A remixed version of Amy Winehouse’s “Back to Black” that isn’t the Jay-Z one plays in the background at Barnes and Noble and it suddenly seems to get everyone (both in line and out) moving and singing. Pain is the only true universal. I’ve found myself here by chance, in part for the novelty of being in a mall. It’s where Amanda wanted to go to find a specific ensemble from H&M for an upcoming job interview she had. And you know, when you’re still in your mid-20s, H&M is that perfect in-between store for internship and entry level that offers just the right interview outfit. When she had invited me to accompany her to the mall location, I couldn’t say no. Something within me had been trying to recapture my youth lately. I was older than Amanda, but we had come to know one another in college, when I was the teacher’s assistant in her Role of Government in Market Economies class. Neither of us wanted to pursue degrees in business–that’s what bonded us. Most of the other students in the program were extremely invested and engaged. It was Harvard, so… But Amanda and I weren’t there for passion (if anyone there really was–as opposed to carrying on a legacy or desiring status). We were both doing it because we knew it would make us money in a world where you could no longer count on a man or “partner” of any kind for financial support. We’re not conventional feminists, okay? We’re what we call “pragmatic genderists.”
Anyway, she had wandered off from my peripheral vision somewhere in the bookstore (if that’s really what you can call Barnes and Noble now), which she had been indulgent enough to escort me to because I remembered that there was a specific magazine I wanted, a limited edition issue of Premiere Pop featuring Madonna and Britney Spears on the cover. I probably don’t have a boyfriend because my obsession with pop culture only makes me marketable to gays and non-sexual nerds. Or maybe I’m just ugly as sin and can’t admit it to myself. For now, I’ll tell myself it’s the pop culture thing that’s destroying my chance at romance. So upon walking into the store, a sign advertising 75% off all “collector’s” magazines made me feel dizzy with delight at the prospect of what I could buy. The fucked up collages I could make. My excitement was interrupted by the sight of an old college “friend”–or rather, frenemy, if you could even call him that–who appeared like a demonic vision before me.
I jumped at his descent upon me and screamed, “Skeeter, what are you doing here?”
He sneered and waved an LSAT study book at me. “Going in a different career direction.”
That Skeeter had formerly been pursuing Global Management followed by Marketing followed by Tourism was a testament to just how willingly he would flit from one thing to another in the hope that his next enterprise would garner him more money in the long run. The problem, of course, was that he could never stick with anything. His lack of focus, I felt, was why my generation was so fucked. Then again, how could you blame us for not being focused? What did hard work and a nose to the grindstone attitude really get you nowadays other than a slap in the face and the constant feeling that you were missing out on “actually living”? So yeah, maybe I could empathize with Skeeter’s all over the mapness. What I couldn’t empathize with was how much of a cunt he was.
“The real question is: what the fuck are you doing here? Is this where you’re working now?”
I clutched my left hand into a fist and replied, “No. I’m here with Amanda. She’s just, um, shopping for a specific look.”
Skeeter arched his eyebrow. “What? Not an autistic prostitute?”
My patience was officially wearing thin. “Skeeter, I’ve really got to pick up my magazine and get out of here.”
Now, out of nowhere, he showered me with honeyed sweetness. “Oh? Well is it something I can help you find?”
I shrugged. “Whatever.” Skeeter was, in fact, one of the gay men who glommed onto me because of my pop culture zeal. I supposed the glomming couldn’t be stopped at this point, and I might as well let it take me like a man during drunken sex/rape.
“What’s the name of it?”
“It’s this Slovenian rag called Premiere Pop and it has Madonna and Britney Spears on the cover. The whole feature is about their brief friendship in 2003 and how Madonna dropped her like a hot potato before the K-Fed tragedy happened.”
“Jesus, are there even any credible sources in it?”
“I’m sure, Skeeter. The Slovenian media doesn’t exactly fuck around, now does it?”
So off we went to the magazine section, where coming across Premiere Pop seemed to be like finding a needle in a haystack, as the probably farmers’ coined saying goes. The more unlikely it appeared that we would find it, the more determined and aggravated Skeeter became. I was really starting to rue the day I decided to enter a mall after the age of eighteen.
“Are you like fucking with me right now, Julie? Am I on camera? This magazine clearly doesn’t exist.”
And right at that moment, I noticed the first three letters of it–PRE. Excitedly, I pulled it out from a feminist publication called Menstro, only to find that it was a scientific journal: Pre-Exist. Feeling that all hope was lost and I would never get a more in-depth look at what really happened between Madonna and Britney in 2003, Skeeter unanticipatedly proved his worth by shouting, “I found it!”
In a state of elation, I whipped around to look at the bounty. But what he presented me with was a torn cover, a decimated copy of what I wanted to keep pristine for eternity. “Oh,” I remarked with overt disappointment.
Skeeter grinned, evidently relishing my pain. “This looks like it’s the only copy, Julie. Are you gonna take it? It is 75% off, you might as well.”
Oh how I wanted to punch him, to spite him in some way. So I returned, “No. I don’t want damaged goods.”
“Like, because it hits too close to home or something?”
I sighed and took the magazine from him, approaching the register with him hot on my heels. Somehow, the “Back to Black” remix was still playing and it imbued me with the irrevocable sadness that there will never be love as grand and epic as the kind they talk about in most avenues of pop culture.
The cashier, a long-haired forty-something man who looked like an escapee from 60s Haight Ashbury, demanded, “Do you have a Barnes and Noble membership?”
“No,” I snarled. All I wanted at this point was to find Amanda and get back to my apartment. If she didn’t get the job after all this, the mall excursion would be completely for nought. But then, what isn’t?
“Well, then, I can’t offer you the 75% off discount. Sorry.”
I rolled my eyes. “So how much is it?”
Skeeter was hovering over me. Or so I thought it was Skeeter. When I turned around though, it was a lump of a man with a face that was mostly all skin. His beady black eyes had no whites and his mouth looked the size of a condom in its wrapper. I jumped back in horror. Where had Skeeter gone? More importantly, where was Amanda? Had she bought her fucking skirt suit yet or not? I felt the earth shake around me.
One second the all-faced man with extremely tiny eyes and a dot for a mouth was vanished from my side and I was next to Amanda in her Fiat (she was really proud of being so unique as an American for owning a Fiat). Then it hit me: I forgot that I had taken a tab of acid in the early hours of the morning when an impromptu party in my apartment turned into a rooftop rave. I didn’t know what was real and what was only semi-real when I consented to this journey. All I hoped was that I had imagined the part of the excursion where I was cajoled into purchasing a ripped magazine.