When I was a kid, going to the mall was a special treat. A world unto itself, the mall was a new concept and my family went to walk and gawk as much as to shop, joining the throngs that circulated through the climate-controlled, concrete, chrome and glass corridors like schools of fish. Whenever I became separated from the rest of our little group, my parents knew where to find me because there was one thing in that giant Church of the Almighty Dollar that invariably drew me in, like a moth to a flame. Somehow, I always ended up in front of the County Seat Jeans Emporium, staring in wide-eyed wonder at the gargantuan pair of pants hanging from the ceiling inside.
My nine-year-old mind was absolutely boggled by the size of those pants. It was, indeed, humbling to realize that the mall was a place where anyone could get anything they needed, but I shuddered as I imagined the person who needed those pants. Those pants weren’t just Levi’s. They were leviathan. My parents assured me that those giant pants were a joke and that no one could possibly need pants so large, and for years I believed them. Until I met Robbie Brown.
Robbie was a big, ruddy Scotsman who had grown up in Australia. He was an adventurous fellow and, in his youth, he had been the main attraction at Captain Jack Freemantle’s Reptile Farm and Tannery, subduing a crocodiles to the delight of Japanese tourists who came all the way to Australia just to see him. Unfortunately, Captain Jack’s place was destroyed by a flood in 1975 and, in order to distance himself from the legal proceedings that arose from the inadvertent release of some 16,000 crocodiles into the surrounding countryside, Robbie moved to the U.S. and became a professional wrestler.
Grappling as the Masked Maori until George “Gorilla” Gray tore the mask off and exposed him as the red-faced Scot he was, Robbie then took a turn as the Black Watch Bruiser but was forced from the ring for playing too rough. Using some of the connections he’d made at Captain Jack’s, he eventually found work with a broker of exotic animals and landed in Texas, which is where I met him.
By that time Robbie’s salad days were behind him. In fact, it appeared that he had finished his salad, devoured the main course and had spent most of the past two decades concentrating on dessert. Robbie Brown stood close to seven feet tall and those who had to guess would have estimated his weight to be anywhere from four hundred pounds to half a ton. Because I was his part-time assistant, and he was my friend, I generally steered clear of such discussions, but one day Robbie came to work wearing the most splendid, colorful silk shirt I had ever seen and I just had to ask where on earth he had found such a stylish shirt that fit so well.
I was afraid I might have insulted him with my question but Robbie seemed eager to share his tale so we sat together on a bench in the shade and he began, “I travel to Korea quite a bit on business, you know, and several years ago I found myself in one of the shopping districts of Seoul. Those Koreans are tiny little people and if you think I dwarf the masses here, you should see me waist deep in a crowd of puny little Asians! The little buggers follow me around, making no effort at all to be polite, pointing and laughing and jabbering amongst themselves. Why, the streets just fill with them!
“One day I was trying to get back to my hotel and this one little runt comes running up to me yelling, ‘You come here! You! Come here!’ He’s pointing to a shop across the street, grabbing at my sleeve, and hopping up and down, and soon there were a hundred of those little sprites, all pointing and hopping and grabbing and yelling at me.
“The combined force of all those wee little people swept me across the street, where more of them descended, and soon I was quite trapped in front of that shop, which I could see belonged to a tailor. Looking inside, I saw a man on a ladder, taking down what appeared to be a parachute. Dozens of people rushed in to help and in a moment I could see coming toward me, from inside the shop, the most beautiful silk shirt in the world. It was dragging on the floor a bit, propelled by a half-dozen tiny feet, and sticking out the top, through the neck hole, were three little slanty-eyed faces, grinning from ear to ear. The man I’d seen on the ladder stepped forward and said, ‘This very nice for you! You put on!’
“I was feeling embarrassed and quite conspicuous, but there was nothing I could do. So many of the little midgets swarmed around me that I could hardly move! I turned, looking for an escape, but by now traffic had stopped and the narrow street was full of people. I was awash in a veritable sea of tiny Koreans!
“Before I could react, they were upon me, pushing and pulling. Like the Lilliputians subduing Gulliver, they overwhelmed me by sheer numbers and I soon realized there was no point to struggling so I gave in. My arms were tugged this way and that, my head was bent down, and I distinctly felt them scurrying about on my shoulders, but I was eventually able to move freely and could see again. The crowd cleared a space in front of me, where the shop owner was holding a full-length mirror – or at least what would be a full-length mirror to a Korean – and in its reflection I saw that the bantam horde had managed to get me into that super-sized silk shirt, and it fit perfectly!
