When I was in college, I worked odd hours between classes in the men’s clothing section of a huge discount store. It added up to a 40 hour week, and was enough to pay my rent, my books and food and motorcycle payments. Nothing more. No eating out. No extra books. No new clothes.
My jobs included folding pants of matching color and size and stacking them together, returning items from other parts of the store, retrieving clothes from the try-on rooms and putting them back neatly on display. I also had to constantly survey the racks to restore garments to their proper sections. And I ran the cash register.
I never could figure out why people would put down a bag of chips from the grocery section on top of the yellow shirts. Or why they would hang a pair of purple sweat pants on the rack with the gray permanent-press slacks.
Then I faced the problem of what could my bloated husband wear. When he came home from the hospital, his waist was 7 inches bigger than normal. Even the most worn out elastic waist pants were too tight. Only his robe could provide the modesty he desired.
I went to my local discount shop, similar to the one I used to work in. I looked at the pants in the men’s section. Unlike when I worked in such a store, there were no staffers around to answer questions. And the pants were not marked with inches for the waist measurements. Instead they had mysterious labels like XL and 4XL. I had no idea what size my husband needed.
I snagged a staffer who was walking through the shoe section. “I need to make sure I get a pair of pants that is big enough for my husband. Do you have a tape measure so I can measure the waist?” “Tape measures are in hardware.” “Where is hardware?” “Upstairs.”
I went upstairs, carrying a pair of pants that I thought might fit. I saw plates, and mirrors and toys. I snagged another staffer. He pointed off to one side of the store. I followed his indicated direction and wound up in pots and pans. But about 100 feet away was hardware. I found a tape measure. The pants I was carrying were too small. I took the pants and the tape measure downstairs. Nothing in Men’s was big enough. I looked up, hoping for inspiration. I saw a sign: Big Men’s.
I looked for Men’s again, but it seemed to have disappeared. I saw a woman pushing a cart who was wearing a store uniform. “Can you tell me where Men’s Clothing is?” “I work on the 2nd floor. Men’s clothing is on 1st.”
I didn’t want to carry the too small pants any more, so I hung them up a rack of other clothing.
In Big Men’s were more clothes with mysterious sizes: XXL, XXXL. I saw a staffer. “You need a 4X.” I found a 4X. I measured it with the tape measure. It was much too big. The plain XL was too small. But a 3X was just right. I put the tape measure down on the carousel with pants in all sizes and took my find to the register, knowing I’d just created the kind of chaos that I used to think made no sense at all.