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City Desk

Buyer’s Remorse

by Richard Brookhiser

A friend from out of town complained about shopping in the city: Wasn’t it all chain stores now? Although I snorted, I felt secretly ashamed, for I had seen neighborhood after neighborhood go from emptiness to luxuriance to blandness. I looked for refutation. Three times a week I walk 600 yards to my gym, down a street between the sleekness of midtown and the funkiness of downtown. It is the artery of average; when God gives us this day our daily, this is the way it comes. What could I acquire there if I paid attention?

I could begin by acquiring money. The first building on the first corner was a bank, with its girdle of ATMs foremost. Next was something that would appear again and again, a shoe store, this one devoted to running shoes. Why so many running shoes? Because they are not just for running, but also for youth fashion display. An African working a sidewalk table advertised $3 sweaters, then, dropping his price immediately, sweaters for $1.50. A computer-game store was the first to make a dramatic pitch for attention. I have never played a computer game, but I have respected them ever since I read that games make as much money annually as Hollywood. What the gamesters of America are getting, if these display windows were any indication, is apocalyptic violence. ASSASSINS CREED REVELATIONS said one poster, over a hooded figure; CALL OF DUTY answered its mate, featuring a futuristic grunt. A cellphone store greeted the Incarnation with a window filled with red and green balloons. More shoes — boots this time. Duane Reade — they are everywhere! Chain drugstores are the new 5-and-10s, heavy on snack food and cosmetics. A dry cleaner, run by Orientals (the old-fashioned moniker matches the old-fashioned venue). China bids to overtake us as a superpower, but its children still come here and become dry cleaners; their children go to Yale. A threading salon will fix your eyebrows, and wax your skin. Where? Let Leporello sing the catalogue: Half face, full face, full arms, under arms, half legs, full legs, bikini line, deep bikini, Brazilian. A man imagines the geography, even as he flinches from the pain; women know allure involves suffering. Two fast-food places follow, one promising to be HOT ’N JUICY, just the thing after your deep bikini. More shoes. Then a store of jeans. There is actually a chain, I learn, called OMG. “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that takes his name in vain.” That seems pretty plain, even without the repetition, but what does the Lord know about jeans, He doesn’t even have legs. More shoes, a second bank, and a vast hole, awaiting a new building, round out that block.

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