“So many smiling faces were around me that I didn’t know what to do other than smile back, so I did. The shop owner introduced himself as Johnny Lee and told me he had made the shirt as a joke. It had hung in his shop for quite some time and his friends, neighbors and customers had all wondered if they would ever see the person who could wear that shirt. Johnny promised them that if he ever did meet that person he would give that person the shirt for free because where else would someone that size ever find clothes to fit?
“Johnny Lee has been making my shirts ever since and we have become good friends. The shirt I am wearing today is one of six that just arrived yesterday. Little Johnny’s a wonder with shirts but he can’t make decent pants to save his life and I need new pants. No one chases me down in the streets anymore, giving me free clothing, so I’ve had to get creative. Would you care to accompany me on a little shopping excursion this evening?”
I agreed without hesitation and after work I found myself wedged between Robbie’s not insubstantial bulk and the passenger window of his customized Chevy truck.
The accelerator and brake pedals of Robbie’s truck were nearly three feet apart and the transmission hump had been eliminated. The steering column had been moved to the center of the console and was crowned with a ring of welded chain less than a foot across that looked like it belonged in some tricked-out low-rider car, which it did, most of the customizing having been done by a shop that specialized in low-riders.
The best feature of Robbie’s truck was a hydraulic lift system that, with the flick of a switch, allowed the truck to settle almost all the way to the ground so Robbie wouldn’t have to hoist himself up into the cab. It was more like he rolled in. Once arranged behind and around the miniature steering wheel, Robbie would flick the switch the other way and the hydraulic pump would lift the truck back up to its standard position.
Robbie Brown got around pretty well for a big man but he qualified for a Handicapped Parking placard, giving him access to all the finest parking spaces and, as we pulled into the parking lot at the Highland View Mall, he did not care that people stopped and stared when he wheeled into the choicest spot, his forearms and jowls filling the windshield of that bright red Chevy. He did not mind that jaws dropped when the truck squatted down and he poured out onto the pavement. He even found it amusing that, once he turned toward them, those people would suddenly find other things to look at. It might have been embarrassment or even intimidation that caused them to fling their gazes to the ground as he approached but it was certainly curiosity that made them look again after he had passed.
As we stepped into the air-conditioned comfort of the mall, Robbie seemed to know where he was going so I followed. We could have been in any mall in America, passing chain store after chain store, and when we reached the Dancing Waters fountain, Robbie stopped. He turned to me and, with a sweep of his beefy arm, directed my attention to the inside of Just Pants, Etc. There, hanging from the ceiling like a museum piece from my past, was a pair of those giant pants!
“That pair of dungarees right there looks to be just about right,” he said. “I think I’d like to try them on. You don’t think anyone would mind, do you?”
Before I could answer, Robbie was in the store, approaching one of the sales clerks from behind. “Excuse me,” he said, “but how much are the very large dungarees hanging from the ceiling?”
“Those pants are novelty pants and they’re not for sale,” replied the clerk, who did not turn around to face his customer, but instead continued to fiddle with a stack of corduroy slacks.
Robbie tried again. “I don’t think you understand. I’d like to know how much are the very large dungarees hanging from the ceiling?”
Robbie’s tone had changed a bit and the clerk stopped fiddling with the corduroys.
“No, sir, I think you don’t understand,” said the scrawny clerk who was now turning around. As he came about I saw that his name tag read “Bradley” and I saw that Bradley’s pimpled nose was just about level with where I imagined Robbie’s navel to be. Bradley slowly looked uphill to Robbie’s face, swallowed hard and stammered, “I’ll h-h-have to get my giant. I mean my manager! I’ll have to get my manager!” Knocking down and unfiddling the stack of corduroys as he tripped over himself, Bradley hurried toward the manager’s office.
He returned a few minutes later with the manager, Greg, who wore an impressive set of keys on his belt as a sign of his authority. Greg acted smug, as another sign of his authority, and asked, “Is there a problem?”
Robbie explained that so far the only problems had been a rude sales clerk and the inability to determine the price for the very large dungarees hanging from the ceiling. Greg looked at Bradley, who was off to one side in a small knot of giggling clerks, then he turned back to Robbie, who had somehow made himself look larger. A few customers were watching now, wondering what was going to happen, and Greg saw an opportunity to firmly establish his authority as manager of Just Pants, Etc. He said, “Sir, everyone knows that when you see a pair of pants as large as those hanging from the ceiling it’s a joke! Those pants aren’t made for anyone! They’re a novelty and not for sale.”
“Not for sale!” Robbie bellowed. “Not for sale? How can they be not for sale?”
Greg’s hair was swept back by the breeze and spittle mist settled on his face.
