Payless Shoe Source—Elizabeth, New Jersey
My father, a cobbler, made my shoes for me as a child. I was given new ones only as I outgrew each pair. But despite this, I felt he made the shoes reluctantly, as if he felt it wasteful. “Look at your daughter’s feet,” my mother would beseech him in dialect. “It is disrespectful for the cobbler’s daughter to go around in such a state.” Yet when I wore the new shoes, which contained the sweat of his labor, I could not help but feel grand beyond my station, as if even the ground I walked on had been fashioned only for me. Imagine then my surprise when this boutique, modest amid the splendor of The Mills at Jersey Gardens, redolent with the scent of a nearby Panda Express, offered me a pair of shoes, gratis, with the purchase of another pair. My elation was short-lived, however, because the stitching on the practical pumps I received in this bargain—BOGO, they called it—began to fray almost as soon as I put them on. My father, for all his faults, would never have allowed this, and in that moment, I missed him.
Santa Monica Pier—Santa Monica, California
I observed my daughter from a distance as she ate a $13 funnel cake, basking in the knowledge of her incipient beauty. I couldn’t help but think how my own life might have been different had I been born with her physical gifts. I wasn’t one to be pursued by the neighborhood boys. My thoughts never strayed far from the books I hoped would become my escape from Naples. Even when I met my future husband at university, he did not pursue me romantically for some time. I was bookish, perhaps mousy, and he, the handsome and clever son of a prominent magistrate. Yet where was this boy now? He spent nearly the entire day in Santa Monica, silent and withdrawn. When I asked about his sullenness, he complained about a claw machine that had taken his pocket change. The man in charge of the amusements, my husband said, was unsympathetic. It embarrassed me to see him in such a state. However, it is through the lens of my daughter’s innocent delight that I choose to remember this outing—a day in the sun before the burdens of adulthood have asserted themselves. Despite the indignity of my husband’s complaints and a slight sunburn, I had a pretty good time.
AMC Movie Theater—Los Angeles, California
I came to, suddenly, in the dark. Images flashed brightly before my eyes. Faces! Was it my mother? It was only after several moments that I recalled we’d gone to see a film about the Norse god Thor. The usher stood by my seat with his flashlight. This had a dreamlike logic or at least the qualities one associates with dreams. His mouth was moving, but I could not understand what he was saying. I felt sure he was making sounds, which would compose themselves as words, at least to others.
I recalled the feast days on which my mother would give me a few coins, which held in them the warmth of her hand and which she’d earned by taking in sewing work, much to my father’s displeasure. I would give the coins to the old woman in the pasticceria for a box of candy. The usher came into focus. He asked about the box of Junior Mints in my hand. Had I purchased it at the concession stand? No. I had bought it earlier at a dismal convenience store. Pointing to a sign that read NO OUTSIDE FOOD ALLOWED, he asked me to leave. How petty.
Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum—San Francisco, California
America seems to be a place of memory. A nation having a dream of itself where there is no past and no future, only an eternal present where all its glories exist outside of time. It is a cemetery of ideas, and so what better representative than a wax museum?
But this counterfeit aroused in me also something else, something intangible. What was it? A former lover? What use are these memories? They remain incomplete and disturbing, the faces of people I once knew are washed out and ghostly. This place does not represent anything in actuality. It is evocation without substance. Except for the wax statue of Peter Dinklage. That was actually pretty cool.
Igloo Coolers Factory Tour—Katy, Texas
As a girl, my mother told me that women were born to suffer, and nothing I have yet experienced has disproved this. But this drab place seems especially lamentable. The foreman and the tour guide seemed to be two versions of the same person—short pock-marked men in starched shirts, joylessly exercising power over their small domain. They reminded me of my father—who, in addition to being a cobbler, had been a porter at the railroad as well as a drunk—and his barely concealed anger, and how, as children, we would anticipate the moment when he would fly into one of his rages at some perceived slight. The women on the large and airless factory floor worked with insect-like efficiency. There was a gift shop that offered a 15% discount to anyone who had taken the tour. This is, I think, a good deal if you are in the market for a cooler.
“Revenge of the Murderer’s Ghost” Escape Room—Boston, Massachusetts
How is one expected to find joy in paying $30 (per person!) to be subjected to an hour of ceaseless anxiety? This room was meant to be the basement dwelling of a murderer, like those violent men of my youth, the Camorrists, but in actuality was more akin to the apartment in which my grandfather lived alone after my grandmother’s death. She’d drowned while on holiday, and the sordid dwelling became his penance for the guilt he felt at not having been able to save her. It produced in me a deep sense of melancholy.
We were meant to decipher clues left by the murderer, or his “ghost,” as the brochure informed us, in order to facilitate our escape. Yet my sons, despite having chosen this activity, spent the allotted time chuckling at inane videos on their telephones. I knew any affection I felt for them had long since vanished.
But then something happened, although I cannot say exactly what. A change in the tenor of the room, a light brightened or darkened perhaps, a door opened or possibly closed. The air grew heavy with the implication of crisis. I recalled a boy I’d known in my childhood who was killed near a seaside carnival over a game of dice. How his mother cried when the police returned his body. Had we escaped? I was convinced we were in the lobby again, but the sense of melancholy persisted, as though the murderer’s basement now existed in my mind. But if this dread place was in my mind, how then was I to escape? What the fuck.