Haight Street in San Francisco is just one long strip of shops and cafés. In America, we seem to put more energy into commercial diversity than we do into the human kind.
Along the strip, Lydia and Grace pulled me into store after store. They did not need to use physical force, like the hand yank or the extreme whine. I had already capitulated to an hour or two of shopping. If you know me, you know that’s a generous act: I dislike shopping, especially shopping without aim.
The clothing in the stores skewed to the young, or the “young at heart.” I’m neither young nor old at heart, yet in years and body I am smack between the two poles.
In one store, called X-Generation, while I waited for the girls to hunt and try on, I wended my way through spaces between circular racks and looked at hats, scarves, and purses. The little dresses and tshirts were too skimpy for me, but hats — those are ageless, right? I tried one on, then another. I liked them, and even more importantly, they fit. I have a big Kokernak head bone, and it’s hard to find a woman’s hat sized for my head.
I turned to Grace, to Lydia, and asked, “Do you like my hat?” Both answered wordlessly, with lifted eyebrows or rolled eyeballs. I put the hat back on its hook, chastened.
When Grace was in a fitting room, I leaned against the stall, staring into space and daydreaming. I must have accidentally caught the eye of the 19-year-old salesgirl, because she walked toward me, broke my reverie, and offered to help me.
“That’s okay,” I replied. “I’m just waiting for my daughters.”
She looked around at all the clothes, turning her body in a circle, as if to bring my attention to every treasure. What she said was, “You should try something on.”
I smiled. “It would be too embarrassing to my daughters. I’m okay.”
And I went back to leaning and waiting.
I was a little bored. I looked around for somewhere to sit or something to do. I wished I had a book or notepad with me.
And then I had a eureka moment: what I want, in a store so clearly aimed at the young, is the adult equivalent of the toddler play area in adult shops, restaurants, and hair salons. Instead of board books, there could be a stack of New Yorkers. Instead of a plastic train set, there could be a deck of cards. A coffee set up might be nice, too.
Lydia found a jacket and Grace a sweater. I pulled out my wallet and paid. This is really why I was there.
Later we went to the playground at Golden Gate Park, where the kids played on the rope structure and concrete slides and Lydia snapped the picture of the sign at the top of this post. I had that feeling, as I often do, that while we parents and teachers of children and young adults feel so responsible for them, it’s possible that the young people are really in charge.