I'm sure plenty of retail stores have weird policies like this one, but allow me to share my favorite thing about the Aldo at the mall. It has a visible sensor on the doorway, no doubt intended for tracking customer entrances and exits. A friend of mine who once worked at Aldo confided in me that tracking customers is only half the point of the sensors; the store judges its salespeople based on their own personal sales to customers ratios. The magic number, I was told, was one in seven. So, by walking into Aldo seven times and buying nothing, you're hurting a sales clerk's job security. My friend wasn't lying either, as I have certainly seen a store employee or two duck under the sensor bar on the way out of Aldo in my day. My girlfriend and I had a few fun times with this policy, and made sure to drop into Aldo every time we passed it for about a year or so, just to watch the salesperson squirm with frustration. In some of our more epic charades, we managed to cross the sensor laser to enter the store a total of six or seven times. I think our record was ten, three of which came from me standing just behind the entrance and doing an exaggerated beckoning gesture in which my arm pumped back and forth wildly. We stopped soon after that one, realizing that we were being nothing short of assholes.

Aldo sells a few bags and sunglasses, but primarily is a shoe store. I think they do indeed sell some men's footwear, but like any shoe store, it's the other gender they're focused on. They have some pretty bold and crazy shoes. Some of the more memorable ones I have seen in there include a series of brightly colored, wooden-soled, patent leather five-inch heels. Another pair that comes to mind was a white one of heels with large pink and green flowers adorning them. They have plenty of lower-key options as well, but my point is, a girl could really turn heads walking around in some of these. And yet, so rarely, in any wake of life, do I see such footwear. For all I - a straight guy - know, maybe these Aldo specimens are far too garish and outlandish for the average girl to wear or too hard to match an outfit with or something. But still, for a gender that has earned and embraced a reputation for loving footwear, the female sex has left me scratching my head at what they choose to sport on their feet more times than not for the past decade or so. Without further ado or remorse, join me as I venture into an area to which no grown man should ever go: a contemporary history of women's shoe trends.

Let's start in the late '90s. During this era, stiletto heels were nearly absent even in the most formal of settings thanks to a "chunky heel" trend where women young and old alike took to wearing shoes with heels at least an inch wide. What was the point? I understand that a high and thin heel can be pretty uncomfortable, but isn't that mostly due to the height, and the angle at which the foot is forced to maintain itself for hours on end? As someone who has never worn a high-heeled shoe, I guess I'm far from justified in making this statement, but it doesn't seem to me like the heel's width has that much impact on the comfortability of a shoe. Some, sure, but not much. So why ditch the long-established sexy stiletto for a clunky block heel? Also, i think "Mary Janes" - buckle shoes that young girls wear - made a big comeback during the '90s for older women. Again, why?

Moving on to 2003 or so, we see another terrible trend: the heeled flip-flop. Now, flip-flops are a monstrosity all of their own, but I'll get to that later. What killed me here was the self-contradiction of these shoes. When a short heel - a "kitten" heel, says Wikipedia - is added to a shoe, it is meant to give it a little bit of feminization. I do understand why a lot of girls wanted to make their flip-flops less unattractive. That's fine. But then, by adding a heel - even a little one - are you not making the flip-flop uncomfortable and slightly difficult to walk in? Isn't that the argument against heels in the first place? So now you're stuck with a shoe just slightly less frumpy and ugly than a standard flip-flop while sacrificing the shoe's sense of casual comfort. If you're going to lose a lot of practicality for a little bit of class, why not go just one step further and wear a real heeled shoe? Or how about a pair of sneakers or clogs or something that remains practical without looking butt-ugly? A pair of heels makes a sexy and classy sound when a woman comes walking down a hallway. Everyone's familiar with the click-click-click noise and the air of sophistication it brings to any atmosphere. Flip-flops, on the other hand, are named after the awful noise they make, snapping back and forth, slapping pavement and foot soles alternatively. The hybrid noise these awful kitten-heeled flip-flops make is a click followed by a sole slap. The whole ensemble reeks of a confused 16-year-old Supercuts employee who shops at Wal-Mart. Thankfully, these click-flops only seemed to last for one summer.

