Way in the past, I was just a kid.
Sidewalk Sale at the mall, the Bergen Mall, an outdoor mall and in fact I don’t think the enclosed mall had been invented yet. Paramus became the land of malls, but the Bergen Mall was the first of its kind here. Paramus had no train station or downtown, just the intersection of two highways and back then, the Bergen Mall was the closest thing to a center of town we had.
I remember the excitement about going to the Sidewalk Sale. I went with my mother and my sister, other neighbor moms and their kids also came. For days it seemed all we talked about was that approaching magical time when merchants placed their goods and wares outside their stores for sale, turning the mall into an outdoor bizarre. What I am remembering is the anticipatory elation you have as a child just to do anything other than being in the house or yard. Maybe mom will buy you something at the Sidewalk Sale! It was summer and everything thing was festive at the transformed mall, vendors selling Italian ices, lemonade and hot dogs from stands on the walkway, a jolly man with a huge mustache, wearing a straw hat and red vest and forming giraffes and dachshunds out of tubular balloons and giving them to children for free. We had eagerly awaited the Sidewalk Sale and now we were having the time of our lives.
This is something that has lingered in my mind my entire life, something that happened a half a century ago. I was under 10, before boy scouts, before or maybe just after first communion. I remember that feeling of excitement of finally being at the Sidewalk Sale. Suddenly a murmur rippled through the crowds browsing the goods displayed in the open air, something about she’s not wearing a bra. I doubt I knew what a bra even was. No girls in my class needed to wear them. I heard this whisper campaign before I saw the source of their ridicule walking towards me. I can still see her nearly translucent ivory colored blouse, her nipples straining against the thin cloth, her unharnessed breasts bouncing with her quickening gait. Stunned adults were gawking at her, staring and chattering. By high school no-bras were more commonplace on women, covered but apparent nipples not as big a deal. Not then. The counterculture was new and not yet sufficiently commodified for the suburbs. She may have been the first woman to walk around braless in Paramus.
All the adults at the mall seemed publicly appalled. I can still see their irate expressions, still hear the judgmental clucks of tongues against teeth. She was being shunned and ostracized, that’s why she was angry. Her hands at her sides made fists. She was rolling her eyes, clenching those fists, getting the hell out of there as quick as she could. I can still see those fists as vividly as those nipples, as vividly as any memory I have.
She passed through the crowd and in her wake were mouths agape, whispering nasty insults. Why were they angry at this person? I felt so perplexed. I had not gone on my first trip to the Metropolitan Museum where a neoclassical nude statue fascinated me. I had not even glimpsed a playboy magazine. I was innocent, prepubescent, too young to be aroused, too young to even grasp the concept of arousal but also too young to process what was my first impression of feminine beauty.
I love beauty, beauty abounds in this world, in nature, art, nearly everywhere when you think about it. I appreciate beauty whenever I can. To me, there’s nothing more beautiful than a woman’s body. Maybe the braless young woman at the Bergen Mall Sidewalk Sale was the first time I realized this aesthetic, too young and unexperienced to know what I was feeling, much less articulate the revelation. The earliest increments of sexual desire were certainly present, but what I was feeling was not that banal. I was angry too, upset by the injustice and prejudice against this woman. She was doing nothing wrong, she was just at the Sidewalk Sale like everyone else. What justified the outrage, the mob mentality of turning her into a spectacle, someone to hate… who were they to decide she did not belong?
I seem to remember my mother and the other moms talking to each other with disgust about this stranger, but not discussing the incident with the younger witnesses. Nobody cared about our feelings, nobody wanted to hear them at least. I just remember being upset about the injustice of their reactions to the braless woman, and those feelings are as palpable to me today as the desire the outline of her breasts beneath the sheer fabric inspired. That injustice to me was not just about judging someone solely from their appearance, but opposing and not appreciating beauty.
Over the course of my decades, when it comes to relationships and intimacy, that girl at the Sidewalk Sale echoes as an ideal of sorts. I saw what I saw and only wanted more than just to see. Her fleeting image never remains merely sexual. She cannot stay isolated from the Sidewalk Sale and the way she was treated, driven away from the Bergen Mall by their conformity to fake morality. It seems so silly now, unbelievable this actually happened, that I am old enough to have witnessed the last vestiges of a long dead, bygone era. I dwell on the Sidewalk Sale without wanting to, and a myriad of feelings and thoughts I prefer to avoid always unwind. It’s not a tragic memory, it’s something that just happened. I never know what to do with it though, the Sidewalk Sale memory.
Copyright 2018/Held by Author