Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Lost Soles: Gabe's Vs. Citi Trends

Have you ever noticed how certain shoes sit idly on shelves for many months at a time? Even the enticement of deep discounts is often not enough to make consumers jump for joy in a ripe pair of $30 orange Puma Baskets. Recently, one mammoth specimen of size-18 Ugg chukka boots with the trademarked fur lining was reduced to a near-gratis $3.99 at Ross Dress For Less. Sure, the uncommon length and fruity colorway could've been primary reasons why an otherwise pricey item remained in captivity. What about traditional hues from formerly wild beasts like Diadora and British Knights? By and large, millennials strolling crowded hallways in $500 yellow McYeezys and jacked-up Jordan Shattered Backboards haven't readily adopted brands popular amongst their mall-walking uncles back in the day. For those 46-year-old sneaker aficionados who wish to revisit styles worn in algebra classes, two local spots offer low-cost solutions for the complex equation of not coming across as a try-hard in a dad hat.

Taking over the structure that had once housed a lifeless Kmart, Gabe's powered an immediate resuscitation of the shopping center adjacent to Chesapeake Square Mall. Much akin to its brethren at the nearby Burlington, notable clothing and accessory labels can be acquired for a fraction of the original cost. Naturally, my first order of business on this Thursday evening concerned a perusal in the shoe department. The chunky Skechers Shape-Ups tagged at $15.00 could've become my newest apparatus for laps around Lake Meade Park, but mismatched sizes forced a friendly employee to decommission the vessels. A $17.00 pair of black Puma Suedes with welcoming gumsoles stretched like a canoe in a kayak race. Constricted quarters in $14.00 Nautica casuals kept the clipper from greeting favorable winds.

Smoother sailing came in the form of $15.00 black K-Swiss Classics supported by translucent bottoms. Having competed in multiple tennis tournaments while sporting the original white model during my teenage years, I was very acquainted with the maker's blend of fine taste and ample functionality. Another serve-and-volley recollection was brought upon via $9.00 blue K-Swiss canvas casuals. Shortly before graduating from Salem High School in 1990, I engaged in a three-setter with my friend Rommel. As I launched into a completely unorthodox serving motion, the left sneaker was instantly torn asunder. Following several fits of hardy laughter from us both, I headed home to switch into appropriate leather Classics and proceeded to lose a tight match. Thanks to the black and blue pairs of Lugz respectively slashed to $10.00 and $9.00, boots are in my shoe collection for the first time in nearly 40 years. Until I find some Timberlands or Dr. Marten's priced right, these shifty cousins of the more esteemed makes will adequately complement jeans and buttoned-down shirts. Grand total with tax: $44.52. The supposed savings amounted to $249.00. I earned 42 points on the newly issued Gabe's rewards card. Quoting the store's tagline: "Unbelievable!"

Wedged between a 24-hour Laundromat and Papa John's Pizza on Main Street in Suffolk, Citi Trends is a low-key source for colorful denim, relaxed-fit polo shirts and unique kicks. The first time I peered into the establishment's window several years ago, about a dozen PONY low-tops in the classic Spud Webb design drew me inside for a closer examination. Though I'd been immersed in rocking Pumas at the time, I should've copped some size-10s for my not-as-stringent brother.

With a more relaxed attitude towards other labels, I gladly forfeited $12.00 for white-and-green PONY Quads last Friday. Reminiscent of the classic adidas Stan Smiths, they will be court-tested at Howard Mast Tennis Center as soon as my left shoulder completely heals. (Fun fact: Did you know PONY is an acronym for Product Of New York?) Another Mr. Smith-inspired sneaker gathered in the haul had no identification of any sort. An attached sticker referred to the mystery item as "Canvas Lace-To-Toe White." For $7.00, I shall wear the no-names during inclement weather and tell friends they are "imported." "You can't buy me. I ain't no Stepford athlete." Such was the initial statement printed on thin paper covering black-and-orange Starbury Highsteppers. For those unfamiliar with the story, Stephon Marbury parlayed a modest NBA career into god-like status in the Chinese Basketball Association. His huge success overseas led to the formation of a budget-minded footwear company which never gained serious traction in the United States. The Starburys at Citi Trends had sat on the bench for at least a year, but I decided to negotiate a trade in exchange for an eight-dollar cash consideration. Arguably, the best deal of this entire challenge was attained with a purchase of Reebok Royal CL Jogger 2s marked to move at $22.00. The red-dominant shading with white and blue hits truly stood at attention, while the Ortholite insole was more comfortable than Bruce Jenner's decathlon point margin in 1976's Summer Olympics. One site I would later research on Google still had the CL Joggers badged at almost $90. That's far greater than the $51.94 I dropped at Citi Trends and nearly matched the grand total for the entire contest.

