While Berta watched the kids milling around the Monroeville Mall playgound fashioned to look like Mister Roger's Neighborhood, I took a brief trip through Hot Topic.  Hot Topic is a kind of counterculture apparel store. During my heyday as a counterculture wannabe, I have done enough crazy things to merit shopping in this popular chain store (ha, "chain") on more than one occasion. As a matter of fact, Berta and I have bought enough stuff at Hot Topic that I have a couple of frequent buyer cards that are completely stamped full. Yes, I own a pair of leather pants and a bowling shirt with flaming skulls - so sue me.  It had been a while since I toured this black cloth, metal stud wonderland, and I was curious if the culture had changed any since the last time I had been in, walked around, and bought something.  The mens clothes looked all about the same as I remembered. Shirts usually classified into two categories: T-shirt with printed slogan and/or odd graphic design, or overly-heavy long-sleeved buton and chain-festooned livery that you might wear to a formal party or if you were feeling really, really emo. Pants usually have lots of buttons and extra straps like the kind used by carpenters to hold hammers, but serve no actual purpose. Or chains. Anything is fair game for chains, especially chains that are black.  The girls stuff is varied, but involves a lot of black and red lace, fishnet or nylon stocking sewn-in, black zippers, vinyl, silver buttons, more vinyl, and laces that tie up the back. Or something really stretchy and tight. Also, tall shiny boots are cool.  They carry albums of different sorts of music. I noticed CDs by bands with names like "Cattle Decapitation" and "One Dead Three Wounded". There was also an album of songs based on the works of Neil Gaiman - my marijuana-like gateway drug to the crack-addled world of gothdom, father of The Sandman comic book and Stardust novel, possibly the soul of stores like Hot Topic born into human flesh.

They had a rack of Invader Zim DVDs, and a few T-shirts with Gir on them, but no stuffed Gir toys. I really want a stuffed Gir toy. For my home office.  In the back, you've got the metal-studded chokers, the rubber bracelets (which now come packaged with matching rubber rings), and the pink rubber studded chokers, which scream out, "I'm a goth, but I'm friendly and cute". There are also the requisite packs of insta-hair color, which you squeeze out of a tube onto the included comb, and then grease through your hair for instant blue, pink, or green streaks. They come in itty-bity boxes designed to keep with you in the case of a lack-of-hair-color emergency. Change color as mood requires.  The glass display case around the counter housed the patches and stickers. Lots of band ids. No drug references whatsoever. (No, really.) I would say 20% skulls and demonic symbology, 30% fairies, 50% band logos. One of two things in the store that did interest me was in this case.  I've always thought it would be neat to have a pocket watch rather than using a wrist watch. I think I consider myself a slave to time, since I don't often see people I know using a watch. And while they're not necessarily reliably on time, I'm not either. I would hate to think how late I would be to everything if I didn't have a watch.  The watch that struck my fancy in Hot Topic's display case was on a silver chain (duh), and looked like very heavy brushed metal. The face had a skull and crossbones in the center with bold numbers. It was pretty to look at.  I briefly thought that it would be an interesting daily reminder of those times out with Brian to various goth concerts and clubs, usually not looking the part while clad in a bright yellow hiking jacket, much like I didn't look like the part of the usual Hot Topic shopper in my "about to attend a christening at, you know, a Catholic church" attire. One of the interesting bits about goth culture is that they're often very accepting, and once you get past the black clothes and makeup, they're usually (at least not in my admittedly limited experience) not as gloomy as one might expect, and really don't seem to care much that you're not also wearing black.  But I didn't get the watch. Is a pocket watch really practical, anyway?  The other item in the store was not so interesting as the watch. It was a messenger bag. I have this strange affectation for bags. I like to have containers in which to carry my crap. I bought a bag from Yellow Rat Bastard when we went to New York before Abby was born, and it's been the perfect companion for slogging around my subnotebook and reading materials while travelling. I often recall trips I've taken with ceratin bags, like, "That's the bag I took to Papua New Guinea. That was a good trip." I wonder if I look for new bags to associate new memories to, and whether that's healthy.  The bag I found was pretty functional. Lots of pockets and open spaces. It also had a black chain on the front with one cuff from a set of handcuffs, also black. But it was a little over the top, even if it was on sale.  While looking over the merchandise, I mused how it's interesting that before Hot Topic, counterculture clothing like this was counterculture because it wasn't in stores like this. And now that Hot Topic exists, is it mainstream? And if so, does mocking Hot Topic wares make your non-Hot Topic black clothes any more authentic?  I returned to the play area with these thoughts and without the tounge stud that I threatened Berta I would return with.

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