Sunday, May 3, 2015

I guess they're for Brian Urlacher

     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. 

Postscript

     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.





     

21 comments:

  1. Didya happen to look at the label and see where they were manufactured? I occasionally will "shop" in a store like that, under similar circumstances. No, not waiting for Brian Urlacher, but waiting for somebody or something, when spending a few minutes gawking at the wares sported by the rich and famous seems like a pleasant diversion.

    What gets me is -- if those shirts were made in the U. S. A., by union garment workers making $35 an hour, (yeah, right) out of some remarkably fine material, then they'd STILL be ridiculously overpriced, but at least it'd seem like there was some cachet attached, more valuable than simply the label, price and the fact that you're shopping at Nordstrom. But, when I've checked, a lot of the outrageously priced items I've looked at come from the usual round-up of countries featured on the labels at Kohl's, or Target, for that matter. I don't doubt that they might be of a higher quality, but THAT much of a higher quality, I very much doubt.

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  2. I've managed to find almost new Brooks Brothers shirts at North Shore thrift shops for $2 -$3 each!

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  3. Jakash, I had the same exact thought. That is capitalism for you.

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  4. "looked around the store in disbelief" (that's funny) that would be my reaction as well. Again, even if one had plenty of money, it would be an affirmation to make them feel more secure.

    Jackash, good point-imagine the profit if someone making the equivalent of a buck a day in Pakistan, made that shirt. Or someone with a child labor contract in that area, doing the same.

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  5. P.S. You are lucky Brian was in a polite mood. Guess he has no choice these days.

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  6. I checked the labels on a few of the shirts my daughter has bought me since she went to work for Nordstrom's In Seattle and there were 2 made in China, 1 in Sri Lanka, and the Brooks Brothers' shirt I got for her wedding was "assembled" in Malaysia.

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  7. Robbie the RobotMay 3, 2015 at 8:23 AM

    What is a "shirt?" Is it something the humans wear?

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    1. Yes, shirts are outerwear for humans. Like Neil, I had the sticker shock moment several years ago. Now I practice the robot equivalent of visiting a junkyard, I shop at Walmart. And don't think I'm not onto your plans for the human race.

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    2. Robot, stop being silly already-grow up. The schtick is old and dull now.

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  8. I think they use much of those profits to fund their Nordstrom Education Department. They set it up to publicize the correct pronunciation of the store's name. Years ago, I tried to explain that to Donna Summers and Mary Hopkins.

    Dougs D.

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  9. I had that same reaction at The Grand Hotel just this week. They sell the same dishes in the gift shop as they use in the dining room, so you can extend your Grand experience. $70 for A coffee cup w saucer. $60 if you only want the teacup. Made in England. Weird coincidence- outside our room was a birds eye view shot of the Thornton Pit, and then yesterday's where is this picture.

    $350 is outrageous for a shirt but at least it's for adults. I can never understand that amount for kids clothing.

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  10. I could imagine a personally fitted shirt, tailored by Ralph Lauren himself, at $350, but a shirt off the rack? (even if it's a platinum rack at Nordstrom's) No way. Are Red Label shirts cheaper?

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    1. Right, Wendy, if they were actually custom-tailored, even by one of Ralph's underlings, that might be worth paying, uh, something. Good one about the "Red Label", but who's going to stoop to being seen in one of those? One might as well buy from the Ralph Kramden collection. ; )

      Well, I looked these up online. 100% cotton. They ARE evidently made in Italy, so I suppose that makes them worth it to Lord Grantham or Donald Trump right there. What I find interesting is that, when stores want to brag, they proudly state "made in Italy". When they're not so cocky about the origin, as with the $165 cotton t-shirts, it's simply "imported", because then they're usually from countries such as the ones Tate referred to...

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    2. Jackash, good one about "made in Italy" and Lord Grantham. I see a Downton Abbey fan here perhaps-love it. Same with Ralph Kramden.

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    3. @Jakash,

      The shirt probably cost $20 to make; the Black Label cost $330. Sigh...

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  11. The phenomenon you are commenting on was memorably described, and a name for it coined, by our own (University of Chicago) Thorsten Veblen in his 1899 classic "The Theory of the Leisure Class," in which he wrote "The basis on which good repute in any highly organized industrial community rests is pecuniary strength; and the means of showing pecuniary strength, and so of gaining or retaining a good name, are leisure and a conspicuous consumption of goods."

    Concerning Nordstrom's role in the scam, Veblen wrote: "It is always sound business to take any obtainable net gain, at any risk to the rest of the community." A corollary, it would seem, to the observation by that other deep thinker P. T. Barnum that "there's a sucker born every minute."

    Tom Evans

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  12. people put this Mayweather on a pedestal, reports show he beat up his preg. wife or mom of kids, has a few baby momma's, got jailed for threatening his kids, had to do community serv,, a man's character is most impt to me, not his accomp. first

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  13. If this is all Urlacher got out of the interview I feel a faint pang of sympathy for the "publicist." Having once spent time, briefly, in her shoes, it was my experience that when an arranged opportunity for publicity goes badly, or turns out to be a waste of the great person's time, the "arranger" is left in the position of the well known messenger who gets shot.

    Nice to know that the Sun-Times has a wag in Sports. They are all excellent writers, but often seem burdened by the need to take their subject matter seriously.

    Tom Evans

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  14. Mr. Evans,

    I always enjoy your prose.

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  15. Thanks. Always glad to please a lady.

    TE

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  16. You are such a gentleman, Mr. Evans.

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