Bowing out in Wicker Park

This Saturday I set out to find a bow-tie. I've just started working as an usher at the Lyric Opera House and I am supposed to wear a tux, like everybody else. Since I don't have one, I can wing it for 45 performances while I get my sartorial act together. While I can wait on the tuxedo, the bow-tie is a must have item. When I stepped out of the door of my building, little did I know that I'd be testing the shopping limits of my neighborhood, Wicker Park.

I actually live on Wicker Park Avenue and the first thing that I always see when I leave home is Wicker Park across the street. I like to let my eyes flow over it like a land baroness reviewing her holdings. I silently acknowledge imaginary serfs toiling in my favor and decide what direction to go in. Since I had to go thrifting, that meant Milwaukee Avenue, and that meant turning left. I could have through the park and down Damen to Division, or turned right and then right again on Damen and walked down that street? But Milwaukee is closest and is the shopping street that I have the most feel for. It's a mixture of high and low-end goods, and I am endlessly fascinated by it. It reminds me of say, 8th or 14th street in New York. I swear that I could fulfill all my needs just on Milwaukee, between Division and Damen.

I breathe in, say goodbye to the park and turn left. I walk two blocks up and then turn left again on Wolcott and am directly faced with my first stop, Ragstock. Due to the fact that it's prices are low, it's close to my house, and the stock is wide-ranging- I kinda see it as my personal closet, or like going to a friend's house to borrow something. It takes so little effort to shop there, it's like, relaxing, and I always find something good. I went in and asked about bow-ties and the boy at the register was nice, but said that they might not have any because no-one buys them. He was right; there weren't any. When I left he was outside smoking a cigarette, looking super-fashionable, chillin'.

I was a little sad, I had hoped to be able to score on the first try, but whatever. I went down the street to Brown Elephant, the AIDs charity thrift shop. I looked around and the more I looked, the more I realized that I need to make way more money. There was so much good stuff there , I was drooling- brand new stuff, too! There were two black jackets that I liked for work- one a perfect take on a tuxedo jacket, but with a v-front instead of a squared of or rounded hem. Too cute! It looked my size, but at $18.00 was too high for me that day. I also saw a vintage leather car coat, stiff but super stylish with a mottled black finish. $25.00. Not bad, but I was only packing $12.00 and still hadn't found a bow-tie. I ended up buying a cute stretch cotton button down shirt, white with tan and brown horizontal lines and a punkish frayed quality, $4.00 and it makes me feel super-stylish. I got a little pin in the shape of a dove, $1.00. Obviously no bow tie. I looked over the clerks at the register before leaving- the girl looked like Karen Oh and the guy was doing that hipster thing- but really clean and well groomed about it. Cute sales people make you feel hopeful about life in general, I think.

I walked out the door and stood there, wondering. Then I decided to head further up the street to Kmart. They have everything, right? It started to rain a little, and I could have run back home for my umbrella, but didn't. I looked in the windows of all the furniture stores selling ticky-tacky tchotchkes and thought how cool it would be to do a photo shoot where the models are posed I the windows of stores like these. Like they just woke up in decorating hell and can't get out! Then I saw something I liked and decided it wasn't tacky after all? Just camp.

I finally get to Kmart (it's over by the Jewel in this kind of mini-mall over by Ashland. Entering on Milwaukee, I always have to hike over the parking lot, praying not to get run over by an SUV blaring reggaeton, with like 6 screaming kids in back.) Everybody who had no money and very little style was hanging out in front of the double doors waiting for -- what? I ask myself this every time I go there, and still have no real answer. I went through the doors like gang-busters looking to get in and get out before I got distracted. I power-walked to the boys section, they had to have bow-ties! Well, no. It seems like no one tortures their man-to-be with those little Fauntleroy suits anymore. You know those suits? Solid polyester, with a shirt included they always wear them to communion, or the more formal birthday party? My brother had one. Just like I had the dress equivalent- dark faux-velvet with a rounded peter pan collar trimmed in lace and a sash that always came unraveled as I played tag after whatever festivity my mom had dragged me to. They don't seem to make those suits anymore , at least they don't sell them at Kmart. All they had were jeans, t-shirts, and some really wrong Hawaiian shirts.

So I'm starting to get discouraged? But then as I walk toward Milwaukee, I see the Ark Thrift store -- duh! Why didn't I go there first? Maybe because it's closed on Saturday? There it was- gates pulled across the front and sagging every which way, signs in the window screaming ‘Clothing Half-Off!' (am I the only one that sees the humor? I can't be.) I bet they had a whole bin of bow-ties just out of my reach.

My head started to hang just the tiniest bit after hitting up the wig store (no), the chaepie wedding dress store (no- but they had fake flowers I might go back for), and the Walgreen's (no). Now I was on Milwaukee and Wood and I think- drown my sorrows in Big Gulp at the 7-11 but then? Epiphany! The men's store on the corner! The one I always pass by and never think about! They have to have bow ties! Well, they do? Just not right this second when I actually need one. That's it, I tell myself. I'm going home. I'm not even going to treat myself to a Big Gulp, ‘m just gonna go home. On the way I walk past Una Mae's Freak Boutique and stop. I think, ‘What the hell- one last try -- '

I walk in and there's these two clerks: one's leaning on the counter like he's glued to it and the other one just springs into action when I make my request. He tears off looking for a bow-tie like his life depends on it. Guess what? He found two- both velvet, one grey and one black. But they were $8.00 and after my little fling at Brown Elephant I only had $6.00! Darn! I left but decided to call the manager. Begged. She let me have it for $6.00 and no tax, and thus was my butt saved. I left Una Mae's loving life and Wicker Park. I came up with a little moral for my shopping tale: persistence pays off. Or maybe good customer service benefits everyone. But maybe there is no moral and there is just this: a neighborhood is the place where you can always find what you want, if you take the time to look.