F@%k It Friday: Back-to-School Shopping


madonnaIt’s a tax-free weekend in North Carolina, but I know that back-to-school shopping is torture with or without the government’s help.

It is May of 1989. I am fourteen years old. I am the oldest of four siblings. My mother is remarried to some guy she knew when she was a kid. How fabulous. And things are bad at my house. After one particularly difficult weekend, my mother sends me packing to my father’s house.

It is for my own good, really, but it throws my Dad for a curve. Poor guy. He is single and totally ill-equipped to deal with a teenager. And suddenly it’s August and I need to do some back-to-school shopping. I have been wearing a Catholic school uniform for years. I feel lost, but I know that I need some basic items to take me through the year.

My dad does the best he can in this situation. He gives me $100, which is a lot of money, and drops me off at the Harlem Irving Plaza.

“Don’t spend it on records or tapes.”

He knows me pretty well because Rolling Stones Records is right around the corner.

So I walk into Madigan’s Department store and I buy a bra, a pair of jeans and a houndstooth blazer.

(A blazer. OMFG. Priceless. Twenty-four years later, I am still laughing.)

But three items are nearly $90 + 8% sales tax. And I am done. Just like that.

I find my Dad in the parking lot and show him my loot. I think the blazer is fucking snazzy as shit. I am going to wear it with a turtleneck and some old black pants in the fall. I think it makes me look like Madonna.

My father takes one look at my bag and absolutely loses it. He doesn’t have his reading glasses with him — of course — and he can’t read the receipts but he still accuses me of mismanaging his money. He is pretty sure that 8% sales tax is a lie.

It feels like a lie, right? Sales tax is bullshit.

What can I do? I zone out as my father reads me the riot act. It goes on and on for what feels like hours. But he is not going to hit me, which is probably the kindest gesture an adult could show me at that point in my life.

So I wait for my father to cool off. He always cools off. We drive home. And life works itself out.

Anyway, back-to-school shopping is expensive and unbelievable stressful. It can be layered with emotion and anxiety that has nothing to do with school. And it is such a ripoff. Almost all of the clothes are ugly. None of it is made to last. And nobody makes good fashion choices as a teenager.

I know you’ll be at the mall, this weekend, getting ready for the upcoming school year. I’m not sure if a “sales tax holiday” is worth it.

Go easy on yourself, your wallet and your kids.

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