I do most of the shopping for our children, and there aren’t a lot of apparel options in our small town, so I occasionally end up at Rue 21 where their body shaming sizing scheme works out in our favor. My svelte daughter is eight-years-old, which is to say, their size small. I always feel a twinge of regret when I enter the store, thinking of the bulimic twenty-some struggling to fit into a shirt that is a perfect fit for a third-grader.
What really got me curious though was the aesthetics of their clothing lines. Fashion tends to trickle down to small towns, so I imagine that our city’s dominant trend of pajama pants, flip-flops, and despair is a decade or two behind what is popular in major metropolises.
Rue 21 is different though. They sell men’s clothing that I swear I have seen in family photos from the 1980s. I asked the manager about it. “How is it that so many of these clothes look so . . . vintage?”
“Let me show you,” she said, and right away, I established that this was nothing sexual and showed her my wedding ring, because my wife is insanely jealous.
She brought me to a secluded back room. I displayed my wedding ring again and pointed several times to my daughter, a byproduct of me having a wife. She moved aside a velour curtain to reveal what was clearly the time machine from the 1960s adaptation of H.G. Wells’ novel. I noticed several modifications, most notably what looked like a dryer vent hose projecting from the front of the device, along with a sign that read, “Fashion Output. Caution: Apparel May Be Hot.”
“This is where we get out merchandise,” the manager said. “As you seem to have guessed, we have exploited a temporal rift to suction our clothing directly from the mid-’80s. Occasionally, we get people too . . . or parts of them, since the hose is pretty small. I think they were Asian factory workers, which is sad.”
“You have a time machine?”
“And you use it to suck clothes here from the past.”
“In layman’s terms. It’s the same place that JC Penny stocks their women’s clearance rack from.”
“Why the ’80s?”
“That’s how time machines work. It’s not like there is some lever or dial that allows you to adjust the temporal coordinates.”
“Yes, there is! It’s right there!” I am not an expert on time travel, but I’ve seen enough episodes of the original Doctor Who to know what’s-what (as opposed to the new episodes that teaches absolutely nothing practical).
“Huhn? I’ll be damned. Yeah, looks like we can set it to any year we want.”
“Can I buy some parachute pants from the ’90s then?”
“I don’t see why not.” She began fiddling with the dials and levers, which were totally intuitive and self-explanatory. “This should do it!”
It did not do it. We ended up with two dozen Cortinthian helmets with the heads still inside of them. The stream of ancient Grecian helmets continued unabated with no sign of stopping, and we were forced away from the machine by the steadily accumulating deluge.
I tried to lighten the mood by holding up one of the helmets and saying, “This is Sparta!” The manager did not laugh. She would probably lose her job over this stunt, and so I decided not to follow things up by saying, “I’ll take two,” even though I actually did want a couple — assuming they were reasonably priced and the heads could be cleaned out of them.
Two weeks later, I drove by and saw that the store’s signage had been replaced with a hastily strung banner, which read, “Corinthian Helmet Outlet Center.” A line of nerds extended out the door and wrapped around the block, so I suppose everything worked out for the best in the end. There was an article in the newspaper the next day about an employee at the neighboring Walmart who discovered numerous garbage bags of severed heads in their dumpsters, each marked “Grade B, Not For Experimentation” on the forehead.