On Tuesday, a publicist invited me to "Come meet former Bears player Brian Urlacher."
I'd say I ignored the invitation, but I might never have seen it. I don't recall seeing it. I get a lot of email. On Thursday, she asked again, more personally: I tend to notice my own name. It's a failing.
Brian Urlacher...well, I know he's a Bears player, or was. She spilled the beans on that much in her invitation. And he's ... bald. I remember that much.
Thus drains my entire knowledge of the man. I vaguely remember him leaving recently. Something about a contract. That would explain the "former Bears player" part.
So the honest answer was, "God, no." Particularly not late on a Friday afternoon. But I am a newspaper employee, still, and take my responsibilities to my publication seriously. A team player, in my own right. So I stepped out into the newsroom. I have an opportunity to talk to Brian Urlacher, I said to the sports folk, should I? Is there anything you'd like to know? The sports department said there was.
Okay, I told the publicist, who told me that, as with Aladdin and the lamp, I would be allowed three questions ("Your last question should be to ask for three more questions," said a wag in sports) and could she know what those questions are? This is sometimes requested by the biggest celebrities and most important captains of industry, and normally I wouldn't do it in this situation. But I have no knowledge of the man, as I said, and didn't want to divert my schedule—we were to talk at 4:40 p.m. on Friday—only to have him refuse to answer some question on a verbotten subject. Or get mad. He's a big guy. I knew that much.
"We're wondering whether the Bears are going to retire his number, and what his relationship with the Bears is now," I said, repeating what I had been told to inquire about. She instructed me that I was not to ask about his personal life—I assume it must be interesting; which is why he didn't want to talk about it, and I honestly replied that I have no interest in his personal life, managing not to add, "or his professional life."
That was acceptable,and I arrived 15 minutes early, checked in—this was at the Microsoft store on Michigan. Urlacher was running late, as is celebrity's privilege, so I wandered into the tall, narrow, North Bridge mall, where I hadn't been in years. A vigorous young Israeli woman tried to hand me some kind of facial creme. No thank you. A guy hawked time shares. "Let's not waste your time," I said, wishing I had put it, "Let's not waste our time." There was Nordstrom's, and I went into the men's section on the second floor.
There I noticed this rack of shirts. Let me point out that they are not in a glass case, or behind a velvet rope. The rack is right next to the aisle, near the mall entrance. You practically bump into it.
The above is known as "foreshadowing."
I happen to be in need of dress shirts, as the collars on a few of mine are fraying from repeated use over a period of years. And I like Ralph Lauren, I own a number of their shirts, paying as much as $30 apiece for them at places like T.J. Maxx. Quite a bit, but I feel they're worth it, just for the psychic boost that the Ralph Lauren label brings, giving me the pleasant delusion that I am of the pony and pied-a-terre set when I put one on.
Of course I would expect to pay more for these, in an actual Nordstrom's, not even a Nordstrom's Rack. But heck, I have my job, still. Perhaps I would splurge on an expensive shirt. I looked at the label.
The shirts cost ...
You know, when I told this story to my wife, I asked her to guess. She hummed in thought, pursed her lips, looked up, and, reaching into the upper limits of her imagination of luxury, said, "$175."
Now your turn to guess. Got it in mind?
Three hundred and fifty dollars. These shirts are $350 apiece. I looked around at the store in disbelief, as if expecting an audience, snickering. The place was not depopulated. People were trying things on, hurrying here and there. I felt as if I had discovered a crack in the universe, in my universe anyway. This was like opening a restaurant menu and seeing they are charging $27 for a cup of coffee. At some point, while I was busy doing other things, the world leaped past me.
The middle class must really be hollowing out. When I was a young man, I shopped at Mark Shale and Neiman Marcus, Marshall Field's and Lord & Taylor. True, I looked for sales, but I was in the store, and paying full price was not unthinkable. Now the first price tag I look at makes me feel like a bum being shooed away from the kitchen door by a haughty maitre d'. I not only can't imagine my paying that, I can't imagine anyone paying that. And I have a pretty good imagination.
Oh, and Brian Urlacher was very polite and pleasant and answered my three questions, but I must have asked the wrong questions, because the answers were not remarkable, certainly not as remarkable as those shirts. I did take a picture.