The same cannot be said about Ugg boots, which caught on sometime around the winter of 2004/2005 and haven't left since. Now, maybe it's because they've been here for so long, but I'll admit, at this point I'm more or less okay with these shoes in most cases. But I still think they defy women's fashion entirely. No woman prides herself for having big fat feet or large ankles with thick calves. Yet, that's the outline these "boots with the fur" create. I've seen girls squeeze into a nice slimming dress and then pair it with these cankle-makers far too many times to find it funny anymore. Especially toward the beginning of their popularity, when it seemed like few girls knew how to sport Uggs without looking dumb. Far too many pairs ended up salt-stained and discolored from rain and snow. They're not snowboots, ladies. They're $300 casual boots. Another classic gaffe was the Ugg-skirt combo. If it's warm enough to wear a skirt, it's probably too warm to warrant Uggs. These days though, it seems like most of the young women I see have found a way to make them look stylish. I'm way outside of my element here, but I'll venture that it's only when you play up the clunkiness of Uggs that they start to look decent. Tucking one's jeans into them and wearing a puffy vest, for example, makes for an "I look this way on purpose" style that I really can't find too much trouble with. Still, where have all the classy high-heeled boots, like the ones found all over Aldo, gone? There even exist plenty of furry animal-skin heeled boots, if you're looking to retain the style while adding some class. Sadly, it seems that from October to March, almost every girl in my generation would rather stick with the (apt) name brand: Ugg.

Finally, perhaps the worst trend to come out of left field in the women's footwear realm was, in my opinion, the flat. Now, flats have pretty much always been around. We've just always referred to them as grandma slippers. After all, until 2006, what non-senior-citizen was rocking ballet shoes in public? I just don't get it. If you're going to remove the heel from a shoe, why not just wear a socially acceptable non-heeled shoe such as a clog or a sneaker? I think part of my issue with flats was the whole fashion moment that they were part of. What I really couldn't stand were the leggings and skinny jeans that so often accompanied them. After all, a girl being casual in loose jeans and a t-shirt is committing no crime by wearing flats, in my mind. But all too often in college, I'd see girls coming "out" on the weekend donning skin tight pants and loose tops and then squeezing into these shapeless unattractive grandma slippers. The majority of the offenders were small, pale girls, many of whom I would stereotype as chain-smoking vegans with short hair and long bangs. You know the type. It's like, come on. You already look malnourished and not curvy - why accentuate your skeleton shape with tight pants and formless shoes? I remember when my girlfriend dared to try the look. With a large, knee-length gray sweater on, wrapped around her waist with a belt, she looked stunning from head to hips, but everything below that was a disaster. Just at her knees, where bare (or nylon-covered, if it was cold out) legs should have emerged from the dress, there was nothing but black legging fabric instead. These leggings ended above her ankles, and below them, horrible and shapeless black flats wrapped around her feet. She looked an odd mixture of far too young and far too old, what with the tights of a six-year old and the shoes of a seventy-year old. It was terrible, and she wasn't even making a fashion taboo; the sad part is, she was wearing the textbook trendy attire of the season. With a pair of tall boots on instead - even had they been Uggs - instead of the leggings-flats combo, she would have been dressed to kill. Instead, she looked ready to play in a sandbox.

I hate to come of like a fetishist here, but really, why the lack of love for the age-old classy and sexy standard for women's shoes, the high heel? I'm not buying the "uncomfortable" aspect as anything more than a partial excuse. My girlfriend, after buying her first pair of flats, told me that they were excruciatingly painful to wear. I'm also not feeling the "too formal" excuse. Sure, I don't think women should necessarily be wearing heels around the house or dorm, or going to class or the grocery store, or anything like that. But I've been to plenty of more-than-casual events and settings - such as offices, weddings, parties, and award ceremonies - where heel-wearing women are largely the minority. And the greatest shame of all is that instead, by and large, women are wearing the worst shoes imaginable - flip-flops.

