Sunday, March 05, 2006

Of Shmendricks and Other Threats to our National Security

While shlepping through Loehmann's yesterday with Middle Babe, I had an epiphany. Shmendrick, one of my favorite words in the Yiddish language was, in fact, only a mamaloshen* wannabe, a Yankee Doodle Dandy wrapped in Jewish garb, trying to pass as a Hebrew homie.

This startling revelation came to me as I beheld a row of men sitting outside the dressing room on the second floor, clutching the pocketbooks of their respective damsels and more often than not surrounded by a bevy of bags.

Shopping. Men. Dressing Room. Sh-Men-Dr....Ick! In a flash it came to me! Some clever Webster musta pulled this word together after witnessing this pathetic phenomenon I was now privy to -- men cajoled into joining their women on clothing shopping expeditions and then reduced to waiting for them while they tried on zillions of outfits in Loehmann's famous communal dressing room in search for that perfect metziah!**

I'm guessing that the origin of shmendrick is early 20th century when indeed, the retail industry and the shmatta, er, clothing industry abounded with Jewish names and Jews were renowned as tailors. Probably, some young de Toucqueville went traipsing through a famous Manhattan department store, say, B. Altman, saw the waiting men exuding quiet desperation and was moved to exclaim, "Shmendrick!!!" (all the while thinking, Shopping...Men...Dressing Room...Ick!!!) whereupon one of the men who had been waiting for about five hours fell down from the surprise of hearing a male voice and his wife, emerging from the dressing room after having tried on her 275th dress, discovered her husband lying atop her (now-destroyed) ostrich-feather hat, hit him on the head with her purse and everyone around thought that shmendrick had to do with the guy who fell down and was hit by his wife and its original meaning was lost forever.

Though its origin was misplaced until this very minute, the phenomenon of the shmendrick lives on.

Case in point: yesterday, Shmendrick Row at Loehmann's boasted a diverse gathering of dudes including a committed to co-parenting dad with an infant strapped to his chest in a Baby Bjorn; a cooler-than-thou leather-clad hipster in his early thirties; a middle-aged out-of-towner in clashing shades of beige; and a Hasidic man conducting business on his cellphone.

Around the store, several other Shmendricks shlepped after their women, wearing looks that reminded me of Alfie's expression when I deliver him to the dog groomer at the beginning of the summer for his annual haircut.

God, they looked miserable, those shmendricks! Beholding them, I wished to inspire them to revolution, to rise and throw off their shopping shackles and run unimpeded into the bars of Chelsea to engage in some real male bonding over beer and a ballgame. What the #$%& were these guys doing here...and what woman wanted this abuse on her conscience? Certainly not I!!

As I trudged behind Middle Babe, carrying her shopping bags from H&M and Abracabadra (costumes from Once Upon a Mattress, performed last week by her high school, starring her as Princess Winnifred the Woebegone), I tried to imagine dragging HOBB (Husband of Bungalow Babe) with me on a shopping excursion and realized that having him around me in any retail setting was sure to induce misery, perhaps more in me than him.

HOBB is the most anti-consumerist person I know. Buying couches for our living room for the first time after 22 years of marriage this past fall (previous couches were all family cast-offs) nearly resulted in his hospitalization from emotional trauma. Our little march down the aisles of Tiffany and Co. nearly 23 years ago to select my engagement ring had to be followed by a nourishing lunch at The Great American Health Bar after his blood pressure fell precipitously. He has been known to bolt out of Bloomingdale's and meander through Macy's in a zomboid state, alarming security guards and shoppers alike. Even popping into Fairway to buy dinner fare is something he tries to avoid.

