Monday, August 12, 2013

Coming Up Roses

 "I close my eyes, and I see stuff from Roses." -The Smithereens

In the early 1980s, discount stores specializing in off-brand fashions were plentiful throughout Portsmouth, VA. Needed a pair of yellow, John Stockton-length cotton shorts for an upcoming basketball tryout? The Zayre location on Airline Blvd. had no shortage of the "panties" in the men's department racks. Sought a striped tank top with a color scheme bright enough to blind Toucan Sam? Bradlees inside Tower Mall bore many fruity sleeveless shirts on its vines. Wanted knee-length tube socks and size-9 Air BoBos to compete the baller look? Murphy's Mart in the Churchland section assisted countless dribblers seeking to be like Mike's poverty-stricken cousin. Those uninterested in making laughable fools of themselves on the hardwood opted for "Totally rad!" gear at Midcity's K-Mart. Via imitation Vans slip-on shoes and Nash- tagged skateboards, the would-be Tony Hawks spent hours upon hours attempting to land just one ollie amid cruel taunts from spoiled, Vision- and Hosoi-pushing classmates. Today, all of these spots are long-gone to the great liquidation sale in the sky. One feisty flower from the Reagan years, however, continues to bloom for a new generation of style posers hopelessly out of season.

Three years before regularly acquiring cassettes from the likes of Tracks and The Music Man, I laid down roughly $10 for Chicago's 17 album at the register inside Roses in Churchland. Did this join an earlier purchase of Culture Club's Colour By Numbers (from Food Lion!) as a building block of my ever-expanding collection? Hardly. Though I mildly enjoyed C-17's "minor" hits "Stay The Night" and "Along Comes A Woman" when the videos for both aired on the WTVZ-televised "Hot" music show, the record was presented to my mom as a birthday gift on September 9, 1984. As proof that "Ladies love Peter Cetera," she still has the nicked vinyl to this day. The Soundesign stereo with turntable, on the other hand, was disowned around 1992 for its "Best electronics" misnomer. Leftover monies from the transaction could've been used for the Mario Bros. arcade machine or a bag of popcorn, but a few more quarters would've covered me in camouflage. If Converse All-Stars are the Ramones of sneakers, then the BoBo versions must be the Riverdales. I'm not sure if Ben Weasel would've given my feet the thumbs- up, but I walked out of Roses one day in a three-dollar pair of camo faux-Chucks. I believe the shoes were worn once to school with Bugle Boy pants and a surf/skate- related T-shirt. Before giving the kicks an improper military burial, I used them primarily for walking in mud and stepping in dog crap. With an impending move to Virginia Beach, this would be the last time I stopped and smelled the Roses in Churchland. Or so I thought.

With my sister and young nephew in tow, reentry to the Roses Garden took place on an appropriately sunny day circa 2008. Absences of the popcorn stand and video game failed to pollute an unmistakable air of familiarity about the store. It felt like I'd bought the camo BoBos last week. You health-conscious types probably sport the popular gray New Balance running shoes marked with a white "N" on evening strolls around the neighborhood. Well, say hello to ... Knew Balance. That's right! Roses' take on a classic look was branded by a "K"! Given the assumed name, I was concerned that equilibrium in a pair would be a thing of the past. Stumbling over a swift leprechaun in the Shamrock Marathon would have to be someone else's misfortune. Balance maintained, I headed over to the electronics section and saw an array of boxed titles for the Nintendo Game Boy. Not the GB Advance, mind you. Available carts for the original "brick" system were limited to third-party "girly" games in the realm of Strawberry Shortcake, Cabbage Patch Kids and New Kids On The Block. More impressive was the lot of brand-new Sega Genesis controllers. I considered getting several with the intention of making a modest profit on retrogaming sites. In the end, I let them continue to "Hang Tough" with Donnie Wahlberg and the bald-headed babies.

Early in 2012, I made two separate trips to the old stomping ground. The first was with my mom, who found a Roy Orbison tape for a buck and five white shirts for a fiver. As a fan of Orbison's since childhood, she absolutely loved hearing his shimmering vocals in her Ford Explorer. The "Made In Vietnam" shirts, however, were the stuff of grandpa's war stories. After just one battle in the washing machine's spin cycle, they splintered into many pieces and inflicted their damage upon other clothes in the platoon. Post-carnage, Mom went AWOL on the idea of ever buying garments from Roses again. Later that year, my pal Pete and I happened to be in Portsmouth for whatever reason. We had time for a quick peek inside the store, so we browsed at possible outfits in the men's department. My four-word summation of the shorts: long, plaid and polyester. One might've been the epitome of sartorial sense at a Bide-A-Wee open-house event hosted by Chandler Harper in 1975, but wearing them in 2013 would elicit loud chuckles from miniature golfers at Pinboy's in Western Branch. As for the shirts, Roses must've been a handler of Heaven & Earth's overstock. No less than eight Christian spoof tees used pop culture to proselytize. Reese's/ Jesus and Sprite/Holy Spirit delivered their sermons with a pronounced smirk. Whatever your persuasion, believe in the power of parody.

"So out, it's in" is an oft-heard expression. Roses should adopt the line as its motto.


  1. Once again, nostalgia is owned, emasculated, and sent to Sweet Glory by the Rung crew.
    Thanks again for the unique and home-hitting twisty prose.