Mundy tells me I need to start shopping.
“To develop ambition,” Mundy says. “You don’t have enough ambition.”
“I know,” I say. I say, “I’m not a go-getter.”
“Not at all,” Mundy says. “If you want success you have to want things. That’s the way it works.”
“Take me shopping then,” I say.
“How ’bout I tell you where to shop?”
“You’re telling me to shop but you’re not willing to shop with me,” I say. I say, “Something about that is not right.”
“Just go with your girl. I’m not going shopping with you. I hate shopping.”
“But you do it enough to foster your inner ambition?”
“And not any more than that.”
* * *
I’m standing in the middle of the Goodwill Bulk Center in Austin, TX.
Mundy recommended it.
I’m looking for clothes with my girl. She’s digging through a shallow and long plastic blue bin.
These bins stand around waist-height, rows of them furrow this voluminous building. I think airplanes were built in here back in the day.
My girl isn’t the kind that will shout my name in public. She whispers my name in public.
“Roberto,” she whispers. She whispers, “What do you think about this shirt? I really like this shirt. Let me see how it looks on you.”
“But I didn’t answer your question,” I say. I say, “That shirt’s all right.”
My girl snitches at my face. She says, “Try it on. Put it over your shirt.”
My nostrils flare. The tiny hairs itch.
To humor her I do what she wants. But before I go through the rigmarole of trying on this shirt, I notice a stain on the sleeve.
“It’s stained,” I say.
And that’s that.
She gets back to digging through the bin. I wander deeper into the maw of this hangar. Diffuse sunlight makes it look spiritual. The air smells tolerable.
On the way to the books bin, I pass cassettes and VHS tapes.
I pass baseballs.
I pass a leaf blower.
I pass footballs.
I pass boardgames.
Hardbacks appear first. Covers that don’t get my attention.
Big portraits on the back of the authors.
Stephen King is in a bin.
Anne Rice is in a bin.
That’s about it for books.
5 of 6 framed fragments of the world are in a bin. What happened to the sixth? Seems worthless with 1/6 missing.
No part of the world can be ignored. No part forgotten.
A girl next to me finds an old tennis racquet. She goes through the motion of a forehand.
* * *
At $1.39 a pound, the pile of shirts and pants I buy comes out to $6.38.
Not bad for the quantity of clothing I’m getting. Not bad at all.
I feel like a partially new man.
A secondhand man.
Although I don’t see how this kind of activity will make me a go-getter. Increase my level of ambition.
I don’t know, maybe it will?
* * *
The next day I’m sitting in my cubicle when Mundy towers over me.
The shadow of his shoulders eclipse my entire being.
I kind of cower back into the farthest corner, which isn’t really far at all.
“I see you’re wearing a new shirt,” says Mundy. “And — holy shit! — are those new pants too? Man Robert, you’ve outdone yourself!”
For some reason I appreciate the sarcasm. As my cheeks blush from the compliment I start itching around my neck.
Mundy picks up on it. Nothing escapes his notice.
“Did you wash everything right after you got it. The Blue Hanger is great, but the clothes don’t exactly come clean if you know what I mean.”
I don’t want to answer. While my gut told me I should have washed my clothes before wearing them, I wanted to wear some to work today.
And yesterday we didn’t have time to visit the laundromat.
Mundy shakes his head. He says, “It’s not just about new clothes, Robert, it’s about looking sharp.”
I say, “Looking sharp?”
Mundy says, “Christ yes Robert! You need to see the larger picture here. Ambition comes with appearance.”
I say, “Appearance?”
Mundy shakes his head and sags his shoulders. For a second I see light. But them I’m back in the darkness, eclipsed.
He says, “People who look sharp, feel sharp. Like right now, maybe you look sharp in your new outfit, but you don’t feel sharp.”
I say, “No. I feel like a dirty dog. I feel like I have fleas crawling all over me. I feel like I’m going to itch myself until I scream. I smell bad.”
Mundy leaves me to myself in my cubicle.
The imprint of his footprints remain in the short pile carpet.
I stare at them, place my feet square in them.
I’m shocked when I see my shoe size is bigger than his.
I say, “Really?”
The truth is I’m taller than Mundy. I have wider shoulders than Mundy. I command a room more than Mundy.
Or at least I would if I didn’t feel so shitty on the inside.