Story Time Wednesday: The Sock Fiasco

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Most childhood aversions and fears are overcome with time. Bathing becomes routine, spinach becomes ubiquitous, and the dark ceases to be a terror. As I have learned, however, some aversions and fears are not overcome with time, such as my fear of clowns and dolls. But I am not here to tell you about the trauma I have endured since I watched Child’s Play as a twelve year old. Rather, I am here to tell you about my enduring dislike of socks. 

Now before you start thinking that I’m one of those people who wears sandals year round, let me assure you that I wear socks with my Docs. I have a utilitarian relationship to socks. I prefer wearing socks in neutral colours, and I prefer buying socks in multiples of three. I don’t wear socks with frogs or monkeys or colourful argyle patterns on them, and I certainly don’t wear toe socks. (The latter was a source of constant conflict when Becca and I lived together.) My dislike for funny socks started when I was eleven, with an incident that has been known ever since as The Sock Fiasco.

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It was Boxing Day, and I was in the Lambton Mall in Sarnia, Ontario. This was not a place where I wanted to spend a lot of time under ordinary circumstances, much less on Boxing Day. I was shopping with my mother, my aunt and uncle, and my cousins Nicky, Rachelle and Jacqueline, who seemed dead set on keeping me in the mall as long as possible. My family was having a very pleasant time browsing the stores, examining belts and commenting on sweaters as they passed through. I, on the other hand, was having a very unpleasant time, and grew increasingly alarmed as my family continued to move in and out of shops. I was in the middle of a period that can be best described as my Bambi phase. Though I was only eleven years old, I was over 5’6 at a time when many of my peers had yet to have their growth spurt. As I was the second oldest of the group, I towered above my cousins. There I was wandering around the mall on my skinny Bambi legs, inadvertently flailing my lanky arms in order to find something of interest upon the endless racks. To make matters worse, I was dressed for winter. I hadn’t thought to bring a change of shoes for walking around the mall, so I wore gigantic winter boots while my cousins wore sneakers. I say gigantic because I was already at the point when I needed to wear women’s size shoes, but I was not yet at the point when they fit me comfortably. Though my boots were a respectable colour, their size made it look like I wore moon boots. As we continued around the mall, my feet began to sweat and I felt a mounting panic. 

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My cousins sifted through ten for ten dollars bins in Claire’s, while I quietly asked my mother if we could leave soon. She too was wearing winter boots, and was ready to go home before we melted like snowmen brought indoors. I wore a tracksuit, with matching vest and wind pants. Unfortunately, this was past the time when tearaways were popular, so I couldn’t do anything about the heat wave that my boots had brought on. I was cursing my moon boots, when my mother asked me if I had seen my cousins. We were glad when we found them in Bluenotes because the store was almost at the mall’s exit. The store was filled with graphic t-shirts and ‘2 for’ signs. I was relieved when I saw that my cousins were over by a rack of socks. We’ll be out of here in no time! I thought. How long can it take to look at socks?! 

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My cousins had always been told by their father that they had to spend their money responsibly. Generally speaking, this is a great rule to live by. If our forefathers had abided by this rule, there never would have been a need for debtor’s prison. But certain things can be taken overboard, and frugality is definitely one of them. The rack that my cousins stood around was filled with coloured and patterned socks, with a sign on top indicating that three pairs of socks were ten dollars. I looked at the rack without much interest. Socks were the last thing I wanted to think about at a time when I just wanted to be barefoot. Even snowflake socks couldn’t have helped me at that point. My cousins were sharing and comparing design, showing me the most interesting pairs. “Look Court, frog socks!”

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I smiled and nodded and hated all frog socks. “Ooh, bunnies! Dolphins!” This process proceeded until all three girls had three pairs of socks. The trios had been finalized, that is, until my uncle asked the most dangerous question ever posed in a shopping mall: “Are you sure those are the ones you want?” Rachelle darted back to the rack, with Jacqueline in pursuit. “I wanted the zebra stripe, not the leopard print!” exclaimed one cousin. “No, I wanted the zebra stripe!” exclaimed the next. They had to sort through the rack again, considering animal kingdoms, complementary colours, and of course, which pair would look best with rainbow striped shoe laces. (An aside, at this point in my life I had my basketball shoes laced with Care Bear laces. I’m not sure I can ever forgive myself for that.) Seasons changed, global conflicts started and ended, I grew the additional four inches that took my to my full height, and finally my cousins were ready to buy their socks. I wept with joy in the arms of a mannequin when I saw they were at the cashier. I bounded to the parking lot in my moon boots, where their family van awaited us. When we returned to my grandparents’ house, my father, who had wisely taken shelter in a coffee shop in order to avoid this whole ordeal, asked me how the shopping trip had been. There was no way to explain the experience, not at that point anyway. All I could say was, “Never buy me a pair of frog socks.”

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Song of the Day: Don’t Call Home by July Talk

If you would like to read the first of my childhood cartoon stories, check out The Last Time My Family Went to IKEA.

Story Time Wednesday: The Last Time My Family Went to IKEA

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I recently took a trip to IKEA with my old friend Kathryn. The last time I had been to IKEA was sixteen years ago. It’s not that I live a great distance from the nearest IKEA or that I am disinterested in what the store has to offer – I look longingly at Benji bookcases and Swedish meatballs any time we receive the catalogue. The reason why I was so long away from that furniture megastore is because my father swore after out last trip that we would never return. And as much as I would like a $2 plate of pasta, I wholeheartedly agree with his decision. This is the story of my childhood trip to IKEA.

In the absence of pictures documenting this event, I have illustrated the story.

When we arrived at the store, my parents and I were immediately directed towards the children’s play area. It was like an indoor park but with the addition of giant foam puzzle pieces.

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My parents registered me with one of the playroom attendants as I readied myself for a dash to the foam pit. Just as I was about to take off, an attendant said, “First we need to give you a bib!” I was unfamiliar with this term as it related to mature five year olds such as myself. Bibs are for babies! I thought. Then the woman took a horrifying yellow pinny out from a giant basket. It had the number six on it in a bold black font. I looked to my parents for reassurance. They said, “Have fun Court!” The woman helped me into the number six pinny. I was their captive now.

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I resigned myself to my fate and began to look around. As I looked, I saw children in the middle of a game of hide and seek, all wearing numbered pinnies in primary colours. It was like IKEA was building a child army.

If that wasn’t disturbing enough, one of the other workers turned to a child in a red number four pinny and asked, “Johnny, do you want to go down the slide? I know it’s your favourite!”

How long had these children been here for?! They probably lived here! They slept in the foam pit, I was sure of it!

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The children had been here for so long, they liked it. I didn’t know the term Stockholm Syndrome at the time, but if I had, I would have thought this a classic case. I saw myself as a prisoner in the IKEA playground.

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They asked me my name. I refused to give it. I did not want to invite any familiarity. Just as I was hatching my escape plan, my parents miraculously returned. On the way home, my dad talked of floors of furniture that seemed endless. “It’s like they were trying to keep us there forever!” He had no idea.

My parents have never returned to IKEA. The only souvenir of our trip is a stack of plastic cups, six of them in primary colours. Sinister.

Song of the Day: Better by Regina Spektor