’Tis the season to be jolly…or a rude bitch.
I pride myself on my intense passion for shopping in all forms. So naturally, skipping out on Black Friday was not an option. I left the hubby and kiddos at home and ventured out to the nearby mall, where, as usual, a shopper on her way out was pulling out of her premium parking spot just as I happened to turn down her row. (You see, parking spots at malls magically open up for me when they see me coming.) A good sign, I thought. A good sign.
A good sign, or a perfect red herring. I ended up wandering apathetically through stores, politely squeaking “Excuse me” over and over as I wound around slow-moving families walking five across and chattering packs of high school girls. Sales on chenille gloves, cheap watches, and body lotion gift sets failed to catch my fancy. These wares were not acceptable Christmas gifts—not nearly specialized enough or of high enough quality. Even though most of the stores were offering 50% off, rather than their usual 40%, I knew that most of these stores would continue their deals right up until Christmas. Why put pressure on myself to capitalize on the Black Friday craze? I didn’t need to add to my credit card bill to prove my devotion to consumerism. Well, I didn’t need to do it all today, anyway.
I turned my focus to buying holiday clothes for the kids. After two pairs of Skechers as well as Gap cords for my son, I was almost ready to call it a day. I could celebrate my findings despite the claustrophobia and frustration I had suffered, maneuvering through unbearable crowds—excuse me, excuse me, excuse me—and tolerating unfair decibels of noise from overtired children, shouting teenagers, and the hard sells of sales associates standing in store doorways. However, though I never shopped there, Aeropostale beckoned me in…I figured that I could find something sparkly for my daughter to wear to our Christmas Eve party.
For about ten minutes I choreographed and performed my own angst-filled dance number around the displays. People would block me into a corner or stand too close to me, breathing with their mouths open, surveying the merchandise that I was sifting through over my bent head and waiting for me to move. But I endured these offenses, stepping aside and finding an alternate, though labyrinthine, route back to the same display from a different direction. After a while, having scored a tinsel-infused sweater for my daughter, I decided to check out the table covered in cute hoodies in the back, near the dressing rooms. Turns out, that was one goal too many for Black Friday.
The only way to access this back table with the hoodies was to squeeze through a narrow passageway. As I prepared to squeeze, a teenage girl and her father stepped in front of me. The daughter held up a shirt and asked her dad his opinion. Their bonding was lovely; it really was. But I was carrying two bulging Gap bags with flimsy drawstrings, which were digging into the flesh of my arm, a Skechers backpack with two boxes of shoes, a bag of toys from the pop-up Toys-R-Us Express, and a Betsey Johnson pocketbook. Let’s just say that with these accoutrements I didn’t have the streamlined figure required to slip behind the daughter without bumping into her, and clearly, she and her dad didn’t have the self-awareness to recognize that they were blocking others’ access to this back table. I bent my knees, hugged my bags close, took a deep breath, and attempted to wriggle between the daughter and a mirrored wall, murmuring “Excuse me” in apology.
You know when someone annoys you in public and after she walks away, you might insult her in a soft voice, meaning for her to hear your accusation in another lifetime but not really right now because you don’t truly have the guts to say anything to her face and deal with the consequences? So, the father and his daughter were not so shy. They weren’t shy about their lack of tact, nor about performing a dramatic scene for the fifty people in the store.
“Jesus. She can’t even say ‘excuse me.’ She hasta push on by.”
“Yar. So rude. She almost knocked me ovah.”
“I don’t know what’s wrong with people.”
“Yar, seriously. Doesn’t even care about anyone else. All she cares about is getting where she needs to go.”
“What the hell.”
I could have ignored them. But I didn’t. I looked at them over my shoulder and shrugged. I knew the truth: I had asked them for the same pardon that I had been asking everyone else for since I arrived at the mall.
“Aw, yar, now she’s shruggin’!”
“Yar, go ’head and shrug, lady! Shrug us off! So rude.”
“Well, when you’re standing in the way…” I said. Though my heart was pounding, the rest of me was surprisingly calm. There’s no way that five years ago I would have mired myself in this confrontation. I would have shrunk away and combed through the hoodies, head down, face hot. But I had had enough. Enough of inexperienced shoppers’ ignorance; double strollers and wailing children; tacky t-shirt carts; the line for the ladies’ room; the line for Frappuccinos; the smell of Japanese stir fry cooked in huge batches; making excuses for myself so that I could ask permission—of whom?!—to enjoy my holiday shopping experience like every other human being.
The father took two aggressive steps toward me, and, as though in a scene from some after-school special on out-of-control sports parents, the daughter grabbed his arm and tried to pull him back.
“Dad, Dad…c’mon…forget it. Let it go.”
“No—ya know what?” he said to her, and then to me, “You’re such a rude bitch.”
Now that the after-school special part was over, I was transported into a sitcom: the phrase “rude bitch” rang out, louder than anything else the guy had said and louder than any hustle and bustle in Aeropostale and louder than any recording of Mariah Carey’s All I Want for Christmas Is You that could have been blasting over the mall PA. The words hung in the air, almost visible, and reverberated. The rest of the store blurred and fell away, and suddenly it was just me and my new name, together, one entity and one identity, best friends merged into one being, forever.
“Thank you, sir,” I heard myself saying. “I wear it like a badge.”
“I bet you do,” he snarled.
His daughter finally dragged him away. I turned to the table of hoodies, shaking my head. The petrified expression on the sales associate’s face struck me. She averted her eyes; she was afraid that I, the Rude Bitch, would talk to her. At that moment, I realized that for the first time in my life, I was the outcast, the undesired toxin, in a retail environment. That realization didn’t feel good. What did feel sort of good, however, was that even though my comebacks weren’t world-shatteringly witty (I would dream up some winners much later, of course), I had still responded to these people’s dare. I had refused to be taunted without exercising my right to use my voice, and therefore to be sent cowering back into my younger, less confident self.
The whole thing was weirdly exciting. Deck the stores with bouts of brawling…’tis the season to act appalling. Or, to have faith in your right to carve out your own space in the world. You can just call me RB from now on.