The flip-flop is tacky and crude. It's literally nothing more than a foam or plastic sole secured on the foot by means of two straps that wrap around the front of the foot. They should be used as summertime slippers, and nothing more. And don't mistake me for being some sort of sexist; these rules apply to guys and flip-flops too. Going to the beach? Gotta run to the store real fast? Need something to wear on your feet while using a public shower? Fine. These are all valid reasons to wear flip-flops. In almost every other imaginable case, if you leave your house in flip-flops, you're underdressed. I mentioned that these rules apply to men as well as women, but the thing is, you hardly ever see a guy wearing flip-flops to his job, in the winter, or to an award ceremony or wedding. When you do, you judge him for the lazy slob that he is. And you should do the same to women. To do anything less would be to discriminate.

I have seen hundreds of girls wear flip-flops to class while there is still snow on the ground. I have seen scores of women wearing them while walking near or through the woods. A friend of mine even recently told me that he had hiked up an entire mountain with a group of people once, and that one of them was a girl in flip-flops. I see girls in flip-flops all over cities, zoos, and other areas that require heavy amounts of walking. Why is this? They're not even real shoes! There's a reason they can cost as little as $2 a pair. And pardon me for being pretentious, but even moderately-used flip-flops are absolutely disgusting. Ladies, nobody wants to see your blackened footprint forever embedded in your shoe. Given some of the tiny and simple bodily function related things that girls seem to get stressed and embarrassed about from time to time, I'm shocked that so few of them seem to find their blackened, sweaty, dirty footprints revolting in the least. Flip-flops don't even prevent your feet from getting dirty, and all too often I've seen a girl kick of a pair only to have completely brown, dirty soles.

Perhaps the worst part about young women and their obsession with flip-flops is that so few seem to realize how truly sloppy and unclassy it is to wear them. I work a desk job in a building where my fellow males and I are supposed to wear khakis, polos, and brown or black shoes. Some even go with a button-up shirt and a tie. Jeans and sneakers are on the lower end of permissible, but few wear them. Can you imagine how foolish I would look if I showed up to work one day in flip-flops? Yet all around me, female co-workers adorn these "shoes" with their otherwise appropriate skirts and shawls. It's absurd. It's just the height of non-professionalism. Now, I'm not saying they should suffer in discomfort and wear high heels or boots. But at the very least, would it really inconvenience them that much to put on, well, anything else at all? There are plenty of shoes that still slip on and off without looking and sounding so sloppy and tacky. Dare I say it - even grandma flats and Mary Janes are fine.

I've talked about women's footwear in the last several paragraphs more than any man should in an entire year, and yet, I'm still not done venting and ranting - we haven't even touched on gladiator sandals yet. Fortunately, there are plenty of other shoe stores in the mall, and I can easily come back to this tirade someday. For now, though, I think it's time to wrap up the Aldo entry as such: the only interesting thing about Aldo, aside from walking in and out of it several times for a lack of anything better to do, was the shoe selection on display. It was almost like a museum of sorts in that it and other stores are the only places you see high heels anymore. I suppose the easiest way for Aldo to make a sale for every seven customers would be to start selling cheap and crappy flip-flops. But they don't. And for that, I respect them. Just not enough not to fuck up their customer count every now and again.


American Eagle

Of all the "preppy" clothing stores in the mall, American Eagle is my favorite. I find their apparel both comfortable and practical. Furthermore, it's reasonably priced without feeling tacky or bland in the least. While I have plenty of complaints about most places I have shopped at, my biggest complaint about AE is that their sizes run too small. At 6-foot-2-and-a-half, I'm certainly a "large" man. But even back when I was as thin as a rail, an AE "L" never did fit me. An inch or so of my stomach or back became exposed when I bent over or lifted my arms while wearing one. Even today, the only XXL item I own is a jacket from American Eagle. It barely reaches below my belt. Clearly, it's not a girth, width, or snugness issue - American Eagle just plain makes its clothes too short for men of my height. Still, even when you know this, if an XXL jacket barely fits you, you feel pretty fat.

