I accidentally bought a $400 pair of pants while high on Ambien in Dubai.

I’m staring at the four hundred dollar pair of pants I just bought, shocked and offended at their presence in my hotel room.

In my head, I tried to do the math, tried to find the exact origin point of these pants presence in my life. They’d snuck in, that much was certain. I didn’t wake up this morning thinking “what I really need is some exorbitantly expensive but otherwise unremarkable pants.” But the fact of the matter is that I didn’t wake up today at all.

I had been in dubai roughly three hours when the pants came into my life. I had wanted to get a belt. Flying into Dubai is psychedelic experience i’ve written about before, wherein the cocaine dream the city was built on suddenly seems remarkably obvious, and the absurdity of its existence is spelled out in five hundred foot tall letters for the world to see.


This was my fifth trip to the city, and there was absolutely nothing to say I hadn’t said in a hundred statuses and a million tweets. Dubai is the teenage hot topic goth of metropolises: it shows up to the party expecting you to make fun of it. It doesn’t care, it KNOWS it’s cool.

It’s a city with more cranes than sidewalks, where a futuristic public transportation system almost kind of works. It’s everything people say it is. It’s a big shiny belly button piercing on the navel of the middle east, concealed by a long hijab.

Or sometimes not.

But due to some tactical errors in pharmacology, I had taken an ambien way too late until my flight. When I was awoken for landing, I was still in a stupor, unable to process why I was on an airplane, where I’d come from and where I was going. For reasons undoubtedly deeply subconscious and tragic, I had become convinced I was going to meet “my girlfriend” whose name escaped me entirely; my images of her were glimmery and confused, and I had to play off asking the stewardess where the plane was landing by saying “is it nice this time of year?” three times until she clarified what place I was talking about.

The amount of Captain America shirts in the airport alone was suffocating. The ride to the hotel was as fraught with near collisions and road rage as it is every year. Whatever profundities for profauxndities could be made about Dubai had been made, and I was deliriously happy to be back.

Notably though, the delirium and happiness were utterly separate states, the ambien still lingering. I asked the drive if he knew how to “romv.”

I don’t know what “romv” is.

But I needed a belt.

I’m staying at the Sofitel next to the burj this year. The burj, which is familiar to most people as Tom Cruise’s abusive boyfriend from Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, and in person, is only impressive from far away or right up next to it. At its base is the massive Dubai Mall, one of five or so such megabehemoths, conveniently linked by skyway to my hotel, a long but pleasantly air-conditioned walk in a glass tunnel over construction site after construction site, and finally through a delightful rainbow section into the mall itself.

Like all the malls in Dubai, the main weapon the Mal has at its disposal is shock and awe. You repeatedly enter vast atriums the size of hockey rinks where you can gaze down all five levels, crisscrossed by bridges and every single type of store with every single type of product imaginable.

Water porn is everywhere in Dubai, and the malls are no exception. It’s the bikini of the city: everything has a pool, or a waterfall, or some such aquafetishized component. No lie, a store that sells jeans shows people in jeans dipping their denim clad legs in a pool. The water porn is strong.

The effect of the mall is two fold: firstly, you suddenly want a bazillion things, and secondly, by hitting this breaking point, you enter a state of consumerist nirvana wherein you no longer want anything at all.

The idea of buying a belt here seemed ridiculous: surely I needed ten belts, or a hundred belts, or what was the point of having one belt at all? That was the instant mental state achieved: either I never wanted to own a belt again, or I wanted to simultaneously own every belt to ever have existed.

Having a single new belt felt unambitious, puny and ridiculous.

Snap out of it, I thought. Snap out of it. You can buy a belt, but maybe let’s also buy pants okay these pants okay done wait where did I buy these pants? I was walking out of the mall, holding an unmarked white bag with a belt and a pair of four hundred dollar pants in it.

I could not for the life of me remember the name of the store I’d bought them in, and I could not even really remember the act of buying them beyond raising my eyebrows at the four hundred dollar price tag and muttering “that seems like an awful lot for these pants” before paying and immediately leaving from the store.

I felt weirdly tricked: I hadn’t wanted pants, much less $400 pants that looked and felt like any normal slim fit from Topman. These pants had been hypnotized into my life.

I had been hijacked. Dubai had played a game on me I’d long ago dismissed myself as being impervious to via my endless cynicism. I had become something I rarely am in America. I had become a shopper.

Tomorrow, I embark on an epic middle eastern quest, not unlike Indiana Jones. But unlike Jones, I do not intend to retrieve an artifact: I hope to return one.

These traitor thief pants are going back the shelf.