“Are you mocking me?’ asked Robbie, just warming up. “You see me before you quite plainly, I’m sure, and you must be wondering several things about me. For instance, you must wonder where a man my size finds clothes to wear. Sometimes I wonder the same thing myself and now, when I find the one article of clothing in this entire mall that might possibly fit me, I am laughed at by a pimple-faced punk with a speech impediment and denied satisfaction by a self-important smart-ass! I will ask again, ‘How much are the very large dungarees hanging from the ceiling?”
Robbie’s thunder attracted a group of people from outside the store and they stood near the entrance, watching. Some of them gestured down the corridor for their friends to come watch, too.
As Greg straightened his hair and wiped his face, he realized he had no control over this situation. He stepped from Robbie’s shadow, into the light, and said, “Buddy, if those pants are your size, you can have ‘em! Brad, get a ladder.”
Robbie looked at me and gave a sly wink, gesturing toward the front of the store. Turning around, I saw that close to a hundred people had gathered outside. Dozens of faces were pressed against the window glass and some people were standing on tiptoe for a better view.
Having bossed Bradley around on the ladder for a few minutes, Greg felt better as he handed the very large dungarees to Robbie and gestured toward the dressing rooms with a smirk.
The dressing rooms were a group of four cubicles huddled in the middle of the store, with interior walls in common. A chrome framework supported the brightly colored wall panels and each cubicle had a mirror mounted outside its entrance. Across each entrance was hung a pair of shutters, like swinging saloon doors. The overall effect was flimsy. And small.
Robbie could not get through the shutters. With nothing more than a glare he convinced Greg and Bradley to undo the hinges and remove one set of doors. Robbie squeezed and pushed, moving the whole freestanding unit several feet to the east. Grabbing onto the top rail of the frame, he wedged himself in, repeated his glare and the shutters were replaced. They wouldn’t close all the way but that was fine because Robbie was in the furthest cubicle, facing away from us. The back of his head and shoulders stuck out over the top of the walls and the crowd gathering at the entrance to the store was now impeding traffic flow through the mall.
It looked like Robbie was trying to bend over. His ears were turned red, his head nodded forward and down, and the little chrome and particleboard dressing room unit rattled and shook with his straining. At one point in his struggles he lifted the entire unit off the floor, wearing it like a tutu, and rotated a quarter turn clockwise before stumbling. Regaining his balance, Robbie took a deep breath, straightened up and gave a little hop, knocking all four mirrors to the floor with a crash and popping the interior walls off their brackets with a shriek.
Robbie looked over his shoulder and flashed me a grin. Then he bent over and out of sight, taking advantage of the newly enlarged dressing space. I looked over my shoulder and saw that all traffic through this part of the mall had stopped. Many of the gathered onlookers had no idea why they were there – they only knew that the people in front of them had stopped to see what the people in front of them had stopped to see and that now they were all stopped. Momentarily, Robbie’s head reappeared and he gave another little hop. This time what remained of the dressing room unit stayed where it was and with a mighty zip, Robbie exclaimed, “There we go!” He then shot that glare at Greg, who deflected it to the clerks, who removed the shutters again.
The ruined dressing rooms scooted back to the west as Robbie extracted himself and, once he was clear, the clerks replaced the shutters like it mattered. Then, with more grace than you’d expect from a man who wore pants that big, Robbie avoided the broken mirrors and stepped up, front and center, wearing his brand new dungarees. The pants he was wearing when we arrived were draped over his left arm, looking like a couple of sewn-together pup tents.
By now, the entire shopping population of the Highland View Mall was outside the store and security had been alerted. Most of these people were there simply because they could progress no further, and so many people were pressing in from behind that those by the store entrance couldn’t have backed up if they’d wanted to. They didn’t want to back up, though. They had seen everything, from the initial confrontation to Robbie’s triumphant exit from the dressing room and they began to clap. Their applause gathered more applause and then cheers. As Robbie strode past Greg and Bradley, who refused to even look at him, the crowd parted and Robbie stepped into the mall corridor. People gave way as he moved, still cheering and clapping as he waded into the throng. Fully aware of the spectacle he had created, Robbie’s smile widened as he realized the attention it had received. People were whistling and patting him on the back as he went by, but most of them patted him on the extreme lower back, he was just so big.
His departure from the store had the effect of pulling the plug on a drain and the mall traffic began to flow again. Robbie moved up the corridor, waddling against the current, trailing applause in his wake. He was making his way into the part of the crowd that had no idea what was going on but were clapping anyway and, as we neared the exit, I heard one man ask another, “Who the hell is that guy?”
Rounding the corner, I heard in response, “I don’t know, but did you see how well his clothes fit?”