Sometimes I think I’m too old to shop here, that I should be turned away at the door because I’m so far past decorating a dorm room or first apartment. I imagine signs like those at amusement park rides except these say, “No admittance after age 50 unless accompanied by a grandchild.” I feel eons away from the young hipster moms in their skinny jeans and expensive boots, filling carts with Kind bars and organic coconut water. I relate more to the Hush Puppy Basset Hound than I do to that slightly sinister white dog with the red circles around his eye. I question if I or anyone else really needs a package of 16 precious gluten-free, fair-trade-produced quinoa wafers.
Admittedly, Target lures me with its siren song of coupons for items I recently purchased. “We know who you are and we know what you buy, so come back to us.” And I do go back and buy household detritus– cotton balls and cat food, paper plates and laundry detergent, a huge bag of fragrant oranges. I shop here because I get bored with the grocery store and that it’s somehow politically correct, (even Michelle Obama escaped to Target one day) and that I’m failing at something if my medicine chest doesn’t contain “Up and Up” band-aids. The store is cleaner and brighter and feels less oppressive than its famous competitor a few miles away. At the check-out, a surly young man scans my items, silently thrusts a gift card toward me, a reward magically earned for one of my purchases. Nearby a child’s late afternoon whiney-ness dissolves into a full-blown tantrum while his mother stares at her phone.
My generation cut our retail teeth shopping at 5 and 10’s smelling like plastic and popcorn and slightly fetid water from the fish and turtle tank at the back of the store. Instead of sipping a latte from the Starbuck’s kiosk, we popped a balloon dangling over the lunch counter to see if we had won a free cherry coke to go with our grilled cheese, oozing orange Velveeta onto a thick green plate.
Our stores had sloping hardwood floors with no caution signs to warn shoppers and their attorneys of a potential fall risk. Aisles were jammed with packs of pink foam hair curlers, transistor radios and Big Ben alarm clocks, coloring books (for children only) and the latest 45 records. Clerks wearing smocks with their name stitched over the breast pocket rang up each item on curve-bellied cash registers, the total appearing in wide-eyed black and white numerals at the top of the machine. Hands touched as we paid with cash.
When we needed more than basics, we shopped at locally owned department stores in nearby downtowns. There were no carts and centralized check-outs. Uniformed attendants piloted grate-covered elevators. Sales persons, mostly middle-aged women, presided over each individual department and helped us find our dad’s shirt size or the correct accessories for a First Communion dress.
We bought our share of crap in those days, too. My family’s first crèche set came from Woolworth’s where it was on display amongst the shiny aluminum Christmas trees and flammable tinsel. The cardboard stable finally fell apart and one or two lambs are amputees but I still set the figures out every year. Mary and Joseph have faded price tags on the bottom that say 29 cents.
Maybe because we had fewer choices, what we bought seemed more special. Few of us had the money that many of us do now so what we bought, even the incidentals, meant something. Our keeping up with the Jones’ was just that—did we have the same color tv as the neighbors? Not did we have the tv recommended by our Facebook friends. We were not sent into paroxysms of indecision by endless inventory– too many choices all vetted by our phones with the most up to the minute reviews and information. Brick and mortar stores have become giant dressing rooms, feel and touch and try on for size and then order it from the computer in our pocket. Thanks, but no thanks.
I think as the days of my life become ever more fleeting, I am less interested in surrounding myself with things that are fleeting, the latest and greatest widget that morphs into rummage sale fodder in a few short years. Things that are “so-o-o cute” as my close friend’s daughter, a young mom, gushes. The brightly colored throw pillows and futon covers and metallic wall hangings belong to the freshly minted adult, innocent and optimistic, reveling in their immortality. I leave the woven storage baskets and chemical-free sippy cups to the thirty-somethings, rapt with the blush of first home ownership and beginning parenthood.
The late comedian George Carlin said, “A house is just a place to hold your shit while you’re out buying more shit,” and I’m still there. My husband and I have not yet reached that prelude to nursing home-hood, downsizing, but it lurks in the not too distant future. So, I want the good stuff— comforters with the print on both sides, corkscrews that last more than a year and tops with sleeves to cover my post-menopausal arms. I want to shop where clerks make eye contact and talk to me, proud of what they sell. I want stuff that will not all be sent to Goodwill when the executors come to clean out the house.
Several years ago, my friend’s daughter bought me Christmas tree ornaments from Target. One is an eggplant-shaped globe and the others are large teal and olive colored glass balls. I dutifully hang them on my tree each year because I love this young woman and they were purchased with the first dollars she earned as an independent adult. But I would never decorate my tree in colors of purple and teal and olive. They are meant for a tree adorned with cute little feathers and swathed in filmy fabric instead of one covered with 50-year-old ornaments and possibly even a few strands of flammable tinsel. They don’t even belong in the same room as my three-legged lambs.
As I stare down the barrel of 60, a part of me envies those just starting out, excited by all that Target and life has to offer. I don’t begrudge them the American dream of decorating the nursery and equipping the kitchen and buying cupcake wrappers for classroom birthday treats. I say good luck and God bless you because in the end none of it matters but in the meantime, go enjoy it for all it’s worth. But a greater part of me savors being freed from chasing all that is trendy and chic in the giant red emporium. I find it soothing to be slightly removed from the frenzy of acquisition, exhilarated by choosing things to accompany me on this part of the journey regardless of their perceived coolness. I love the confidence and joyful arrogance, the utter been-there-done-that-ness which comes with age.