I have something to confess. In this economy, I went shopping.
Taking the four-fold from the inside pocket of my wallet, I slid a Franklin note across the store’s mirrored sales case. The difference in tax I paid with plastic.
My exiled AMEX I took back into the light.
The money in hand belonged to my primary investor. My three-year-old. In a curved path from his Christmas stocking to my wallet, the money from grandma and grandpa destined for the bank, took a switchback in January. Voting in absentia he made me a loan. The absent baby bought his mother a gift. Not just any gift, mind you, ‘Jo Malone.’ Orange Blossom Parfum, a nosegay drift of youth I’d have for years. My penniless years.
I could not take one news report more, or, even my own fever pitch whining, the handwringing about the blasted economy’s ‘un-recovery’ recovery. On impulse, using my dingy tees as excuse to get out the door, I checked my watch and hit the freeway. Nordstrom’s. A couple of hours there before car pool strummed would return me energized as my imagined bad girl. A ‘who cares anyway I deserve it’ wonder girl with a sometime snarky attitude, who vies with ‘well, at least I look good.’ Besides, I told my inner ‘Snarkster,’ except for the one white tee, I only wanted to touch the nice clothes.
Getting to the store, circling the groomed lot – I saw a good sign. A spot near valet parking had just opened up. Taking it as a nod from the universe, I parked my car, grabbed my vintage bag, and stepped up the pace. Inside the name brand garden sanctuary, I took an escalator, up. The shoes, I passed as too easy, a no-way torment. Leave them for another day, I thought. The second floor I could justify, if vaguely.
It did not take long. There, a stacked table of silvered faux croc skinny jeans called me over for a fast consult. I could no longer see the tees for the forest swamp of teeth in front of me. Caving in, I picked up a pair of sprayed on lizard-look slacks, thinking, ‘oh, what would it hurt, I’ll just try them on for a laugh.’
Before I could toss the catch back in a recant, a clothing whisperer stepped in and offered to ‘start a room for me.’ A critical moment, this, I knew the language. However, I stopped and deferred, said something from my overthumbed ‘today’s modern zombie shopper rote text’ about not wanting to spend much. Nodding, she said, “I get you. Right this way.”
A long time between ‘gets’ and my actually getting something besides groceries and gas, so retail weakened had I become in the new economy, I did not resist. Lingering, no doubt I sent desperado pheromones her way. Still, I told myself it was research. I wouldn’t actually ‘buy’ anything. I’d be strong. Failing that, it would help the economy. My congratulations would be a tight fit, a mixed one, in the mail my bill. I would not think of that for now.
Nubile women like Kim, my sales associate, are on a mission. Empowered to help the battered, meek – the un-wary — they take you by the hand, putting a bottle of chilled water in it, thread you machete style through land mines of violence – dressing, resistance. My girl was no different. She took me under her wing, to her ‘shop’ within a shop, to the ‘Young and Still Peppy,’ then over to ‘Vince’s’” place. The next hot young thing of ‘in,’ she said. “Vince’s tees?” “Who’s I said?” “Wang? James Perse? His slogan, ‘tees for the bootcut red dirt girl.’”
From public to private arenas, I trailed my expert friend.
At a hidden panel we stopped, she knocked twice. A secret door to a room with other doors, other rooms opened. All rooms with soft focus up-lighting, angles mirrored in multiple locations, upholstered chairs, yonder pedestal for the Alterations lady –- call buttons, private registers -– art — and a gentle beat.
Waiting between try-ons for Kim, I surveyed from the doorway to the public zone. The world had changed. Department stores had become boutique hotels with live bands and follow-up thank yous on Crane stationary and secondary ‘e-notes,’ “Thought of you when I saw this,” they would read. I would anticipate them later.
Today, long flowing calico prairie dresses, halter-tops and handkerchief hems hung everywhere. Exposes of zippers cut into curly lamb, ruched leather in the ‘Prelude to Fall’ department. Animals who had ‘traded’ freedom for security. We would know exactly where they would be for posterity –- skinned. On someone else’s back. I held my breath.
I thought of Kim. She, like me, did not mind spending my child’s inheritance. “A good baby would want his mom to smell good, wouldn’t he? He’s a good baby isn’t he? He’d want his Mom to be happy, right?” Of course, I nodded. Spirit lifted, I skipped through my trust issues with new people and bonded with Kim. In my tiny upholstered room, the land of Tees came to me.
Tees, jeans and skirts, arms loaded, my sales help, Kim returned, “That one shows your cleavage, you definitely should get it. Our most popular style, could have sold hundreds of them,” she said. “Anything with any color?” I asked. She said, “Oh, that.” Then she said, “I’ll be back.” Five minutes later, she was awash. Blush, khaki, grey and sage. “These,” pausing, “are the new color-neutrals.”
Never having had my colors ‘done,’ been an artist for 45 years, I felt I knew what a color was. This was not the case with Kim. Kim knew better. Finger to her lips, she silenced my protests, “mutes are in the forecast.”
I tried on more clothes, then, the share of shares she shared. Poor thing, Kim. She talked about how stressed-out she was with her new boyfriend. Whom else did ‘shop girl’ have to turn to but to me? No one. Serendipity was speaking. Until. Seconds later, I saw her in action four doors down. ‘My girl,’ doing a hair-flipping double dog she-dandy down the hall, was working the room. A fitting room of oversized soundproof baffles I heard it all. A maze of divides without zip codes, where each space held a part of Kim’s story. Listening, I waited for her to pull a pair of what she described, hands on hips, eyes-skyward — as ‘my dream jeans,’ the snippets came from the beyond. “That’s the one C.. Fabulous. Jen, come over here and see what a fashion icon looks like. That Missoni dress is so you. Amazing. What tummy? Didn’t even notice it, it’s not bad at all. Empire waists are very hip now. And, that length is the latest. Blogs say, if the Japanese are still wearing long dresses this Spring, word on the street says, it means the trend will continue through next year.”
Kim’s vision of me, I liked best. That, and, she knew how to knock. “Hi, me again. It’s me, M.R..” (Down to my skivvies, my name a nickname between girlfriends, I could tell we were sealing a deal.) Jumping to a new ‘friend’ tier when, buttoning the jeans, I told Kim, “I like your look.’ “Just a mermaid skirt. There’s one just like mine in ‘Savvy.’ I’ll go grab it. Steal my look. No problema.” (I wondered if I could manage on the job credibility in head tosses with the coordinated feathered headband she suggested and not knock myself out to the floor?)
Two pairs of Mother-jeans, four shirts and two dresses later, we called Annie from the old country of Alterations. She pinched me here and there. “Hems, regular? Or, deluxe?” she said. She and I, our love untapped. I told her deluxe, then handed my AMEX over to Kim. Like bacon to a dog. Gone.
My dear Mr. President, senators, congressional members, chief of staff, store managers, just one word of advice. Kim — call Kim, you can do no better. Kim has the answers.
Ask not what your country can do for you; ask, what you can do for yourself, for your country.
Call Kim. (c) M.K. Smyth 2012