Scavenger Hunt of the Soul

Aaaaaand we’re back!

Many apologies for going two whole days without a post, dear readers! I was a tad burned out Tuesday after I wrapped up the Top Companies issue of my mag. I thought about posting my From the Editor page or a picture of me lying next to an empty bottle of Plymouth Gin, but then I realized that I was even further from my right mind than I was after landing in San Diego at 3am last month.

For those of you keeping score at home, the problem with my office computer turned out to involve a faulty logic board, but the repair service hadn’t diagnosed that until right before July 4th. When they quoted the cost of replacing it, our IT dept. realized that it would be cheaper to buy me a new computer and just copy my old hard drive’s contents onto it. So I’ve spent this morning cleaning up files and importing bookmarks, mail and iTunes settings on a brand-new 20″ iMac. Since I was on a 17″ model before, this is a sweet upgrade.

So that’s what was waiting for me at the office this morning. In fact, it was waiting for me yesterday morning, but I decided that a vacation day was the better part of valor, having worked through the previous two weekends and the July 4th holiday to get this ish together. I’m at a point in my life and career where I’ll never take all the vacation, personal and comp days allotted to me in a year, so all I can do is pick a day here and there and fail to show up at work.

So what did I do with my first non-work day in more than a month? Well, this would hardly be the Virtual Memories you’ve come to know and love without a little quotidian magic.

Since the official VM wife still had to go to work, the day started at our usual 5am. After the routine of coffee, reading the newspapers online, and feeding and walking Rufus, I slumped down on my chaise longue, picked up a copy of Orwell’s essays, and read Marrakech, because that’s what I opened to. I luxuriated in his clean, wonderful prose, thought about how poorly my pharma-profiles were in comparison, and decided not to think about the issue for the rest of the day.

(That said, I didn’t write anything as bizarre as, “Gazelles are almost the only animals that look good to eat when they are still alive. In fact, one can hardly look at their hindquarters without thinking of mint sauce,” so maybe the issue won’t turn out to be that bad. . .)

Instead, I spent a few minutes deciding whether I should go to the Yankees 1pm game against the Devil Rays. I went online to check for day-of-game tickets and discovered that I could get a really awesome seat . . . for only $400! No, that’s not a misprint; we live in an age where one ticket to a mid-season baseball game can run you $400.

There were cheaper options available, but as I looked over the seats and thought about the purpose of A Day Off, it occurred to me that fighting New York traffic, searching for parking (the new stadium construction has removed some of the previous parking lots) in the Bronx, and sitting in an uncomfortable seat on a day in the high 80s with stifling humidity might not be the best way for me to decompress. Perhaps, I thought, I’d be better off watching the game at home and having a beer that cost less than $8.

Having eliminated one northern NJ option, I returned to my chaise, picked up paper and pen, and pursued another: mall-hopping! I composed a to-do/shopping list, plotting out the stops I’d have to make in and around Paramus, the Nexus of All Malls. I know that taking care of a bunch of errands and walking through a couple of malls and home-furnishing stores may not be everyone’s idea of a nice day off, but that was my comfort food. (As was a little shopping on Amazon: 3 volumes of Cromartie High School and a copy of Camp Concentration by Tom Disch, about whom, more later.)

I’d have preferred to spend the day a-couch, reading in the morning and writing in the afternoon, but I’d spent far too many days at home working on this issue. It was as though the familiar scenery was temporarily overlaid with a dull haze that only reminded me of the last weeks’ labors. I needed to get away, if only for a few hours. Plus, there’s a lot of pollen and dog hair everywhere, and I just couldn’t raise the will to clean.

So I set out at 9:30am, a lengthy but not over-ambitious list in hand. I started out by getting my mid-morning coffee at a Starbuck’s in Garden State Plaza. I drank a tall Pike Place and read a third of The Dunwich Horror on my Kindle as I waited for the shops to open. Then I ambled through the mall, sorting through the signals and noise of the storefronts, trying to divine messages in the retail ether. At one store, I noticed the soundtrack was Lost in the Supermarket by the Clash. I bought several skin care products. This probably makes me sound like Patrick Bateman, but hey.

By the time I finished at the mall, I found that my nerves were shot when I had to talk with cashiers. Speaking to anyone seemed to require great effort; the last few weeks have obviously taken a toll on me, and I can only imagine how tough I made it for my wife. It’s a good thing she understands me better than anyone else does. And it’s a good thing Rufus doesn’t have standards, either!

