Inconvenience Store

Hills. Hills. Everywhere hills!

For many years and up until very recently, I lived very far away from any shop. There were three or four shops in my neighborhood, but getting to any of them required at least a 10-15 minute walk. With the shopping and the inevitability of a person in front of me who had somehow forgotten how shops operated (present, pack, pay) the whole experience took at least 45 minutes. 45 minutes for a bottle of milk or a candy bar.  

And then there were the hills. That is, any shop I chose involved a hill. I know. I know. Really, Grandpa? Uphill. Both ways? Yep.

If I went to a shop down the hill, I had to walk back up it or if I walked uphill to another shop, my walk started uphill. There was no avoiding the hills. My flat was in the middle of a giant one.

This isn’t a complaint; I loved living there. The walks were invigorating, pleasant, they were incidental exercise. I’d listen to a podcast, music, or just think or argue with my mind gremlins. I liked it. Plus, nothing shirk off the guilt of a candy bar like a 30 minute walk. But still, I associated city living with a certain degree of locality convenience that I wasn’t privy to and it made a difference in day to day life.  

In the first place, I was paranoid about forgetting to pick something up at the store. I made lists, checked them twice. Because my local shop (12 minute walk) was hit or miss with kitty litter, I’d sometimes pick it up in the city. And so there were several days I’d go to the pub or to  an appointment lugging twenty pounds of sand in my backpack. I felt like Sisyphus or Atlas. If I weren’t able to get the litter at all, the cat would loudly push the few remaining pebbles around in her box, stand inside of it and poop on the floor, all the while giving me a look which clearly sent the signal “you asked for this, buddy.”  

Often a trip to the store was a negotiation point in our household’s domestic chores. I’ll do the dishes if you go shopping. I’ll clean the bathrooms if you go shopping. If I really felt like going to the store and not doing the dishes, I knew the tactic was to mention the hill. There’s that hill. If that didn’t seal it, I’d add: bit rainy today. It was an easy touch on Burke, whose natural enemies include precipitation over 30% and any incline whose grade is above 20%.

And whoever went to the store always got more. Because the store was not terribly convenient, we’d make sure to make a list for everything we might want. We had to exploit each trip to the store, because doing two trips in one day was almost out of the question. And so, a trip to the store for a bottle of milk because a trip to the store for dinner, dessert, cat food, toilet paper, and a bottle of milk.

But now, no more.

There is a shop across the street and a large supermarket less than a 4 minute walk up the road. Going to the store is now suggested with absolutely no gravity. I’m running to the store. Sometimes I won’t mention it; I’ll just go. If it turns out that Burke needed something else or I forgot something, no problem, I’ll just go back.

The state in which I go to the store has also changed a great deal. A 45 minute journey out of the flat often required proper outside attire. I was not just going to quickly visit the outside world, I was going to be in public. I had to dress like a normal, mentally reasonable human being. Read: pants. Perhaps pants were also prompted by the fact that next to the market was a police station.

But the shop I go to now can be viewed from my kitchen window, and, well, the rules have changed. My typical shop attire are Pajama bottoms, crocs, sweatshirt, and a baseball cap. I have reverted back into an American campus college student. I remember in university the number of people who waddled into early morning classes with a to-go coffee, sweatshirts, and what were obviously pajama bottoms. Nobody really questioned it. It was a seven minute walk to the classroom, so why not?  

This might be viewed as insane by Czech woman, many of whom will put on makeup and dress in a ball gown to buy a bottle of milk. But Czech men are right there in this line of thinking.  

Czech men are not terribly well-known for their keen fashion sense. And I say this now with the addendum that this is changing. Far more I see younger Czech men dressed in fashionable suits and donning the current men’s haircuts and beard shapes. But your general older Czech man dresses purely for utility rather than for aesthetics. Monochrome outfits, Canadian tuxedos (denim top and bottom), sweatpants and a tank top, flannel shirts tucked into cutoff jean shorts. Anyone who lives here has seen these outfits on a daily basis. Accessories include an almost ubiquitous dedication to the fanny pack, to the belt clip cellphone holder, to the carry man purse, or to a belt pouch meant to transport any number of things – wallet, cigarettes, tobacco, pen and pencil, calculator.

In terms of fashion, I have found my people. And so it is with pride that I add to the local culture of my neighborhood in my own Americana way. When I step outside, I do it with no shame. I scratch tiredly. I slip my wallet out of my pajama pants. And I tell my neighbors: this, my friends, is the weekend and morning casual attire of an American who has no shame and needs kitty litter and maybe an avocado.

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