If this battle had been a reality TV show taped in a manufactured jungle, the black K-Swiss Classics would've emerged as Sole Survivor. Due to the greater variety of Citi Trends' offerings, however, I'll swing my vote in their favor.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

$40 Outfit Challenge: Chesapeake Square Mall

How far can one stretch two 20-spots to create a fresh fit that will impress at any price? My friend Brandon and I had often discussed shoe acquisitions from the likes of Ross Dress For Less and related outlet chains, so our meeting in the favorite department at Burlington last Friday afternoon (3/16/2018) was an inevitability. Sneaker heads and fashion plates I follow on YouTube had undertaken similar quests at various merchants with mixed results. Would we pass on preferred kicks and tees in order to maintain our budget? Feel free to comb the racks with us in search of sweet steals and delectable deals!

As you might've guessed, Brandon and I began the revery by examining the footwear on display. Burlington had treated me well in the past with scores such as Merrell hikers for $21.99 and Simple mid-tops marked down to $17.99. Combining a vintage look with modern technology, a black pair of Nike Air Maxes was easily the most comfortable shoe I tested all day. The gel sole would've provided much cushion during my frequent five-mile power walks, but the $59.99 tag made me stick a safety pin in that inflated balloon. Until the discovery of a missing yellow-tipped lace, I almost sank my teeth into the $19.99 Sperry Top Sider casuals with a Jaws theme. The Levi's blue denim chukka boots were an obvious complement with their namesake jeans and could've been an easy cop at $24.99. However, I decided to cross Finish Line for the green Etonic Trans Am Trainers that had been sitting on shelves for months. At $19.99, the reissued classics from my scholastic days were certainly a sensible option. When the FL rep returned with a box, she informed me that size 9.5 was the last pair in the store. Even with my thick socks, the TATs flopped like a feisty footballer in the Champions League. Disappointingly, I double-backed to Burlington and attempted to purchase the beige Robert Wayne deck shoes that I'd seen in clearance for $10.49. Low and behold, the sticker shocked me via an adjusted $18.99 cost. Had Kanye West worn 'em to Family Dollar on a diaper run or what? Finally, I chose the blue Polo Ralph Lauren Vaughns adorned with a green pony and handed over $18.01 to the cashier. Did I receive a discount for returning an employee card that'd been left in the restroom? DENIED!

Remaining inside Burlington, finding suitable pants quickly became a trouble source for Brandon and me. An overflow of distressed denim would've looked rather repulsive on a 46-year-old dude, and locating a traditional pair of Levi's in the perfect size proved to be an immense trial. As I lifted some light-blue Dockers khakis for $12.99, my fellow shopper thought they resembled the scrubs often worn by staffers at Sentara Obici Hospital. The black NBA draw shorts were a potential slam-dunk for $6.99, but the pairing with blue Polo kicks would've warranted a flagrant technical foul. Without taking 'em back to the fitting room, I grabbed some $9.99 Stanley five-pocket stretch jeans and opened my wallet once again. Too bad there wasn't a seamstress on-site, because the length extended at least an inch too much and the boot cut-like width prevented the legs from being tightly rolled. In any measure, we aimed for Target to gather the final links of the sartorial scramble.

Before striking the bullseye, I wanted to browse JCPenney's latest styles from their St. John's Bay label. My nephew had generously gifted me with fifteen or so unworn long- and short-sleeved collared shirts in 2016, so I could vouch for its quality. While several SJB items were clearance-badged, colorful selections from the Ralph Lauren-inspired USPA maker beamed on the hangers. The $9.99 yellow-and-blue polo would've splendidly meshed with the jeans, but I decided to leave that horse in JCP's stable. Since there were no more rolling pandas for rent at Zoo Riderz' vacated kiosk, Brandon and I trekked like turtles toward our intended Target. A dark, denim jacket-esque top from their own Goodfellow & Co. imprint seemed like a terrific layering piece for a graphic tee, thus I surrendered $9.52 to the checkout lady. Back at Burlington, a light-green Aeropostale shirt slashed to $5.99 was grudgingly thrown in the bag. Sure, I could've chosen a $1.99 black Washington Nationals top instead, but I desired to similarly shade the Polo pony on my shoes. Five hours and 50,000 steps later, our challenge was officially in the books.

That layering mistake cost me dearly, for the figure on a Texas Instruments adding machine tallied $44.47. "When it comes to fashion, less is more." Such was the comment from my friend Kimistry upon learning of our endeavor. The Aeropostale shirt will be returned on Thursday.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

PiL -"Bags" (1986)

Black rubber over black plastic.

The Bags - "Survive" (1978)

Paper over plastic.

