TJ Maxx is the manufacturing wasteland of capitalism. It is a depository of battered, balled-up, misshapen excess. You will find sweaters unraveling on their hangers. You will find shabby-chic picture frames stacked like crusty dinner plates and plastered with layers of red clearance stickers and you will buy them. You will buy them knowing that no matter how much Goo Gone you use to anoint your purchases you will never completely remove the snotty square of clearance tag film. TJ Maxx is a landfill and a purgatory. It is a twilight zone where the cashiers give you store credit for flared Baby Phat jeans you bought in 2002. They bury them in a rack in the girl’s section, no questions asked.
Yet a lot of my clothes come from TJ Maxx. It is the world that I know and trust. To me, the eccentricity is commonplace and the chaos is predictable. I spent my infancy in TJ Maxx and Marshalls waiting for my mom to pick out holiday table runners, quietly nurturing my penchant for paisley and gratuitous fringe.
When I decided that I needed some appropriate clothing for work, I turned to TJ Maxx. And because I am five feet tall and look like a teenager and desperately need pants, I went to the junior’s section.
I did try the petites section first. Everyone always says to look in the petites section, but when I get there I find that everything is designed for squat, athletic grandmothers. There are pants, but they are the kind of pants that you wear when you live in an RV and play horseshoes. Any time I happen to find something I like, I look at the tag and realize that I unknowingly crossed into the maternity section. Then I notice the elastic waistband. What about the young? The short? The childless?
The young, the short, and the childless shop in The Cube – the glittery, polyester heart of every TJ Maxx and Marshalls. The junior’s section. The Cube is where teenage girls take their allowances and browse the vestiges of the spring season. Gauzy sweaters, lacey shorts, and the usual American Eagle tees with the brand blacked out with marker. This is where I go when I want to find clothes that fit my body. The Cube is my comfort zone. Why can’t I think outside The Cube?
The day of my work pants quest, the Cube was a cornucopia of teen girl fashion. Its many racks were like apple tree branches in the late summer, heavy with ripe fruit, although most of that fruit was damaged, deformed, or the sleeves were different lengths. This season the fashion industry is purveying its harvest of festival looks. It only took a few minutes in for me to realize that the only pants available were “beach pants” – flowy nylon and cotton pants with Indian and Southeast Asian patterns, the perfect swimsuit coverup.
What are “slacks?” They went the way of petticoats and corsets. They were mashed and canned with the rest of last season’s fruits and stored in last season’s pantry.
The Cube whispered, “Girls your age shouldn’t have jobs.”
And I responded, “But I’m twenty-five!”
I was already getting a headache when the Counting Crows begin to play over the loudspeaker. I considered leaving and putting a gun into my mouth. I wonder how many customers TJ Maxx loses to its soundtrack? How many casualties per year?
I persevered. I flipped through racks of flimsy crop tops, eight-foot-long maxi skirts, rompers with severed straps, and dresses made entirely out of bra padding. I entered the dressing room with eight hangers and went to the cash register with a single garment.
I decided on a peasant skirt. Unlike beach pants, I could wear the skirt to work. The check-out line snaked back to The Cube and the customers carts were overflowing with fluorescent sneakers, spatulas, and framed pictures of Italian villas. TJ Maxx tried to tempt me in line with artisanal chocolates and gym socks.
On a shelf of irregular gourmet popcorn, you will see an hourglass that someone has turned upside down. You could buy this hourglass for just $7.99 and put it on an end table with your glass fruit. You will watch the sand spill mercilessly from the top half to the bottom half and you will realize that you just spent yet another day of your brief and insignificant life in line at a TJ Maxx.