Back-to-School Shopping is a Hot Topic

It’s not so bad, really.

In some ways it’s better.

Back-to-school shopping used to mean a big trip to the mall, mostly spent in JCPenney, Sears and The Kids Place, gradually upgrading to Pacific Sunwear, Limited Too, abercrombie with a small a, then Abercrombie with a capital A, PacSun, Aeropostale, American Eagle, Hollister, Limited One . . . need I go on?

This year I spent more than half our back-to-school clothes budget at Hot Topic.

If you haven’t been in the ghetto wing of your local mall in the last few years (it’s over by Spencer Gifts, Frederick’s of Hollywood and the Ruby Tuesday’s bar) you may not have noticed Hot Topic. It’s a skinny doorway flanked with Marilyn Manson concert posters in the window and it’s the only store in the mall besides Bath & Body Works that emits a smell.

The stink of Hot Topic, an odor that’s like a mixture of electricity and something unhealthy and black, creeps out of the doorway when you come within three yards of the place. Like a black light was set on fire by an exploding whippet and then all the black clothing in your closets was thrown into the flames. Like a tattoo pen sizzled a skinhead’s forearm in the middle of a skull with snakes coming out of its mouth. And like the inside of your box of Halloween decorations.

I kind of like the smell. I’ve gotten used to it. I’m in there regularly and I’ve cashed in five or six frequent buyer cards. The nice man behind the counter (I think it’s a man) with the blue mohawk and pierced ear holes the size of my petit four cookie cutter always gives an extra stamp or two on my card. Then I get to save 10% on my next purchase of black clothing for my daughter.

Last weekend we hit Hot Topic twice. My daughter tried on clothes and I settled into my back corner and read Gothic Beauty magazine and browsed through the novelties. I considered buying the Edgar Allen Poe action figure, but it was almost as much as the Insane Clown Posse doll, not a bargain.

After my reading and novelty shopping, I hit the t-shirt wall, my favorite part of Hot Topic. If you’re ashamed to admit you like something you saw on TV, there’s a t-shirt for it at Hot Topic. It has the largest collection of t-shirts  of South Park, Jimi Hendrix, Fall Out Boy, Saturday Night Live skits, Family Guy, and any movie Johnny Depp has been in.  Weirdly included in the t-shirts are Tinkerbell, Barbie, Alice in Wonderland and My Kitty. I’m suspicious and think it’s code for some druggie thing. I’m pretty sure about the Alice in Wonderland.

I picked my favorites - “Fear the Walken” and “If you are reading this shirt, then Step 1 of my evil plan is complete” and “Sorry About Your Face.” I don’t buy anything for myself, though. Not that I couldn’t. I’m not the only middle-aged mother in the place. Many of my counterparts, though, seem confused, shocked, sobbing a little bit as they lean on the piercings counter to steady themselves. They can’t get past the irony of having to put on reading glasses to see the price tag on the You Suck at Life pin.

Soon, they’ll be racking up the points on their frequent buyer cards and joining me in the back reading corner. I hear the new  Kurt Cobain bio is coming soon and I’m almost finished with A Field Guide to Midwest Monsters.