Walked into Marshalls, feeling cute
It was a Friday night and I had nothing to do. But there’s always something fun to see at Marshalls, where everything’s on sale and nothing makes sense. There are Bugs Bunny candle-mug combo sets. Pina Colada body mist. FRIENDS-themed Street Fighter toys. I was looking at a nativity button-down shirt. The fabric was upside down, but only mostly so? Then a Victorian t-shirt with elbow sleeves the size of hot-air balloons. Nearby, a man was examining the two-piece men’s bathing suits. I glanced over at him and he caught my eye and said:
“Did you know they make two-piece bathing suits for men?”
He was attractive, and seemed to share my age range and general state of bewilderment. He had round glasses that matched mine and hair pulled back into a bun. I asked him what he thought of the orientation of my nativity shirt. “At least it’s right side up when you’re wearing it, looking down.”
We got to talking. I was at Marshalls on a Friday night to gawk at strange objects; he was there to buy a wedding suit jacket. He asked which of his two options I preferred. I told him. I asked if he wanted to see the mugs. He said, “Obviously.” I enjoyed the candle smells; he detested them. He considered buying unicorn-shaped licorice; I discouraged him. Eventually I realized I hadn’t yet asked him his name. So:
“By the way, what’s your name?”
Sometimes he goes by Seth. Sometimes by a new name. On Friday night, after a quick death glare from me, he corrected himself — “I actually go by my middle name, Henry. And you?”
We occasionally go on dates where we “meet” for the first time. Suddenly, everything about him becomes new again. The way he looks. The way he talks. The way conversation unfolds. Also, dating is fun. Meeting “new people” is fun. But mostly it’s about noticing things in a new light.
Henry was a former medical student turned cult member turned drifter. I was a disillusioned Washington Post photographer. Our personas both happened to be disenchanted and in a state of transition. But they/we spoke about things that felt both new and true to our real lives. We/they enjoyed walking through the nighttime streets of Mount Pleasant. Plus, our Marshalls date had the added benefit of accomplishing a shopping chore. (And Taylor persuaded Henry to buy her a cute shirt because Taylor “forgot her wallet”).
Henry told Taylor about how his Buddhist-knockoff cult taught him how to be surprised by things anew. Taylor told Henry about how earlier that evening, on the way to Marshalls, her Spotify “surprise me” playlist took her to a shittily fun pop song with the lyrics:
I want you to surprise me
Turn me back into myself
It’s a nice song with a good beat—minus a cheesy chorus—and the verse lyrics were perfect just then. Because that’s what I wanted. Because I was looking for surprise.
Sometimes I enjoy writing this newsletter most when I have no idea what to say. Because if I think for five minutes, I can usually think of something — and then when you have that something, all these other things fall into line behind it. Two weeks ago, I thought about green, then realized green was everywhere. A while back, my run was interrupted by a maintenance man, and suddenly interruptions were everywhere. Suddenly, bucket hats. Everything is everywhere and it can be overwhelming. How do you put all the “things” in your life in order? Sometimes, you just a pick a thing, and there they go. Oftentimes, your emotions drive the train. Emotions are things you can notice; emotions are things that do the noticing; and emotions make decisions. But emotions are also things you can… not control, but notice, guide, and delicately point forward. And wherever they point, there they go.
When Henry invited Taylor up to his apartment for a drink of water (she usually wouldn’t agree on a first date, but it was very hot out and she was very thirsty), Taylor/I was very touched by the homey decorations. There were two orange cats who seemed to fall in love with Taylor/me immediately. The view was impressive. There were several books she/I’d read and several more on our “to-read” list. Water tasted better? Maybe it was just my emotions telling me so. But it’s fizzy and cold and essential.
Stepping into this apartment (home), life seemed pretty good.
PS: Publication alert! I interviewed the debut author Nada Alic about her new short story collection BAD THOUGHTS. It was a cool book and the author had a lot of interesting things to say about it. Read “Meditation, ego death, and the humor of being alive: An interview with Nada Alic” in the Chicago Review of Books.