Practice makes perfect at Men's Wearhouse

April 17, 2007

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So I'm 16 years old, and I'm in the basement of Bernie's house. Bernie's parents have a lot of money, and their basement is a cornucopia of entertainment for high school students who are bored. We haven't had our driver's licenses very long, but there's only so much driving around you can do.

One half of Bernie's basement is a large, finished room, with a ping-pong table and a big-screen rear-projection TV, laserdisc player, and surround sound. We played a fair amount of ping-pong. We also watched a fair amount of laserdiscs, including Die Hard, which I'd never seen on widescreen because the only VHS edition they'd released at that point was that awful, distorted, panned-and-scanned version.

The other half of the basement was a large, unfinished room and filled with the usual basement stuff: old clothes, household chemicals, and boxes filled with unknown stuff and junk. There was also a pellet gun, a shotgun (unloaded, to be sure), and a high-quality archery set. Was it a professional set? I don't know; how many "professional" archers are out there?

"You want to shoot some arrows?" Bernie asked me.

"Sure, why not?" I said.

Bernie was always kind of crazy, as evidenced by his impulses to ... I don't know, shoot arrows in his basement, or replace the standard shocks on his Mustang with shocks that made the car ride like you were driving through a minefield. Also, his propensity for calling himself Gordon Shumway.

On the far wall of the basement was a large cardboard box, perhaps five feet tall, two feet wide, and two feet deep, which Bernie had filled with crumpled newspaper pages. On the front of the box was an archery target drawn in black marker. This is where he did his target practice. If memory serves, he did well in the archery unit in gym class.

He went first. Standing at the other end of the basement about 15 or 20 feet away, he took careful aim, pulled the string back, and released it, delivering the arrow into the target with a nice, satisfying thud. I walked up to the target and admired the arrow in the box, as well as the ingenuity of a makeshift archery range safely set up in a basement. The arrow went into the box and was stopped by the newspaper such that it didn't go all the way through and hit the cinderblock wall on the other side, which would damage the arrow tip.

"Okay," he said. "Your turn."

Let's just say I was less than confident. I hadn't shot an arrow since Cub Scouts summer camp. But it was only 15 or 20 feet, and I couldn't be that rusty, could I?

I pulled back the string and took careful aim, and then released. THUD. The arrow penetrated the box, and buried itself all the way up to its feather.

I'd hit the wrong box.

"What are you doing?!" Bernie demanded, panicking.

"I aimed for the target, but I missed," I responded.

"The target is on the other box!" he said, stating the obvious. (Yeah, I know. I just said I missed.)

Right next to the target box was another 5-by-2-by-2-foot box which was exactly like the target box except it wasn't filled with newspaper.

"What's in that box?" I asked.

"SUITS," he expelled emphatically.

He pulled the arrow out. We looked inside the box, where at least 10 men's suits were on hangers in the box, as if in a closet, suspended from a metal rod that went through the top of the box. In my head, I questioned the wisdom of putting an archery target 12 inches from a box full of his father's suits. And these weren't junk suits, either, despite their relegation to the basement.

By some miracle, the arrow went right between two of the suits and didn't leave a scratch on any of them. Sometimes I wonder what would've happened if the box had been turned 90 degrees, such that the suits had been perpendicular to the path of my arrow, rather than parallel.

But I'll never forget how he said the word SUITS. It was like a revelation and a disaster and a punch line simultaneously. It still makes me laugh.

We were done shooting arrows after that.

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