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Even Atheists Get the Blues, er, Blue Sweaters

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I do not buy $225 dollar sweaters.

Unfortunately, that is a statement I cannot make honestly. I don't know what happened. My wife and I had just finished dinner -- an inexpensive $18 vegetarian sushi dinner -- when we took stock of our evening. Dog had been walked, fed, wrestled, loved. Projects had been started, neglected, resumed, abandoned. It was too early for the netherworld of my late night writing to commence; it was too late to commit to a movie. Out of character, we did what we are nurtured by our corporate masters to do: we went shopping.

On the surface, our decision can be interpreted as responsible, even frugal. We don't practice any particular winter tradition so we had not spent much during the holiday season, save for Sea Monkeys contributed to a secret Santa game. Neither of us is much of a consumer, so setting out to a mall when the bulk of merchandise is reduced to post-Christmas, recession-busting prices seems like a fantastic opportunity for two economizers to purchase some highly utilitarian items. Gruel and paste and itching powders. Nothing fancy here.

Ennui quickly set in. We had spent nearly 60 minutes in the mall -- Yorkdale, a fire-breathing monster of brand-speak -- and I had reached my limit. We had done well, coupling a 40 per cent-off store-wide discount at American Eagle with some 25 per cent-off cashier coupons, which resulted in me purchasing one $49.50 shirt for $23. I would sleep well tonight.

Unfortunately, a security tag in our one lonely bag kept setting off alarms, so while my wife tried on bargain sale shoes, I departed in search of a retail expert at American Eagle to remove the offending tag.

And here, dear reader, is where the trouble starts.

You see, I like soft things. Pudding, duvets, Muppet hair. And I have one particularly soft and oh so fancy sweater that stands apart in my collection of drab uniforms. It is a sparkling silver silk (it deserves all the alliteration I can bestow) V-neck sweater from Banana Republic (read: Bangladesh). I have had it for at least four years, maybe seven, and I have no idea how I came to have it, but it's mine and you can't have it and I wear it for every special occasion and on Tuesdays.

If you are in possession of a photo containing both you and I, and we are not in my living room, chances are I am wearing the sweater.

Only, I spatter and trip and hug dirty puppies too much. I have pushed my luck through pierogi parties, drunken housewarmings and garage-studio homemade-wine sessions. I need a backup plan.

Maybe this guy can help. What's your name, kind sir?

Harry Rosen, said the mall.

I texted my wife four times before I entered. I was scared and lost and scared three more times. I was in over my head just considering the store. What does it all mean? Why does everyone walking into it seem like the privileged son of an oil baron? Plus, I find the name Harry hilarious. There are people, lots of people, named Harry. I want to meet all those parents who made that decision. They are comic geniuses.

And here's where it all went to Hell, capital Harry. Soft lighting. Mahogany table. A 50 per cent off sign. Soft sweaters. In a circle. Lots of tables. Lots of circles. Security guard. Have to prove I'm a legitimate shopper. Must. Choose sweater. So many colours. Different kinds of necks. Different kinds of soft. I swear I belong here. So many sweaters.

Jimmy, the store clerk, approaches me. Now I should tell you, I assume instinctively that every sales clerk who has ever approached me in a clothing store understands two basic things about me:

1) I do not know how to shop.
2) I do not want to learn how to shop.

But Jimmy, the sweater baron, is as awkward in his poorly-ironed suit and I've-been-working-retail-for-10-straight-hours-and-26-straight-days attitude as I am in my shopping capacity. We do not look like a Harry Rosen commercial. Next thing I know he's carting four sweaters, each worth more than everything I'm currently wearing including my wedding band (don't tell my wife), towards a change room. Oh, things were about to change.

As I walked the long green mile to the room, led by Jimmy, my personal shopper, notes of Bobby De Niro as Sam Rothstein in Casino, summing up the peasant tastes of Lester Diamond, furtively danced in my mind, trying to soothe me. "He doesn't know what the f--- a good watch is." Yeah, I don't even know what a good sweater is! And how much are these anyway? Half off! Maybe even half off half off? What's the worst, 80 bucks? C'mon, that's a lot for a sweater but I'm making the big documentary dollars now. Deep breaths. Self-soothe.

In a moment of genuine weakness, I even justified the sweaters being made in China -- something I try to limit in my wardrobe -- in that silkworms come from China, dummy! Only, it is cashmere and maybe more likely to be from a goat in Mongolia. I don't know. I didn't remember the room spinning this much earlier.

I then made the biggest mistake of my fiscal 2011 period: I tried a sweater on. It was blue and had great pile and gorgeous ribbing and other things people in the sweater industry rave about. I pulled it over my mussed hair, down overtop my $12 hipster T-shirt with the 100 vintage cameras drawn on it, down overtop the body that didn't want to be in a Harry Rosen change room and I slowly looked up at the mirror.

Damn. That is one good looking sweater hanging off the ripped torso of one good looking man. I can't believe Father hasn't called me about whether I can use the yacht this weeke---oh no, what was happening?

My wife arrived, marvelled at the pile and the ribbing, but was surprised to find I might buy something so expensive. To her credit, she remained encouraging (perhaps her own version of Jimmy, a.k.a. Donna, the Aldo Shoes boot pusher, had something to do with that). No, this was happening. This blue cashmere sweater was going to be mine because both it and I look and feel fantastic and I would like this feeling to last. I feel warmer in this sweater. If it's possible, I think I lost a pound in my midsection since I pulled this sweater over my head. I am absolutely positive people will like me more in this sweater. This sweater is a fine purchase, maybe even something that can help the world. This sweater is a job creator.

Jimmy, the messenger of Death, now walks me to the cash, and in a Verbal Kint-revealing-he's-Keyser Soze-esque blow to my ego, he confides in me, and this is ver-freaking-batim, "Must be nice to be able to shop at Harry Rosen. I can't afford anything in here. Did you notice any good sales anywhere else in the mall? I need to buy a few things."

And that was Jimmy, the guy I spent the next three minutes trying to convince I am poorer than him.

So now I'm home. The sweater is sitting in the other room inside the handsome bag that Jimmy, the professional liar, did a bang-up job putting together. I can't even bring myself to look at it. Somehow, in the barrier reef of my wife's Yorkdale bags, it seems a world apart, maybe nonexistent. Sigh. Somewhere a Mastercard executive is saying, "See I told you he wasn't a communist!"

But I can't spread blame. After two months of the mass-media proselytizing the merits of having stuff, I am just another little list-making child, responding to the stings from Santa's arrows and buying blue sweaters in search of fulfilment.

Thankfully, where once I was blind, now I see. And if I ever again bump into Jimmy, the guy I plan to bump into tomorrow, I might say something that goes like this: "What's your return policy?"

I do not buy $225 sweaters.

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