Shopping For Sports

Got an e-mail invitation to celebrate the birth date of Fong Ha's one-year-old daughter, Emily. Fong was database guy for the Sporting Box Football Contest, which had a five-year run during the mid '90s. After the contest closed, he moved to Houston and started a software business. Judging from the attached map and meticulous directions to the birthday gala, Fong has returned to California.

Now, there is no way I can shop for a one-year-old girl. I hardly know what they look like, much less what they need or want. I decide, for no particular reason, to attend upon one of those mega-sports-stores and buy Emily a basketball or a set of barbells, or, perhaps, a titanium tennis racket. Sportswriter to infant.

It's been decades since I've been inside a sports-mega-store. For a long time I lived in places where there were no sports-mega-stores, and then, when I moved to places where there were sports-mega-stores, I'd already acquired the camping stuff and fishing stuff and hunting stuff and sports stuff. Thereafter, occasional sports sundries were acquired by way of Internet or the odd Longs drugstore.

So, you can understand, when I innocently strolled into SporTmarT, I was unprepared for the galactic, airplane-hangar quality of the experience. One leaves the everyday world of traffic and sidewalks and sky and abruptly enters an enormous space, filled with cardboard boxes, shiny oversized toys, and more sportswear than any human being should be allowed to see in one glance, yet the giant expanse feels empty. Strange.

Well, to work. On my left are treadmills. I walk over to the first row and greet the $899 Horizon Advantage treadmill. I find the item unworthy, especially in the light of its larger brother, the Horizon Digital, which has a blue backlit LCD that will flash my fitness numbers, and, apparently, comes with an air cushion system. Still, it's only 1.7 horsepower. This is a problem. Lucky for me the Horizon Fitness is next door, has 2 horsepower, and costs but a few -- 200 -- dollars more. Two horsepower is much more my style, especially with the six preset workout programs that is vital for someone who doesn't want to work-up his own work-outs. However, none of these treadmills are cable ready, and I see no way to watch DVD movies while exercising.

I move toward the nearest wall and regard the Aqua Fitness Jog Belt. Looks like a chunk of blue foam with a strap attached to it. Comes with free instructional videotape. There's a picture on the package of a personhood, can't tell if the form is male or female, jogging underwater while wearing the Acqua Fitness Jog Belt. I think I've seen this on television. Further down the shelf is a $79.99 Tanita digital weight scale, "See your body better, four memory family model. Monitors your weight and compares your result to healthy ranges."

Behind me is a Fort Knox of stacked barbells. Against the near wall hang Asian sweatshop pink, off-pink, baby blue, black and pink, gray and pink Adidas and Nike gym bags. I can tell they're Adidas and Nike brands because of the large corporate logos stitched on the bags. What is the deal, by the way, about buying a gym bag or sweatshirt or baseball cap with soulless corporate advertising stitched to its side, and then carrying around said corporate ad on your back/head/butt for free?

Next are 150 baseball gloves. On to Asian sweatshop bat-bags in solid red or blue or black with a Nike logo or an Easton logo. Then, grotesque aluminum baseball bats, finished in whatever squalid Day-Glo color that amuses you.

How about an NFL trashcan, your choice of team logo? Now comes a kingdom's worth of tennis shoes. Many, many aisles of tennis shoes. The world wears nothing but tennis shoes. Now, various ski shoes, various snowboards, too many golf things, too many golf shoes, camping gear, grills, folding picnic table, folding chairs -- ah, here is the Stars and Stripes fold-up armchair with carrying bag for $16.99. Old Glory as leisure chair. Place butt on Old Glory and pop a beer. Could be illegal.

More Asian sweatshop stuff bags. Lots of pinks. Puma brand this time. And North Face daypacks in the inevitable pink, purple, and white colors. On to the manly side of North Face and daypacks in black, dark brown, or navy blue.

I walk past the talking can-opener; "Hear Hank Williams Jr. sing ABC's 'Are You Ready For Some Football?'" Pilates tapes. Inspirational tapes. Sportswear for as far as the eye can see. Columbia Sportswear, Russell Athletic, JanSport, and so on. I wonder if anything in this store is made in America.

Here are Asian-sweatshop bathing suits, more backpacks, Alpine Design sling bags, Dominican Republic sweatshop swimwear, Pakistan sweatshop sports shirts, Russian, 100 percent polyester, sweatshop gym shorts.

I decide on the Hank Williams Jr. can-opener and flee.

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