Well, there I was. 2 AM, walking around Macy’s on Herald Square. The department store has been open around the clock for days in what probably amounts to little more than a publicity stunt, and a costly one at that. As I looked around me in the nocturnal crowd, it struck me that folks had dropped in to warm up, avail themselves of the restrooms, or merely to satisfy their curiosity, behavior unlikely to translate into an appreciable increase in sales. Now, I am not a happy consumer at the best of times; I derive little enjoyment from shopping, other than the merchandise I am often too tired, ill-tempered, or tight-fisted to drag to the counter. At that hour, having just imbibed a few gin and tonics at my favorite West Village watering hole, I was certainly not in a position to make any informed choices or last-minute purchases.
Navigating the mercantile maze, I was reminded of John Collier’s short story “Evening Primrose” (1940), as it was adapted for radio’s literary adventure anthology Escape. A distant and sinister forebear of A Night at the Museum, “Primrose” is the eerie account of the after hours goings on in just such a locale (called Bracy’s, no less).
A weary and destitute poet, desirous to break free from the world, has decided to squat, of all places, in the quiet of a closed emporium, where he sets out to make a home for himself behind a pile of carpets. Exploring the premises one night, he discovers that he is not alone.
Those tuning in to Escape on 5 November 1947 were invited to imagine themselves
groping in the midnight dimness of a gigantic department store and suddenly you realize that you’re not alone; that a hundred eyes are glaring at you from the shadows, a hundred hands reaching for your throat, and your most urgent desire is to . . . escape.
They were merely after the contents of our wallets; but I was anxious to escape all the same. The “Evening Primrose” is not in bloom this season. The secret society of non-shopping consumers Collier envisioned would have no chance in the glare of eternal commerce, their struggle for self-preservation crushed by the nightly invaders of a territory reclaimed for a paradisic if parasitic existence.
I was more in my territory strolling around New York City’s outdoor markets. At the holiday fair on Union Square, I caught up with my old pal Kip Cosson (pictured) at the fair on Union Square. My frame being too large for the clothes sporting his jolly, colorful designs, I walked away with a signed copy of his children’s book Ned Visits New York. It tells the story of two pen pals, a South Pole penguin and a New York City mouse, and their sightseeing tour of the town. Department stores, I am pleased to report, did not make the list of attractions. Ned, after all, was feeling “crowded and stressed” and had left his home in “need [of a] rest.”