Life In A BeLo Bag

Photo by Mike Smith
During the early 1980s, no other grocery store was more identified with a particular pocket of Portsmouth, VA, than BeLo Markets. Displaying slimy meat cases, dented peach cans and expired snack cakes, the place gave resigned shoppers a rudimentary hub to redeem colorful food stamps. Accompanied by my mother and four siblings, we would often stock up on sodium nitrite-laden Carl Buddig lunch meats, extra crumbly Wonder bread and various brands of barbecue potato chips. On our 10,000-pound Zenith behemoth of a TV set, the "C'mon, step right into Belo!/It's a fact our prices bring you in!/Our people bring you back!" jingle regularly interrupted important viewings of C-grade animated fare like "Inspector Gadget" and "He-Man and the Masters of the Universe." The low-cost representation carried over into the hallways of Churchland Academy Elementary. Impoverished students sporting Bobos like Pro Champs and Trax on unfortunate feet were invariably serenaded by "You got your shoes at the BeLo!"- like disses from Nike and adidas owners.

In spite of such negative connotations, I always had a soft spot for the budget mart. Many years later, a shirt kiosk inside Greenbrier Mall created what would become one of my favorite tees to that point. Fashioned after a professional-quality photograph of the BeLo sign on Indian River Road in Virginia Beach, its red, white, and yellow hues drew numerous compliments throughout its four-year stint in my wardrobe. There were even several offers from friends and strangers who wanted to purchase the shirt off my back. Either they shared in the childhood nostalgia of a more carefree era or wanted to exact sartorial revenge on their chests. "Did you get your shirt at BeLo?" many asked. "Why, yes! Yes, I did!"

About seven years ago, my friend Danielle offered a relatively simple gift that still keeps on giving to this day. The BeLo Foods cloth bag was embossed with a familiar-yet-alternate logo on the front and an environmentally themed world map on its reverse side. Not long after being ripped from a Florida-sourced bubble envelope, the tote became popular enough to modestly trend on Facebook. At the Hardcore Norfolk movie première in August 2011, it captured the fawning attentions of several nearby acquaintances before and after the showing. Enjoying a cookout hosted by the Thornton family circa 2012, I wanted local legend Vic Demise to place his hard-earned Portsmouth City Jail ball cap alongside the former food receptacle for a unique photo opportunity that somehow failed to knock.

Retiring from the local music scene and refocusing on haunts in Western Tidewater, the BeLo Bag wisely transitioned into an everyday travel accessory. Eleven Starbucks napkins, two old cups, five straws and four sleeves revealed a strong coffee jones exhibited by its handler. Eight packets of Sugar In The Raw were combined with other ingredients to soothe the soft skin of a pretty princess. Three containers of Chick-fil-A Polynesian Sauce never made it onto a nugget-covered tray, for one carelessly coated plastic bags of Halls Cough Drops and Jolly Rancher candies with sweet stickiness. Two metal spoons were extracted from the same wreckage before the soiled star was gently placed in a Samsung washing machine.

Hygiene reared its closely cropped head per second inspection. A can of Barbasol Thick & Rich shaving cream and eight BIC disposable razors sliced stubborn hairs inside the restrooms of Starbucks locations in Downtown Suffolk and Harbour View. Liberal douses of Polo Ralph Lauren Red cologne were also applied in said lavatories' confines. Two tubes of Gold Bond Ultimate Hydrating Cream remained sealed like an unwanted compact disc from a "Crazy" musician. One yellow Pledge can and two green microfiber towels wiped away recurring smudges on Belk-bought Clarks leather shoes with height-boosting soles.

One final examination indicated a strong fondness for crossword puzzles. An issue of Suffolk News-Herald flashed a filled grid and a condemning notation by the "In spite of" clue that seemed to appear in the city paper every day. (Solution: NOTWITHSTANDING) Two clippings from Sunday's The Virginian-Pilot proved to be far more challenging avocations. Syndicated layouts from The New York Times and The Los Angeles Times conformed to particular themes with selected clues and pitched a fair level of difficulty. Eight ink pens furnished by library systems in Suffolk and Portsmouth provided tools that shaded empty squares. However, an uncapped instrument leaked important source material which soiled nineteen CDs and four peg sports games. The victims were treated for their injuries and released near Sentara Obici Hospital.

Although the music formats and wooden blocks decided not to press charges against the rogue writing utensil, both have since left the area. The BeLo Bag now makes its home inside the trunk of a 1999 Buick Century.

Monday, December 12, 2016

The Specials - "Ghost Town" (1981)

Franklin, VA, on a Saturday afternoon would qualify as one.

Carl Lewis - "Break It Up" (1987)

I wonder if his one-time rival Ben Johnson cut a reggae record...