Panty Raid

Never get angry. Never make a threat. Reason with people.

-The Godfather

I may not know "Victoria," but I think I've figured out her "secret."

....It's that the lingerie sales force are not retail clerks at all.... they're retired CIA operatives.

I found this out last Saturday on a trip to (and it pains me to admit this).... the Mall. It was my first day off since Christmas and I was pretty much out of everything. Desperation beckoned. And while I make it a point NOT just to shop locally, but to shop DOWNTOWN, and more specifically on my STREET, there are some things that I can't procure there. If my drugstore would only add a Clinique counter, it's possible I'd never leave my neighborhood again.

It's the rare occasion that gets me to the suburbs.

First, I have to dismantle the engine block on my truck - which I have rigged to automatically grind to a screeching halt and whip into reverse at the first glimmer of a sign for New Circle Road.

Then I have to call Triple A... for a Trip Tik. (And even then, I still need to leave a trail of bread crumbs.)

I check the oil. Charge up the cell phone.

I make sure my living will is updated.

I leave my dogs in the care of good people (as Hunter S. Thompson puts it). I phone my parents and leave them heartfelt messages about how I love them ... and that I've forgiven them for that time they grounded me and sent me to bed without Chico and the Man.

And then I set out.

Sure I'm never coming back.

The first thought that strikes me as I advance upon the cancerous parking lots of suburban sprawl is, "Uh, hellooooooo........ what recession??" Because, while I don't mean to be insensitive, you'd think the ONE silver lining of an "economic downturn" would be that you could at least find a parking space within 18 miles of the damn mall.

Not a chance.

Further impeded by the fact that I need roughly 40 acres to back my truck into any space (because of a hard front axle, and not my driving skills), I circled the lot endlessly - engaged in a little pas de deux with the guy in the Dodge Ram 3500 - who was just as handicapped as I. We exchanged the occasional wan yet grim smile that I imagine soldiers might give each other on the battlefield.

Ultimately, I got a space within about three miles of Sears - whose "softer side" I have absolutely no interest in. I'm happy to frequent them for power tools and major appliances, but lingerie? Out of the question. I hiked through quickly (baseball cap pulled low, collar flipped up).

This was obviously what Thoreau meant when he referred to "lives of quiet desperation" i.e., people in stirrup pants.

And I was a loooooooong way from Walden Pond.

After quick stops at Abercrombie for sweaters, and Body Shop for soap, I finally screwed my courage to the sticking place and forged ahead to Victoria's Secret.

I was armed with a few hundred dollars in gift certificates that optimistic friends had provided me over Christmas. I think they were hoping to inspire me to leave my office long enough that someone might actually enjoy the benefits of sexy underthings.

I had no such notions. (Because my office door has a lock on it, and anybody who wants to see my underwear better know where that office is, along with the meaning of the word DEADLINE. A working familiarity with the phrases, "get out," and "you don't have to go home, but you can't stay here," is also helpful.)

So anyway.

I had a very pragmatic list: 28 pairs of panties (because that means I can send Hop Sing out with the laundry only once a month); a strapless bra; and a new bathrobe.

Easier said than done.

Looking around the store, I can only assume that the stockholders of this chain are now all male. With a brief stop at one table, I could've easily outfitted myself for a starring role in any minor-league porn film.

I pressed on.



Increasingly annoyed.

Finally, a tiny elfin little sprite approached me at my right elbow and asked if she could help.

I pathetically fished in my pocket for my humble list (feeling like a giant Jurassic Brobdingnag lumbering among the Lilliputians): 28 pairs of bikini panties (14 black, 14 white); a black strapless bra; and a white bathrobe. I mumbled it a few times, Rain Man-like.

"REAL panties" I specified, rousing myself to a moment of righteous indignation. The kind that COVER YOUR ASS. Bikinis. NOT granny panties. But no THONGS either. If it's a choice between wearing floss, or nothing at all, I'm goin' commando.

She whirled through the store, whipping undergarments off the shelves at lightning speed and quickly had me settled in a dressing room.

Where, I must say, nothing could've prepared me for what was next.

Closing the door behind her, she gestured to a button on the wall and said, "Once you get these on, you can hit this to page me and we'll see how these work for you...." Adding, quite unnecessarily, "so you don't have to walk out into the store to come find me."

