Harlem: Panic Shopping and Escalators

Image result for escalator harlem


Marshalls. 125th and Malcolm X Blvd.

I drop by to get some athletic socks and then to browse the shirt aisle. An African man interrupts and asks the price of a shirt. I find the brand tag for him and it says $44. An irritated look crosses his face, “$44? Yeesh.” But then I remember to look at the tag inside the shirt and there we find Marshalls’ price: $14. His face brightens, “Ah, yes, much better.” He then decides to share, “Every week I buy one shirt and one pair of pants. No more than that. After several months, I will have a nice collection.” A disciplined fellow trying to make it in America. Bravo. He’s on the up and up. I wonder, though, about his ratio of pants to shirts.

Marshalls. East River Plaza. Between FDR drive and 119th and 116th.

Step up to the checkout with my purchase and pull out my Chase Freedom card. “Oh, a Chase Freedom card,” says the attendant. “Yeah,” I say, “they’re pretty nice.” “Oh,” she says, “I wanted one of those and applied for it but it was denied.” I raise an eyebrow and smile asking for an explanation (they’re not that hard to get). She laughs, “Oh I’ve maxed out all my other cards. My kids be like, ‘Mom, you can’t be doing that. They won’t give you another card.'” A bit less disciplined here. She’s on the down and down. 

Back to Marshalls at 125th and Malcolm X Blvd.

I wander downstairs with my socks. The detritus of capitalism clutter the cattle shoot you must traverse to get to the register. I stand contemplating some chocolates at half price. I have no intention of buying them. Just something to look at. But something strange is afoot. I glance towards the escalators and a flood of people are descending towards us in a nervous and quick fashion. And then I saw her: the large woman waddle-running down the upwards moving escalator, a look of panic on her face, breathing heavily as each step gets her slightly closer to the bottom.

That’s when I remembered the ticking, black, plastic bag. It was in the corner of the store upstairs in the luggage section (I was also looking for a weekend bag). The ticking was distinct and methodical and for an un-frightened moment I thought to myself, “Oh, a bomb, well it’s good to know my final destination.” But then I chuckled to myself, “Modern bombs don’t tick. Plus, who the hell would want to blow up an empty corner of Marshalls in Harlem?”

I don’t know for sure, but the look on the fat woman’s face as she came down the escalator the wrong way makes me suspect someone took the situation far more seriously than I did. The odd thing in this situation: she still had her bags grasped firmly in her hands. Running from death, her animal instinct kicked in as she retained her possessions. After all, even if you survive, you still must have food to survive. But we’re talking about MARSHALLS. They’ll have plenty of Tupperware tomorrow, honey. So either it was the animal instinct, or it was simply modernism: you don’t get killed by bombs in this world, and it would be really inconvenient if you had to come back tomorrow to get said Tupperwear, so you might as well keep it in hand; but you still might die, so you might as well run for insurance sake.

Plus it was good exercise for her and a blast to the past as she relived her childhood’s friends’ dare to break the rules and run down the ascending escalator.

Fear does funny things to people. I shouldn’t have laughed, she was really in a panic, but it was funny all the same.

As it turns out, there was no bomb, and I didn’t get to buy my socks, and she didn’t get to buy her Tupperware.

The day you don’t get killed is the day you’re still on the up and up.


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