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Recreational Equipment Impaired ®

Ok, I hadn’t planned on mentioning Saturday’s fateful episode because I’ve already done a few of those “Hah, how delightfully kooky I am!” kind of posts and I figured I’d better cool it on those for a while before you guys start thinking a typical day for me entails sobbing hysterically in the shower, scratching the eyes out of people in magazines, writing rambling letters to the President warning him that Wilford Brimley is trying to poison the local water supply, etc.

That’s strictly a Sunday thing.

I’m watching you, Quaker Oats man.

However, since Katie brought it up — with a little dramatic flair added for comedic value — I feel I should explain the situation so that my mother-in-law doesn’t have to worry that I’m going to snap under the stress of packing some day this week and go after her baby boy with a frying pan.

So, it went like this:  I drove to the REI in Rockville on Saturday for what started out as an entirely innocent errand to exchange a rain jacket I’d bought online for a smaller size.  The exchange went smoothly and that might’ve been the uneventful end to the most boring cocktail party story ever except, just as I was turning to leave, some dark, twisted thought sprang from the bowels (ew) of my mind.

Oh, what the hey, I thought to myself.  Shucks, since I’m here anyway, I might as well take a look around this here shoppin’ establerment and see if I there’s anything else I might could use.  Git ‘r done!  Earnhardt forever! Because, naturally, that’s how I talk in my head.

When I finally made it out of the store two and a half hours later, I imagine the parking lot surveillance cameras caught a wild-eyed, disheveled person who vaguely resembled me bursting through the front doors like I’d just been released from a 48-hour hostage situation, pausing just long enough to whip my head wildly left and then right, and then tearing off in a dead sprint across the parking lot without looking back.

For those unfamiliar with REI (which stands for “Recreational Equipment, Inc.”  Droppin’ knowledge like bombs!), it’s a national outdoor and sporting goods retail chain that supplies every conceivable brand and type of gear for the knowledgeable climbing, camping, mountain biking and general outdoors enthusiast.

Which, basically, translates to the seventh circle of hell for people like me.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  I consider myself an outdoorsy person — I like to hike, camp, trail-run, mountain bike, eat possum, etc. — but me stepping foot into an REI is akin to someone who likes to read attempting to plow through the entire Encyclopedia Britannica series in one sitting.  You’re just in way over your head, my nerdy little friend.

The thing is, I’m not what you would call a “decisive” person.  If you give me two options, I will choose Option A, then change my mind and choose Option B.  Then change my mind again.  Then ask which one you’d choose.  Then try to listen to which option fate is telling me to choose.  Then make a list detailing the pros and cons of each option.  Then convert said list into a color-coded Excel bar graph.  Then, if given enough time, have a nervous breakdown.

So, it goes without saying that I don’t do well in scenarios where I’m given too many choices.  And, being a major retail chain, choices are what REI is all about.  So, being the person I am in the situation I was, I ended up spending half the day wandering aimlessly up and down each aisle (and possibly through part of the Men’s Big & Tall next door somehow) trying to discern the difference between 10 similar shiny packaged products, praying that someone would swoop in and save me from this private hell of personal freedom.

Every once in a while I’d see a busy store clerk bustle by, at which point I’d shuffle after him a safe distance, whimpering and holding out two items like a toddler asking to be picked up.

What is a ‘nonadjust Poly/Neoprene retainer’ and why is it trying to make me insane?

And on the rare occasion they actually stopped for me (and didn’t break into a jog after looking back and seeing my hungry eyes and quivering lip), here’s how the exchange typically went:

Me: Please.  I’m looking to buy a hydration bladder for my backpack.  Just tell me which one I should get.

Bearded, Teva-Wearing Store Clerk: Well, that depends.  How many liters is your pack’s capacity?  Is this for a technical daypack or a multiday excursion pack?  Does your pack have an internal frame or external?

Me: Um, see, it’s a backpack.  It’s about yea wide and yea big (hold my hands appropriate distance apart) and it goes on my back like this (mime putting on a backpack).

Bearded, Teva-Wearing Store Clerk: What capacity is the pack’s reservoir sleeve?  How many drink tube exit ports does it have?  What type of access port design are you looking for?

Me:  (Blink several times.  Maybe drool a little.)

Bearded, Teva-Wearing Store Clerk: Do you want a rigid or molded hydration bladder?  Made of rubber or flexible plastic?  Do you intend to use a water purification-adaptable system?

Me:  Lookie here, Brent.  I guess your carabiner key chain and your “Life is Good” T-shirt qualify you for some sort of Eagle Scout merit badge in smug condemnation, but I will not be suffering your crap today, my friend.  So just tell me what to get or I will rip off your stupid ponytail and make you eat it.

Okay, so that last part was in my head.  What I actually did was mutter something incoherent and then scuttle away like a crab.

So, by the time Katie called, I was a bit stressed out.  I mean, I was so confused and uncertain that I almost bought a fanny pack.  Fortunately, I regained my senses in the nick of time, paid for the few items I’d manage to decide upon, and got the hell out of there.

So, hopefully, explaining that episode has now put everyone’s mind at ease that I’m not a neurotic nutjob.

Wait.  I guess that really didn’t…

Aw, crap.



the other Mrs. Barstow

I love you, Erin!!! Oh so much. You and Katie make me laugh and laugh and I can’t wait until you survive this adventure and come to visit me again – with more stories than I can handle :^D And hey! Maybe that boy could use a smack. Just kidding, really.


Great. Loved the ponytail meal thought..To funny.


Thanks, Mark. That thought was pretty much the only thing I had to left to cling to while dealing with that guy. Haha, Jude –I think you’re right!

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