Oh not to worry. I wasn't GONNA.

Besides, the only time I'm accustomed to pushing a red button to alert the staff that I am undressed is at my Ob-Gyn's office, and I've known HER for twelve years, and have implicit faith in her superb education and 20+ years of medical experience. She's qualified to handle anything she might see. This girl, on the other hand, had community college written all over her.

So I'm hooking up the last clasp when there's this tap-tap-tap at the door.

"Soooo, how's that goin' for you?"

"Uhhhhhh.... fine," I muttered.

Which was followed by a brightly chirped, "Well OK then!! Let's have a look."

Excuse me?

Now..... I am not known for my modesty. I don't think I'm unduly self-conscious. I was an artist's model in college. I shower in a locker room. I lived in a houseful of fraternity guys for most of my college years - all of whom inadvertently saw me naked at some point or other (with no especially adverse effects, as far as I know). And just last week, I inadvertently (through sheer clumsiness) provided a stage full of bachelors, a local radio personality, and a television anchor with a thoroughly accidental view of a Basic-Instinct style leg-cross.

BUT retail dressing rooms are my Maginot Line.

The tapping continued, however. Incessantly.

She wasn't giving up. And she wasn't going away.

Later at dinner that night, Eloise and Suzy inquired as to why I opened the door. After all, it had a deadbolt.

Well, yeahhhhhhh.... But I was convinced that, one way or the other, she was COMING in. So I had full faith that one of two things was going to happen if I didn't open it. 1. She'd break it down, and that would mean a scene, or 2. she was going to flop down on a pink-striped mechanic's dolly and slide under the door, uninvited. And I knew that wasn't a view I wanted to encourage.

Once inside, she began to very matter-of-factly assess "the fit." She tugged here. Shoved there. Rearranging as she went.

"Whoa, whoa, whoa," I'm thinking. At least POUR ME A DRINK first! I mean, this scenario called for a couple things that were conspicuously absent, to my way of thinking. Namely, a pitcher of cosmopolitans, and someone with a penis.

It helped a little that she was all business.

"See this gap here - between your breast and the cup?" she pointed out instructively, gesturing Vanna-like to the offending area.

"Uh yeah......"

"You know what that is?"

Well, to the uneducated, untrained, unprofessional eye, my guess was that EITHER the bra was too big or my boobs were too small (depending on whether you adopt a glass half-empty or glass half-full view of the world, I guess).

No, no, no. She reassured me. This particular bra was made of some space-age polymer (and won't we all sleep better at night, now that we know what NASA's been up to?) that CONFORMS to your body's shape after about 20 minutes of wear.

All righty. Good to know.

I thought, optimistically, we were done.

But more indignities awaited.

As she advanced towards me.


Methodically unwinding the measuring tape that hung loosely around her neck, like some Wild West gunslinger preparing for battle.

Approaching me with the same caution Marlon Perkins used to employ around skittish elephants (directing operations from the Land Rover while Jim loaded the tranquilizer darts).

I'd had enough.

"Stop right there," I said firmly. "One thing you should know about me," I bluffed (as far as YOU know), "is that I have a conceal-carry permit... And if you back away slow, nobody gets hurt."

It worked.

Dazed and shell-shocked, I proceeded to the cash register. Wondering what happened to the lofty professional goals I had in my 20s - which were primarily comprised of securing a job where I wouldn't HAVE to wear a bra.

I know I may be guilty of losing some perspective here. (I actually realized that last week when male readers wrote in that I had disappointed them mightily when I confessed I had to ponder an answer, for at least a moment, when asked if my new Kate Spade bag was better than sex. But in my own defense, I should point out that it's a REALLY BIG bag.)

But of course I know a trip to the mall is not the Balkans. As outrage goes, waiting online for a pretzel is NOT on par with the pox-infected blankets the American military passed off to the Indians. This was no Bataan death march. It was not on par with Wounded Knee. This was no journey into the Heart of Darkness, and I'm no Marlow. This wasn't Into Thin Air, and I'm no Krakauer.

But it's a trail of tears, nonetheless, and as for me, you can bury my heart at Banana Republic.

Because, like Thoreau, all I really want is "to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life..." I'd just prefer to do it from the comfort of my own home. Is that too much to ask?

Reality Truck will occasionally rotate in for sportspeak .