On the stretch of road where I live, otherwise known as the Most Convenient Area to Reside in California, is a store called Mountain View Surplus. I didn’t know anything about the place, but I walk by it every day to work. Somehow, some combination of factors — maybe its distance back from the road, the life-size cartoon of a soldier, the slightly run-down appearance of the place — all conspired to convince me that the place was Shady Business.
Of course, as luck would have it, my dad needed a cartload of things from the surplus shop (he’s going on a pilgrimage/mountain climbing expedition, which deserves an entire other blog; the prep is extensive). So I trooped down there a few hours ago to see what I could find. Normally, dad is one of those immensely likable, regrettably vague men whom (as his friend put it) you would peg as “impecunious poet” rather than “successful banker”. This time, in anticipation of the most epic journey of his life, he’d given me a list of extremely precise items I needed to buy, like “New Military Issue OD Wool Field Shirt”. Individually, all the words made sense. But combined, I had no idea what they meant. I just hoped someone nice would help me out.
Which in fact was precisely what happened. The interesting thing about wandering into a place like this is that it’s so different, I start imagining what a regular there would be like. Are the water canteens really sturdier and cooler to drink out of? What sort of use would a white army dress shirt be put to? Who the hell would wear a shemagh, and for what purpose? And exactly how attractive would a guy actually look in a genuine army leather jacket?
After a while, I gave up on trying to decipher things like “Boonie hat”, and also because I was beginning to talk to myself in puzzlement. I’m sure the surplus store attracts its fair share of independently-minded individuals, but I didn’t necessarily want to call attention to myself. So when the nice lady at the front asked “Do you need some help?”, I answered in the affirmative, firmly.
It started with untangling the mystery of the boonie hat: “What size is your dad’s head? Would this boonie fit him?” “I don’t know, I haven’t seen him in a year!… oh, fuuuuuu –”
And then progressed to metric and imperial conversions: “What’s a …what, 39? Is that inches? Oh, centimeters? Well, hang on, here’s a chart for — no, that’s Eastern European belt sizes. Wait what about — oh, never mind, that’s Asian hat size. Would the American-Italian size conversion help? How many centipeters? Cent — what did I just say? Centipeters…?” Then followed a hilarious exposition on the etymology and possible uses of this newly minted unit of measure.
When I saw everything laid out and stacked out on the counter, I had a brief internal conflict of emotion, between excitement and worry. My dad… isn’t really 25 anymore, let’s just say. He’s in excellent shape, but that won’t stop me from worrying about him. What the hell was he going to be doing that needed three pairs of socks as thick as my arm and a pair of UV-resistant goggles? On the other hand… UV-resistant goggles, why wasn’t I doing stuff like that?
Sometime in the future, I’m hoping dad and I can go on a trip together. Not too arduous — something that involves a bit of a physical challenge but is also culturally interesting. I’m envious, I have to say.
Then again, my dad’s much older and still has the capacity to do something like this. I’ve still got time!