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Strawbridge & Clothier, circa 1984.

“Shout. Shout. Let it all out. These are the things I can do without. Come on. I’m talking to you. Come on.” -Tears For Fears

It was a dog’s age ago, and I was knee high to a duck (long before I started using cliches). I’ll never forget the day. My mom had dragged me to Strawbridge & Clothier’s downtown. I have no idea where my sister was, but it was the day I got lost (twice). We took the subway to 13th and Market Streets where there were a million interchanges. I was supposed to hold onto my mother’s hand, but I thought I was old enough to walk by myself. That was the problem.

When we emerged from the El I was captivated as always by the hordes of people in the concourse, by the man on the bench selling bean pies, and by the derelicts just riding the trains back and forth to stay warm. When I stopped looking all around I realized my mother was nowhere to be seen, and I started to panic. “Mom!” I croaked, but I hadn’t used my voice all day to that point, and it came out sounding so small. Then I saw the back of her coat five steps ahead. I hustled to catch up, and grabbed her hand, relieved.

Except it wasn’t her. It was some other woman wearing a similar coat who was quite surprised when this young kid grabbed onto her hand. Seconds later my actual mother yanked me away from the strange woman, and she didn’t let go of my hand the whole rest of the way to Strawbridge’s. I got the lecture about getting abducted, but you know how it is when you’re a kid. Nothing seems to phase you, at least when you’re safely with your mother.

Those iconic elevators.

We got to the store and it was chaos of a different sort from the subway. Instead of the bean pie man, it was the lady spraying perfume into the air. In place of the derelicts riding the trains back and forth, there were the men in smart suits and the women in spring dresses in the dead of winter, looking like they had just stepped out of a catalog. And into it we strolled, as if we belonged, even though we generally only made it there once a year, usually near Christmas-time.

It was all like magic, being there. It smelled like possibility, and it looked like a dream. And I was there in the midst of it. I don’t even remember now what my mother was there to buy. It could have been hosiery for church, or a new purse, also for church, or she may have been just trying on clothing as she was wont to do sometime — her own little sort of dream. But whatever the reasoning, I loved it there mostly because of the music, though.

I wasn’t used to music in the background when we went to stores. It was mostly Pathmark and K-Mart, both of which didn’t offer musical selections to assist in the shopping experience. The most I heard while at those places was “Spill in Aisle 5.” But Strawbridge’s was totally different. From the moment we walked in my ears were inundated with the sounds just as my eyes were with the people. And the first song I heard as we walked in that day was “Shout.”

“In violent times, you shouldn’t have to sell your soul. In black and white, they really, really ought to know…”

Then I got lost again.



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