by Lex Demoncock
A big “Sale” sign hung in the window of the Beverly Hills Polo Club. Only a desperate social climber would want to be seen by another desperate social climber wearing that label and only in Hong Kong, that hot-house, demo-model of consumer capitalism the Brits set up to diddle the Chinese Communists.
“Are there are any other places to find men’s clothes in big sizes?” I said to the black-clad salesboy.
“You mean for a fat, old, white guy?” he laughed. “Why don’t you try a clown store?”
“Take it easy, dude,” I said. “I love Xi Jin Ping.”
“Tell me where to get cheap men’s clothes, and I will tell you,” I said.
“You must be a college professor or something,” he said straightening up.
“You got it,” I said flashing my fake press pass and putting it away before he had a chance to read it. “Xi Jin Ping is the prime minister of China. Your turn.”
“Try Mongkok,” he said.
As I bought my metro ticket and slalomed toward the Mongkok-bound train, the crowd thickened into a grunting mob. I remembered the ancient Chinese proverb, “When in Hong Kong, the superior man avoids Mongkok station.” In those days the subway cars were made of bamboo and pulled by goats.
On Ladies street, large men’s underpants hung in a stall, all printed with Simpsons cartoons, clear proof that they symbolize success in east Asia. The sign said $29.99 HKD.
A woman with face of a prison guard came up.
“Twenty,” I said.
“No boggin,” she said.
Long, Ching-dynasty robes hung in another stall. Ching accoutrements were abandoned starting in 1911 because they represented the impotence of dynastic China.
“Do you have a big size?” I said eyeing a gray one high up.
“Yes,” she said, or so it seemed bringing down a yellow one.
I pointed at the grey one. She began making complaining noises. I left. Obviously she did not want me taking my rightful place as the next Emperor of China.
My shopping day was going well. The people of Hong Kong were helping me to resist spending a single cent. I found a gray t-shirt at another stall.
“Eighty,” said the saleslady. She was small, middle-aged, weary-eyed. She combined her sales technique with seduction.
“How’s it going?” I said.
“Not so good,” she said.
“Why not?” I said inching closer.
“Not enough money coming in.” She said something about her boss.
We settled on 55 Hong Kong dollars. She may have been older but this was one of those rare women who stay sexy into age, the kind who carry a man’s soul like a river carries a leaf. I warmed up when we closed the sale. She said goodbye like a refrigerator door slamming shut. Old prostitutes never die, they become clothes peddlers on Ladies street.
The t-shirt she said was cotton turned out to be polyester, and the XXL size was really an M. It sits in a bag on the floor of my hotel room like a prisoner on death row.
Maybe you are wondering what the point of these trivial vignettes and self-serving one-liners is. In writer’s jargon it’s called padding. I have to make this look like a real story instead of flash fiction. The good part is coming.
I gave Mongkok one more chance: a building called the Hollywood Shopping Centre. There was no elevator, only three mercifully manageable staircases. On the third floor the shops were partitioned booths lining a square corridor. They sold shoes, or formal wear, or shoes, or formal wear.
I went into one booth only because I yielded for one, private moment to lust for the elf-like clerk. I had to try on a pair to give myself an excuse for being there and to prevent the clerk from yelling, “dirty old white man,” to the other clerks. Why is it that old men are described as dirty but teenagers are said to have raging hormones for exactly the same emotions?
The heel didn’t feel right. The brand on the sole was “Ray-People.” What could that mean to the Chinese mind?
The next pair bore the label, “Devil,” so hopefully were cut differently.
“These feel better,” I said desperately trying to draw the clerk out.
“They are the same company,” he said.
“Jesus, you have such skinny, hairy legs,” I said.
“Watch it gweilo (white ghost),” he said “My dad’s high up in the Triads.” I quickly exited and found a formal-wear shop.
The suits were fancy, dark, and glistening.
“These are for vampires?” I said.
“No, they are for weddings,” said the clerk.
As soon as I left, he went to to the next stall and told the salesgirls what I had said. They leaned their heads out of their stalls diagonally to look at me.
The second and first floors were lined with exactly the same type of shops. The shoe stalls all sold “Ray-People”, one store even bold enough to call itself that.
“Hello,” said a plump girl as I passed a stall.
“Are you Ray-People, too?” I said.
“No,” she said.
A pair of red, faux-suede boots caught my eye. The label read, “These boots are specifically designed for old, fat, white guys with dirty minds”. We galantee that, while you wear dem, at least one young girl will want to play with your janitors every day.”
“We don’t have 11 but I can get you 44,” said the salesgirl. The pair she brought back were redder and fresher than the display model.
“They fade out,” she said.
“Will you come to my place and re-dye them when that happens?” I said. I put my toe into the left boot.
“Yes, and, and,…” her eyes glazed over. “There is something else I would like to do,” she said, as if in a trance.
“What?” I said pushing my foot further into the neck of the boot.
“I would like to play with your … with your…,” she said with a dazed expression.
My heel caught just above the neck of the boot.
“My what?” I said. I tried again to push my heel through. “It won’t go,” I said. “Would you still like to come to my place?”
“Sorry, no time” she said taking the boots back.