(I’m a little busy with some projects so I’ll be returning to political commentary tomorrow. -Jim)
It should have been the simplest thing in the world. I’d already done the very same thing back in 2012. And yet what began as a laughably simple task soon mutated into an arduous quest that would bring me to the very brink of insanity, as all logic seemed to implode upon itself along the way. Read my story. Heed my words.
One day I lost a button on my coat. And though this could easily be repaired, this provided the perfect excuse to get a new coat. After all, I’d had this one since the end of 2012. Perhaps I could have hunted down a new button, true, but what would I do if a seam were to burst, or a hole were to develop? One cannot simply wear the same coat indefinitely over many years; the lost button was merely a sign that it was time to move on.
Thus I went about searching for a new coat using the exact same method I had used to purchase the previous one. I went online to a Russian supplier and began to search. Within minutes, I’d found a design that suited my tastes perfectly for a very reasonable price. I began checking the sizes, as there was a discrepancy between those shown on the main site and those on the product’s own page. I checked my previous coat’s size- XXL. I found that somewhat odd, as XXL is often smaller here, and this coat fit so well in spite of weight loss and gain. For good measure I had my wife tape measure me and then compared the result with the size table. I was 116 cm round the chest, the coat in question 123 cm- a difference of 7 cm. Just to be sure I ordered two sizes and eagerly awaited the arrival of the courier with what I thought would be my new coat.
A day and a half later the courier arrived. The first coat, the slightly smaller of the two, was obviously too small. I could not even fasten the buttons. No matter, I thought, the second coat would surely fit. This proved to be a false assumption. While these buttons would fasten, the coat was still far too tight. While I was disappointed, I was not terribly dismayed. I went back to the computer and started searching for coats once again. At least it seemed I knew what size I needed. Seemed being the operative word here.
Though I searched more thoroughly than before, I soon found that there were few coats that matched my desires and any which did were not in my size. Often even XL was absent. This was getting a bit disturbing seeing as how in Russia, online shopping was generally the way to avoid the problem of small sizes in stores. For you see, whereas in America my problem had always been finding pants with long enough legs but with normal waists, in Russia tops were the problem. Though in my experience this preponderance of small sizes was usually limited to shirts, whereas sweaters and coats were somewhat exempt. This was about to change.
While I was loathe to go from store to store hunting down a new coat, I am fortunate enough to live close to a large shopping mall with dozens of clothing stores. Having some idea of what I was looking for, I figured it wouldn’t be too much of a problem to hit those stores, find something suitable, do some needed grocery shopping, and head home, my mission having been accomplished. Imagine my surprise when I quickly discovered that not only did these stores not have anything close to the sort of coat I was looking for, but few of them had any coats whatsoever. This would plague me throughout the quest which was only beginning…
Since the stores I had planned on visiting yielded no result, I resolved to check the rest of the stores in the mall, searching any one that sold men’s clothing. On that “men’s” note a short aside. In one store that specialized in men’s clothing and men’s clothing only, I spied some shirt/blazer combinations of such small size as to be mistaken for children’s clothing, yet this store did not claim to sell children’s clothing at all. Here I began to notice another theme that would remain constant over the course of this journey- there was always a surplus of XS, i.e. “extra small” sizes, whereas often even a single XL would be absent.
Already two conclusions were forming in my head at this point. The first was that it was unusually difficult to find a wide selection of coats in many shops I visited, which is simply maddening. This is Russia, and it is winter time. One should not have trouble finding a good quantity of coats in a major chain retailer. If anything the opposite should be true- you should walk into a shop and see so many coats as to instill a sense of Lovecraftian insanity in the realization of one’s powerlessness to possibly choose one coat among the myriad of offerings for sale.
The other realization was in regards to the matter of sizes. Again, I’d had problems finding large sizes in Russia before, but this was mainly with shirts and shoes. The problem with the latter item, incidentally, proved easy to rectify some years ago. In any case I’d never fully appreciated the lack of large sizes until this moment. You see dear reader, when it comes to Russian males Hollywood has lied to you- they are not hulking Dolph Lundgrens. Yet while they do tend to be shorter than Westerners or even some other Slavic peoples, they are also not very small on average. Were I to encounter this problem of sizes in Vietnam or China, I wouldn’t be surprised or disturbed in the least. And I should also note before one asks that throughout my entire ordeal not once did I encounter a coat that was too short; the problem was always one of width, usually across the chest. This means that a shorter Russian would have been faced with the same problem I was having.
Back to my story in progress, I soon realized that I’d expended my options in this shopping mall. On the other hand, I knew that I was not too far by metro from Moscow’s Evropeyskiy shopping mall, where I could still accomplish my grocery shopping. I resolved to continue my search there and made my way to the metro.
In Evropeyskiy my search proved every bit as fruitless. In fact, I don’t even remember seeing a single coat resembling what I was looking for. At one point I actually saw a store called “COATS,” in English, and yet when I drew near I saw that they sold only women’s coats. What a slap in the face. After thoroughly searching the entire mall I bought my groceries and headed home in defeat. I use the term defeat because at this point I had resigned myself to the idea that perhaps I should just buy another button and put off the subject of a new coat until next autumn.