After Garden State was wrapped up, I hit a nearby strip mall for coffee and electronics. Walking through Circuit City, I marveled over all the empty space, a floorplan designed for row upon row of cathode ray TVs now populated by inch-thin LCDs and plasmas, lights dimmed to enhance the screens’ color contrast. The store was like a dinosaur. I searched through the store for a 500gb external hard drive and a Sirius radio antenna. Crossing them off my list, I thought, “I’m on a scavenger hunt.”

Checking out, the clerk didn’t ask the standards electronics-store questions: Do you want the warranty? Can I have your phone number and zip code? I’d been reading that the chain was in trouble for a while now, but it hit home then that this company won’t be around in another year or two.

I didn’t feel sad about that. Not the way I do when I pass the old Tower Records location, a few miles up the highway. It’s not that I bought so much music there, but I always found the store to be a sort of cultural oasis in the NJ retailscape, with its loud, obscure music, alt.magazine selection, and snobbish videostore clerk who probably thought he sounded like Peter Lorre, but really just sounded like Jon Lovitz.

After Tower went bankrupt, another business was going to open on the site, but it’s been about two years and the shell is still empty. I don’t know why it never opened, but the reversed sign of “HARDBODIES GYM” is still set up outside the building. I always get a little wistful when I pass the old store. I wanted to write a post about it called The Fall of Tower, but this is all you get.

From the strip mall, it was on to Crate and Barrel and West Elm (no luck finding a picture frame that could accommodate a piece of original comic-book art) and then Trader Joe’s, where I picked up Rufus’ lower-grade dog-treats. I can’t always give him the top-shelf stuff!

By then it was time to call my accountant, to drop off some papers in Hackensack. I told his secretary that I’d be there in around 10 minutes. Somehow, that actually came true, with Rts. 17 and 4 parting for me like the Red Sea before the Israelites. Actually, there are probably more Jews living in New Jersey than there were during the Exodus.

The drive took me past several closed furniture stores. I wonder how much cheap Chinese competition has affected that industry. Not enough to dent Ikea, the last place I hit on the way home (yay, picture frame!). Funny thing about life up here: it turned out that having an Ikea near Newark Airport wasn’t convenient enough for northern NJ, so a second one was opened 10 miles north of it. Of course, it turns out that having two over in NJ isn’t convenient for New Yorkers, so a third Ikea recently opened in Brooklyn.

Similarly, my wife’s from a small town in Louisiana, and I thought it was funny when I once looked up the retail locations for the Apple store and discovered that there isn’t one. In the entire state. We have seven within an hour’s drive, not including the ones in New York City.

I hit a fancy/strange supermarket to finish up my day’s shopping, then made it home by 12:30pm, in time to heat up some Praeger-burgers and crack open a beer before the start of the Yankees game. I took a nap between the 5th and 9th innings. They won in the 10th.

But all you care about is the final tally:

Anthony Oil Free Facial Lotion SPF 15 – C. O. Bigelow – $31

Pre-Shave Oil – The Art of Shaving – $22

Grass-scented Soap, 2 bars – Sabon – $6.67 each

Linen Shirt – J. Crew – $17 (marked down from $75)

Jamaican Joe’s Coffee Beans, 2 Lbs. – Chef Central – $8.99/lb.

MyBook 500gb External Hard Drive – Circuit City – $99

Sirius Satellite Radio Vehicle Antenna – Circuit City – $39 (Rufus chewed through the cable of the old one)

Thai Lime & Chili Cashews – Trader Joe’s – $5.69

Oatmeal & Honey Soap – Trader Joe’s – $1.29

Natural Assorted Flavor Dog Biscuits – Trader Joe’s – $2.99

Ribba Picture Frame – Ikea – $14.99

Leksvik Coatrack – Ikea – $9.99

3 Replies to “Scavenger Hunt of the Soul”

  1. I, um, keep TWO complete backups of my iTunes library: one at home and one at work. That way, if my house burns down, I’ll still have 42,000 tracks available for solace.

    If the hard drive can be extracted from the computer, you can try to get it to turn on with an external cable (one end attaches to the drive, the other attaches to another computer’s USB port) and then drag as many files from the damaged drive over to the other computer.

    Bring everything out to Ringwood, and I’ll try to take care of it while you admire Rufus.

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