I entered ninth grade an inch or so shy of my current height, weighing just 153 pounds. I remember the exact number, to the pound. because such a big deal was made over, well, one pound. You see, at my eighth grade physical, I had weighed in at 154. One year later, having grown an inch, the doctor expected me to have put on a bit of weight as well. Instead, I had lost a pound. This was an issue. A big one. Apparently it indicated a loss of appetite, which in turn indicated depression, which in turn, yes, indicated suicide. The doctor spoke at length with me about teen suicide. I didn't feel too invested in the conversation, as I had never really felt the urge to die. But the doctor was adamant. "Gain some weight," she said, "or you're going to kill yourself." At least, that was the gist of it.

So I did exactly that. As a fifteen-year-old kid, I'm sure I was aided in my weight gaining project by, say, puberty and the natural order of all living things. I don't remember any specific benchmarks along the way, but suffice it to say I was around 185 by the end of eleventh grade, the ideal weight for me, I decided. Every year, the doctor said nothing about my weight gain, positive or negative. Every year, I continued to gain. Finally, sometime in college, there came a point where I said to myself, "Yikes, I'm getting kind of fat," and for the first time ever began to watch what I ate. It was kind of fun for a while, a novel little phase where I would enjoy counting calories, running, and seeing how much weight I could lose. During the summer after my sophomore year of college, I lost a good ten or so pounds, down to just under 215.

I stopped caring. I had managed to lose some weight without overhauling my lifestyle at all, and began my junior year without even considering my weight. That all changed during my winter break physical. I was aghast to learn that I had completely rebounded and now put up a robust 230 on the scales. Wow. And now here was the same doctor who just six years prior had told me "gain some weight, or you're gonna die," now telling me, "lose some weight, or you're gonna die." My transition from skinny kid to fat man was now complete, and it had happened so, so quickly.

I've never ballooned over 230 since then, but have never really gotten under 220 either. Instead, I've kind of floated around at 225, always trying to break 220 (and ultimately 210 or even 200) while only barely managing to prevent 230. It's tough, quite simply, to make significant progress when you have no diet and no exercise regimen. A sedentary lifestyle, when combined with 3,000 calories a day, is very inviting to obesity. According to the BMI standards, I'm overweight as long as I stay above 200 and obese if I ever hit 240. While it's easy for me now to laugh at the prospect of 240 and think, "I'd really need to let myself go for that to happen," history has proven that I can gain fifteen pounds in a couple of months without even noticing. So it's best to always aim to lose, I suppose. I may never realistically see the other side of 200 again, but the everlasting struggle toward it should keep me at least marginally healthy.

So thank you, American Eagle, for allowing your sizes to be red flags for the rest of us. We may not think we're getting bigger, but you'll always be right there to call us extra large when the rest of the apparel places deem us no bigger than medium-sized. Perhaps you're saving lives by raising size awareness. And even if you're not, well, thanks for the decent clothing.


Sarku Japan

I've eaten two or three chicken teriyaki meals at Sarku Japan without ever having ordered or paid for any of them. How, you may ask? One free sample at a time. I love Sarku Japan's chicken teriyaki, and I love that I can always get a bite or two of it for free. This brings up the age old question about whether or not the distribution of free samples helps or hurts a food brand's profit. On the one hand, if Sarku Japan stopped giving out free samples, I would certainly crack eventually and need to finally pay for my own plate full of juicy and heavily-sauced chicken. On the other hand, had Sarku Japan never given out free samples at all, I'd never have known chicken teriyaki could be so delicious. In fact, I never even knew what it really was until I was fourteen years old or so.