I would end up stopping at two clothing repair shops on the way home. In the first, the woman immediately told me that they had no buttons like the ones on my coat, and that all she could do was take one from the top and move it to the bottom. She didn’t seem to understand why I was less than enthusiastic about this proposition. After all, this meant the coat would still be missing a button, only it would be slightly less noticeable. It seemed to me rather odd that such an unsatisfactory treatment would be the most realistic and readily available option.
Almost home, I found another clothing repair shop. A young and quite comely woman informed me that while they did not have my exact buttons, they certainly had some which looked close enough. This stop-gap seemed fine to me as she showed me some exemplars, among which I found two that could easily pass for the time being. But when I asked how much, she informed me that they were not for sale; I’d have to give them the coat for four business days while they repaired it or pay extra. This seemed unnecessary and wrong on principle. It seemed I’d reached an impasse. Were I Mark Ames, I could have simply strangled the girl until she agreed to give me the button or passed out, thus leaving it unguarded. Alas, if only I truly got Russia, especially Wild 90’s Russia, the way he clearly did. This not being the case, I had no choice but to thank the woman and head home dejected.
Once again I returned to the internet. This time I would hunt down the coat by searching Yandex for specific parameters, in this case coats in large sizes. Many of the searches proved fruitless. Finally one seemed to show promise, and the shop in question was conveniently located. I knew where I had to go the next day. My quest would be at an end soon.
The next day I easily found the shop I was looking for and it wasn’t long before I saw the coats which had appeared on the site. There was an XXL. Same size as my jacket, also from Russia. Mission almost accomplished. I took it too the fitting room and…too tight. Much too tight. The sales assistant explained to me that XXL was too small. She then showed me something that was billed as a 4XL. Whereas I thought XXXL would have been sufficient, she wasn’t taking any chances. I tried it on. Still too tight! What was this? A 4XL for ants?!
No matter. I was on the ring line. Moscow’s Atrium shopping mall was but a stop away. I could do this. I could end this today. I headed over to Atrium, but soon found more of the same. I found something…too small. I found another that seemed well suitable. What was more, the store had discounts as much as 50%. My hopes were again dashed when I found that this latest example, the best I’d seen so far with the largest, most likely correct size, was 28,000 rubles with no discount whatsoever. Once again another mall down.
At this point I had not eaten for some time, since morning. There was something infuriating about all this, the inability to accomplish what ought to have been such a mundane task. Sure, I was doing things the hard way now by going from mall to mall, store to store, but I had already tried the easy way and that was a spectacular failure. For some reason I couldn’t let this go. I was turning into Captain Ahab. The coat was my white woolen whale. A Holy Grail with buttons. Either I would get the godforsaken coat, or it would get me. Where else could I go?
Perhaps the shops on Tverskaya? I made a mental route in my head. From Pushkinskaya down to Okhotniy Ryad. The last resort would be GUM, just a bit further on from the latter. The cold would not stop me. This was going to end tonight.
On Pushkinskaya square I saw United Colors of Benetton, a brand I’d literally never heard of before moving abroad. As I knew nothing about them, I figured maybe there was a possibility they specialized in the type of coat I was looking for. Not a chance. A quick inspection of the store revealed no such merchandise. Reserved, further down the boulevard toward the Kremlin also held nothing close to the item I was looking for.
At this point I must not neglect to mention that my ankle, suffering from a long-ago injury I no longer remember, was afire with pain. It seemed to plead with me to give up this search, just as my wife had sent me a message telling me to “let it go.” Nonsense. Only last year I hiked through Cyprus’ Troodos mountains on two bad ankles, with no less than 25 kilograms on my back. In one day I hiked nearly 20 kilometers in this same condition. If that could not stop me the streets of Moscow had no chance.
As if fate were trying to intimidate me out of my quest I slipped on some ice as I made my way to the underground shopping mall Okhotniy Ryad. I managed to stop myself with both hands, which were now freezing and covered in mud and grime. A mere trifle. I ducked into the Ritz-Carlton and washed them off in the restroom, marveling at the decor on the way in and out. The mission resumed.
I began searching Okhotniy Ryad’s shops in the same methodical manner. Eventually I found something. Not exactly what I was looking for, but suitable. The size, listed as a number rather than the unreliable letter system, seemed right. After searching the rest of the mall, it was time to make a decision. It fit. The harpoon had found purchase beneath the flesh of the white wale. It was finally over. I paid the cashier and walked out with a sense of satisfaction I’d not felt in some time. Only that feeling could offset the otherwise excruciating pain surging through my leg after so many miles put behind me.
Thus did my quest finally come to its bittersweet end. I shuddered to think that we tall people managed to be so blind as to let midgets come to dominate us with their “extra small” sizes. Worse still, in Russia it seems terms like big or tall sizes tends to refer exclusively to women’s clothing, because apparently only women need clothes and only women can be unusually big or tall. And yet what is “usual” when extra larges and larges are so ridiculously small? Extra large for whom? Hobbits? And then I remember who rules Russia, and I feel a chill. Nothing is out of the ordinary at all. Everything has been proceeding according to a plan. I have come to know things I’d rather forget. What I wouldn’t pay to return to that blissful state of ignorance…