I Totally Meant to Do That

BOOK: I Totally Meant to Do That
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Copyright © 2011 by Jane Borden

All rights reserved.
Published in the United States by Broadway Paperbacks, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York.

Broadway Paperbacks and its logo, a letter B bisected on the diagonal, are trademarks of Random House, Inc.

Portions or alternative versions of some chapters have been previously published in various magazines: “Dancing with the Enemy” in
The New York Times Magazine;
“Waiting for the Raid Team” in
Time Out New York;
and “Groundhog Day” in
Modern Bride

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Borden, Jane.
  I totally meant to do that/Jane Borden.—1st ed.
     p. cm.
  1. American wit and humor. I. Title.
   PS3602.O68413 2011
  814′.6—dc22                  2010029940

eISBN: 978-0-307-46464-4

Map illustrations by Tam Nguyen
Cover design by Misa Erder
Cover illustrations © plainpicture/Lubitz + Dorner


For Nathan


The last sliver of daylight disappeared as the metal gate shut me inside. I was trapped in one of those squalid knockoff handbag stores in Chinatown, alone, in the dark, and convinced I’d soon have this conversation: “So tell me, Jane, how were
sold into the sex-slave industry?” “Well, Svetlana, I tried to buy a fake Prada purse from a Canal Street stall with a Pokémon sheet for a door.”

That sheet was now on the other side of a very solid shutter. It click-locked to the ground and my knees went weak. Great: When they found my body, I’d have tee-teed all over my matching denim outfit.

The store, if you can call it that, was no bigger than my minivan
and it stunk of fishy noodle soup. I’d probably have to eat the vendor’s leftovers to stay alive. I knocked on the barrier and cried, “Hello? What’s happ’nin’?” No one answered.

I had come to town to see a Broadway show, eat at Tavern on the Green, and bring back a dozen knockoffs for my girlfriends in Raleigh. I had not come to pursue a career in a Chinese Mafia sweatshop.

There was shouting outside. It had to be the cops. “Let me out of here!” I screamed. “I promise I wuh-int gonna buy nuthin!”

Lord Jesus, I didn’t want to go to jail. What would my book club think? What would I tell my husband, the contractor who was currently dove-hunting with the boys at Currituck? Or my twin sister, the one who had the cash for the bags, but couldn’t be there today because she’d taken the kids to the Hershey’s store in Times Square? Or my bible study leader, who’s a closeted homosexual, but …

Wait, why am I lying to you? You’re not a counterfeiter. Sorry; old habits die hard.

Here’s the truth: I
trapped. And I was definitely wearing matching denim, but it was a disguise. I do not own a minivan or a wedding ring. I’ve never eaten at Tavern on the Green. And I wasn’t afraid; I’d been locked inside filthy Canal Street stalls before. It was part of my job description as a spy.

My employer was Holmes Hi-Tech, a private-investigation firm that’s now defunct (otherwise I wouldn’t write this chapter; I may have been a spy, but I’m no rat). Our clients were Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Rolex, Polo, and other luxury-goods purveyors protecting their trademarks from the sale of illegal knockoffs. New York City’s Chinatown is one of the biggest counterfeiting centers in the world. So even though Customs, the police, and the FBI are responsible for busting the illicit trade, a multibillion-dollar industry flourishes regardless, leaving a niche plenty big for our small, spunky Midtown office.

When I first interviewed for the secret-shopper position, and mentioned it to my mother, she forbade me to accept the job. She actually used the word “forbid,” a tactic previously unemployed, I suppose, because it had never been necessary. The closest thing to crime rings in Greensboro were the hippie drum circles on the UNC-G campus. And anyway, my parents typically let me make my own mistakes. Although I wish she’d forbidden my eighth-grade perm, going undercover in Chinatown was where she drew the line. Years later, when I confessed to disobeying her, she shot me a look that could have curled hair without chemicals.

Honestly, though, I never felt unsafe in Chinatown; I had anonymity. My boss was the one who received death threats. He was also the one shouting with the vendor outside the Pokémon stall, which I of course knew; I’d been expecting his arrival. Here’s how it went down.

A week prior, another of my fellow “spotters” had cased the same location, looking for fake versions of our clients’ products. While she fingered purses and scarves, tried on sunglasses, and generally pretended to shop, she was actually memorizing all of the brands being sold, the kinds of items within each brand, in which part of the store each was displayed or behind which secret remote-controlled doors each could be found—multiplied by however many other locations she’d been assigned to visit before she could leave that section of Canal Street and safely purge her brain via pen and paper in a restaurant bathroom. The elderly should pursue this line of work as an exercise to stave off Alzheimer’s.

With this intelligence my boss had obtained a warrant to confiscate Pokémon’s contraband. He’d surprise the vendor by rolling in with a raid team of off-duty cops and fire fighters. But first, they needed confirmation that the goods remained on-site. Enter me.

By 11:00 a.m. on a Saturday, almost every square foot of Canal
Street, including parts of the road, is occupied by merchandise. Items spill out of stores onto the sidewalk: card tables whose legs splay under the weight of backpacks and wallets, buckets that brim with baby turtles crawling to the top of a mound of themselves. Food carts sell dumplings and noodles curbside. Women wheel jerry-rigged carts stacked with pirated DVDs. Adolescent boys hawk water and soda from coolers on wheelbarrows. Be careful not to trip over one of the dozen or so varieties of motorized toy that flip, flop, slither, and writhe through the squares of municipal concrete just beyond the cash registers that could make them your own.
hand of the market? If Adam Smith could wander modern Chinatown, he’d have seen it plain as day. And people call the Chinese communists.

BOOK: I Totally Meant to Do That
3.15Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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