This is because the public school cafeterias in my hometown served what were called "teriyaki chicken dippers." They were essentially elongated misshapen grilled chicken nuggets encrusted with hardened sticky soy sauce. There was nothing to "dip" them into, except maybe for your milk, which a friend of mine recently referred to as "dishwater-colored." Indeed, the lunches offered at the elementary, middle, and high schools in my hometown are often tough to remember fondly.

While "teriyaki chicken dippers" were a misnomer, they had nothing on the "bacon burger." This dish contained neither bacon nor a traditional burger. It was a meat patty between two buns. Nobody knew what the meat was. I still don't know what the meat was. To say "mystery meat" is to use a very cliche cafeteria term, but quite honestly, there's nothing else I can even consider calling it. I guess it did sort of taste like bacon, but even that is a stretch. I will say with a little bit of shame that it was pretty tasty, especially for seasoned processed meat; sad as it makes me to admit it, I miss the non-bacon non-burger bacon burger.

Another great lunch name was "KFC-style chicken." Why not just call it fried chicken? It was terrible, overcooked, and dry, in stark contrast to actual KFC chicken, which is a wonderfully oily mess of delicious and greasy meat. At KFC, you crave the chicken skin; with KFC-style chicken, the skin was too hardened to chew, and tasteless anyway.

My personal favorite, comically speaking, was the lunch called "french toast sticks." This dish consisted of a hash brown triangle, a sausage patty, and a pair of french toast sticks. The sticks were good - so good, in fact, that I always wished the school had provided me with more than two. I would hardly consider anything less than eight to ten french toast sticks a meal. I understand the desire to combat childhood obesity, but two french toast sticks, an entree? That's a 150-calorie meal. So much for growing up big and strong. Then again, the sausage patty was so greasy that it may have been the focal point of the meal design. In one of my more successful childhood experiments I managed to use seven different napkins to absorb all of the grease from one sausage patty. Two alone were used just to wipe it down before the wringing could even begin.

I began this entry by noting that I have eaten two or three Sarku Japan meals without ever having paid for one. I'll now confess that in my twelve years of grade school, I ate about twenty meals I never paid for. Now, I consider myself an honest man, and have never stolen or shoplifted a thing in my life. Except from my school cafeteria. I would ask for "double nuggets" and eat one serving's worth in line waiting to pay. I would hold slices of pizza under my lunch tray while paying for what was on top of it. I would sneak a couple of milk cartons into my big front sweatshirt pocket. Never did I steal entire meals; I just sometimes found myself hungry enough to eat two while only having enough money on me for one. I would simply want just a little bit more food than I had paid for. It's just like taking a free sample from Sarku Japan with no intention of eating there.

So thank you, Sarku Japan. You account for that free post-meal morsel I get during all of my food court visits. No matter how many burgers, sandwiches, or milkshakes I've purchased and eaten, you're always there to give me just one bite more. Someday I will actually bite the bullet and purchase an entire meal from Sarku Japan in gratitude for all of those which I have already eaten, bite by bite, over the years.

But not yet. Not yet.


Dunkin' Donuts

Wherever life has taken me, Dunkin' Donuts has been there. As a little kid, I'd enjoy Munchkins whenever they were offered by parents, teachers, or classmates. When mowing my grandparents' lawn in middle school, I always had a Strawberry Coolatta in my hand. Attending varsity hockey games was a common senior year activity for me, and never did I go to one without a Dunkin' Donuts hot chocolate. Even today, as a non-morning person, I regularly need to down a DD french vanilla coffee, be it iced or hot, in order to make it to lunch time at work. I don't think I've gone more than a month without having something from Dunkin' Donuts in over ten years. A large factor in this could be that Dunkin' Donuts is everywhere. In my hometown, we have four of them. There's another one right down the street from where I work, and another one, of course, at the mall.