Dragging this dude with me in order to have him sit on a bench with a group of condemned men -- think of them as Dead Men Shopping -- so that I can pop out of the dressing room every five minutes to grill him on whether this dress/skirt/suit/pair of pants/bathing suit/shoes/necklace/bracelet/pair of socks makes my butt look big seems to me an act of intolerable cruelty, not to mention a completely futile venture because our marriage is a big-butt-free zone, that is, HOBB has never once told me that my butt looks big in anything (even when it most certainly has) most likely because someone tipped him off to the fact that you can NEVER, under any circumstances, EVER tell your wife that her butt looks big.

And anyway, having HOBB along while I drift mindlessly through rows of frocks would completely ruin the therapeutic aspect of shopping for me. I might have to talk to him, destroying the lovely reverie I enter into. I might have to help him find the men's room. He might try to talk me into buying an article of clothing that is annoyingly modest, more suitable for synagogue, say, than my current sacriligious style. Come to think of it, I cannot think of a single reason to have him along, in fact, if he actually insisted upon accompanying me on a shopping expedition, I might have to melodramatically threaten to throw myself off the top of Daffy's Herald Square.

I can carry my own frickin' bags, for godsake!!!

Lest you think that this is a rant against men shopping, please let me reassure you that I believe men are entitled to the same retail indulgences as their female counterparts. And just as Shmendricks are completely pathetic, so, too, Shwomfricks (Shopping...Women...Fitting Room...Ick!!!) are just as terrible to behold: women turned a shade of bilious yellow, leaning against the wall of a place like Syms, trying to ignore the fact that their husbands' waistlines have grown another 4 inches since last year.

In fact, for anyone dying to receive acclaim for coining a faux Yiddish word, Shwomfrick is up for grabs. E-mail me to find out how much it'll cost you to pass it off as your own invention.

Let me be orthodox about this: the only time it is appropriate to accompany a member of the opposite sex on a clothing shopping expedition is when you are their parent. So that's what I was doing yesterday with Middle Babe and gladly do for her brothers, Big and Little Babe. Of course, at 21, Big Babe prefers to shop by himself and favors such outre venues as ebay and the Salvation Army on W96th Street, where he has scored amazing purchases for peanuts. I wish that Time Out New York ( would take notice of his style and feature him in their magazine. (Att: Fashion Editor. He can be reached via his blog at And 10-year-old Little Babe can only be dragged to a limited number of dressing rooms before having a complete meltdown and tearfully petitioning me for a pet hedgehog.

So, yeah, I'd have to say that the best, most-authentic clothing shopping experience can be shared between two people of the female persuasion, preferably if they are related. Who better to laugh and cry with in the dressing room when the three-way mirror reveals a butt that is not just big but taking over the world as we know it?? Who better to depend upon for honest appraisal of your prospective purchases? Who can better talk you out of disastrous fashion mistakes and talk you into brilliant style coups? And who can better convince you to buy something just because they actually want to wear it but don't want to shell out the cash??

So, today, RIGHT THIS MINUTE, I hereby propose a national holiday, something bigger than International Women's Month, Black History Month or even Take Our Daughters to Work Day. (Copywriters at Bungalow Babe in the Big City are currently hard at work drafting the exact wording for the charter.) While our nation was sleeping, a new generation of Shmendricks rose up -- no longer just from the suburbs or the Upper East Side or Cleveland. These new Shmendricks hail from Williamsburg (the cool section, not the Hasidic section); from Park Slope, from W86th Street, from Hastings-on-Hudson, f'crissakes!!

These neo-Shmendricks -- hip, young and sexy -- threaten the integrity of our social fabric. Sisters, unite!!! Shackle your men to the kitchen counter and take your womenfolk shopping today!!
*mothertongue, i.e. -- Yiddish
**a real find

1 comment:

Esther Kustanowitz said...

I don't know why no one ever saw that before. Kind of like my acronym revelation about the "coincidence" that "ARK" is "roshei teyvot" (and don't get me started on the meaning of that phrase, with teyva also meaning ark) for Aron Kodesh...

Thought processes like these make it a good thing that someone invented blogging technology so we have a place to "let it all out..."