprayed with pesticides? what if there's an anti-foraging law in these woods? And so ended a brief career in amateur foraging.


Petey said...

"do you think I'm learning how to merge alone?"

Taken outside of its context, this a quite funny statement.

"Verdict? I need more highway practice."

Hear, hear!

It's actually a quite brief learning curve, and once you get a basic grasp on the rather simple tasks, it equals freedom. And while several attempts with a partner are indeed helpful, don't dally too long in giving it a try alone.

The first time you try alone will be scary. The second time, not so much. And when you consider how very many stupid people there are who drive for years and survive without incident, you'll realize the odds are on your side.


"The woods here are covered in a plant that I'd probably find delicious. And... I took some home, rinsed it off, and tasted a little piece, found it pleasantly garlicky"

Yay! Good for you!

"what if this isn't edible?"

It probably is.

"should I believe everything I hear on NPR?"

Yes. (Though some supplementary googling can help bolster your faith.)

"what if it was sprayed with pesticides?"

Wash it. Do you think your store-bought produce hasn't been treated similarly?

"what if there's an anti-foraging law in these woods?"

Live dangerously.

"And so ended a brief career in amateur foraging."

Boo! Hiss!

Phoebe said...

Ah, advice to risk my life with abandon. Why I don't take life advice from first-name-only (or pseudonymous) strangers on the internet. But yes, the "merge" remark does sound funny now that it's quoted back to me.

Petey said...

"Ah, advice to risk my life with abandon. Why I don't take life advice from first-name-only (or pseudonymous) strangers on the internet."

1) "Petey" offers saner and safer advice than "Prudie". After all, who's been telling you to switch to whole wheat pasta for a few weeks and see if your taste buds don't accept the switch with great satisfaction by the end of the experiment? Safety first! But keep in mind that an over-adundance of prudence is actually not prudential behavior.

2) NPR is our burning bush. It provides the direct voice of yahweh. Doubting it flirts with blasphemy.

3) In the theoretically possible but incredibly unlikely scenario where you are busted for violating an anti-foraging law, I promise to testify at your trial in your defense.