This has always baffled me. Why the mall? Dunkin' Donuts is famous for running like a well-oiled machine. There are lines out the door during the morning rush hour and the drive-through is routinely ten-plus cars deep. Yet, orders rarely, if ever, take more than thirty seconds to complete. This is fantastic for the morning rush hour. Dunkin' Donuts eateries are conveniently located near freeway exits and on the side of busy roads in general. Right along commuter paths. I suppose I've just never understood whose commute takes them through the mall. And DD is not just in the mall, but in the dead center of the mall. For an eatery whose slogan is "Get in, get out, get back to work," a location in the heart of a shopping mall seems illogical at best. Even more surprisingly, it's not in the food court, or even near it.

Dunkin' Donuts has always taken pride in its rapport with the blue collar working class. Cops, construction workers, and landscapers alike are constantly found in Dunkin' Donuts, mid-shift, picking up a box of joe or dozen donuts for their cohorts. The CEO of Dunkin' Donuts, when asked why he didn't make his stores more Wi-Fi capable like Starbucks, said that he didn't want a bunch of yuppies with laptops taking up the tables when tired highway workers needed to sit down for five minutes. It was a real "fuck you" to Starbucks and the collegiate, book-reading white collar crowd it attracts. I loved it.

Recently, Dunkin' Donuts has expanded its menu to include flatbread sandwiches and "breakfast pizzas." I don't know how I feel about this. On the one hand, I've had some of these new items, and they're not half bad. But on the other, it seems like Dunkin' Donuts is soaring toward that threshold that separates fast food restaurants and specialty eateries. The DD I grew up with offered donuts and bagels to eat, and coffees and sugary concoctions to drink. The breakfast sandwich was always on the menu, but common courtesy always dictated that it should not be ordered when a long line was forming. After all, in order to "get in, get out, and get back to work," you can't be waiting in line for ten minutes while other people's sandwiches are being prepared. Now, I've seen this age-old rule broken more and more often. People, especially youngsters who don't know better, will order a pair of flatbread sandwiches and an egg white omelette, regardless of the current line's length. And that's not entirely their fault. It's Dunkin' Donuts, after all, that gives them the opportunity to do so.

A few years ago, at a Dunkin' Donuts just five minutes from work, I wanted to order a coffee. In front of me was a gaggle of middle school children, all of which placed an order for a full meal and specialty drink of some sort. Ten minutes in, the group was only half-done ordering. Finally one of them said, "let's let this guy go ahead of us." Too annoyed to be grateful to this girl, I did exactly that, and ordered and received my coffee in about twenty seconds. Efficiency is the name of the game. Instead, while waiting to use the bathroom to urinate I'd been held off by ten people who wanted to shower.

I fear for the future of Dunkin' Donuts. How many more sandwiches can they introduce before they're nothing more than a shitty Panera? How many fifteen-minute waits for coffee will it take for the average customer to start to consider alternatives? I understand the desire for expansion, but I can't really agree with the apparent business strategy of Dunkin' Donuts: attract new customers at any cost, including the old customers themselves. I think the business as a whole would have been much better off opening up another subsidiary for all of their sandwiches and pizzas, leaving the original franchise alone as a donuts, bagels, and coffee distributor. They could have called it the "Dunkin' Donuts Bakery" or something similarly straightforward. This would be a perfect thing to have in the mall. It would undeniably be more "restaurant" than "coffee shop," but that's already what DD is anyway. Instead, what we're seeing is a number of "Dunkin' Donuts Express" counters opening up in gas station convenience stores. Smaller venue, smaller menu. The problem is, these places still offer the sandwiches and pizzas, and the only menu-trimming that has been done is the removal of various types of donuts and bagels. It's more or less the opposite direction that I would like to see them head in.

If DD wants "America Runs on Dunkin" to continue to be the case, maybe steering clear of Wi-Fi isn't the only thing they should be doing. The general slowdown in service is a bigger issue in my mind. After all, I'm sure the typical construction worker would rather have speedy service than a place to sit. Did he come to Dunkin' Donuts in order to find a place to sit down, or in order to quickly pick up some tasty "fuel" for his coworkers? So much for "Get in, get out, get back to work."