Target Practice

by

08/14/2006

139 Flatbush Ave , Brooklyn, NY 11217

Neighborhood: Brooklyn, Fort Greene

I was walking my boyfriend, Frank, to the Target near our house. We were out of paper towels and Diet Coke, and it was his turn to do the shopping. A few blocks away, he closed his eyes, and began breathing deeply, in and out. I grabbed his arm and steered him gently away from a stoop.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“Dulling all of my senses, and pulling the essential human core of my being so deep inside me that no one can touch it,” he said.

“Oh,” I said. This was not Frank’s first time at the Target. “Did you look at the list? You don’t want to get in there and then not be able to read the list.”

He opened his eyes and scanned the ragged chunk of envelope I’d written the list on. “What’s this?” he asked, jabbing his finger at one of my scribbles. “Does that say Hitler?”

“Litter,” I said. “Like for the cat.”

He nodded gravely. We reached the entrance. “Vaya con dios,” I said, and squeezed his hand. He nodded gravely again, squeezed my hand, and went in.

In Texas, where I grew up, going to the big box store was a pleasant experience. They were bright, clean, and empty. Walking in, the crisp kiss of air conditioning cooled the sweat on your brow, and the ambient hum soothed your frazzled nerves. Rows of identical, reasonably priced objects glittered under the fluorescents, reassuring in their plenty.

This is not so at the Brooklyn Target. The first time I visited, only days after it had opened, I was greeted by screaming packs of feral children ramming carts into the seasonal displays. The aisles were littered with products that had been knocked off the shelves, and the employees’ stares were the looks of a broken people. I was checking out this neat little dealie next to the escalator— a conveyer belt outfitted with metal pegs that hauled customers’ carts up the escalator next to them—when I heard a man scream. I looked up, and the back end of a full cart was careening back down the conveyor belt toward me. I jumped out of the way—inches from being cart kill—as it did a back flip over the entrance bars and crashed spectacularly into the floor. Shampoo, toilet paper, Peanut M&Ms, and ladies foundation garments were flung into the air, pelting the express line customers with discount consumer goods.

“Sorry,” the owner of the cart called from the second floor, smiling and waving. “I can never that thing to work right.” She laughed. I got the hell out of there.

It wasn’t that Brooklyn Target shoppers were inherently disorderly. It was a question of density—the store squatted on the biggest subway hub in Brooklyn, and was the only Target for miles. People from all over the city were drawn there for the same reason I was: it was cheaper than cheap.

Frank and I developed strategies to get our shopping done with the least possible amount of psychological scarring. We tried splitting up—he went upstairs for the light bulbs and batteries while I grabbed the coffee, toothpaste, and hair dye downstairs. We met at the checkout, both of us looking shaken.

“I saw something horrible,” he said.

“Me too,” I said. “I went to the bathroom and it looked like someone had miscarried a hedgehog in the bowl. I couldn’t even place exactly what kind of waste I was looking at.”

“Mine’s worse,” he said. “I was upstairs perusing the action figures, and I saw a kid cry so hard he threw up all over himself. The kid’s dad looked around, didn’t think anyone was looking, and used the cardboard backing of a Boba Fett to clean the kid off.” He looked me in the eyes. I knew how much Boba Fett meant to him. He swallowed hard. “He put the figure back on the rack,” he said.

Friends—fellow suburban transplants, mostly—think of Target as a guilty pleasure at best. “Big box stores are changing the urban landscape and driving out small businesses,” they say. “Chain stores are what I moved here to get away from.”

But they don’t live near the Target, so they don’t understand—Brooklyn Target doesn’t make us more like the suburbs; it is what separates us from them. In an era where you can get nice tapas on Avenue D and French fusion in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn Target is untamed, chaotic, rude. It takes sharp elbows, a strong stomach, and an iron will to survive in that big box jungle.

Middle-aged Topekans might feel perfectly comfortable strolling around Times Square after dark, but our Target would scare them shitless.

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