One night last year after an unusually well attended show, I was approached by one of the It-girl clothing designers… I would never have known, but she left me her card, and I looked her up. ‘Come see me,’ she said, with a convincing handsqueeze. ‘I want to dress you. You must come.’ So on a Thursday afternoon I wandered by the shop which was cavernous and under-decorated and very sparsely ‘spersed’ with grey wool jumpers (it was fall), garments with perfectly executed asymmetric cuts, minimal vegan-dyed tops, jackets and coats that draped mannequins with grace and unique style. A modelish girl asked if I wanted help… then the designer herself--- the one who had kneeled at my feet in a dark club—gave me this quizzical look as though I was not only not ‘customer-esque’ but interfering with the ‘flow’ of the space… so I left.
That was the closest I came to ‘shopping’ since I’d taken the single-parent oath of self-abnegation so many years ago, when I was young enough to pull off the grungy thrift-shop thing. Outside on West 14th Street I had a skin-pricking moment as though I’d just been mugged.
So last week I did some enormously simple charitable favor for a woman who turned out to be gracious and rich and insisted on buying me some token of gratitude. Balenciaga? Coach? And when I startled, she said…Well, YOU pick it out, … I’d never get you…. And she gave me an ultimatum and a deadline… and began calling every day to remind and inquire…until…with that blues line going over and over in my head (I’ve got a mind to give up living… but I think I’ll go shopping instead)…the Peter Green version--- I went down to 34th Street--- maybe because one of my UES neighbors had just informed me that the absolute worst people in New York are in Herald Square. I had to see. And there was Macy’s. My Grandmother worked there- during World War II-- the beautiful one who died so young… and I thought I might invoke her ghost to find me a leather bag (It’s not in my personal ‘culture’ to actually try clothing on).
Downstairs where the clearance items were strewn around and the bags weren’t padlocked to the display, there was a motley crowd… Brazilian tourists piling things into a huge bag… cute bulgy Spanish girls buying things in pink, fat women from Queens holding bags up to the mirror with their heads tilted… a black winking transvestite whose opinion was to become crucial for me in the end…sales girls of all shapes and varieties… and even a coatcheck where the attendant discouraged me from leaving mine… behind which a man in an intern’s green shirt and no pants was lurking. I though I was hallucinating.
I could still distinguish leather from whatever… the smell, the vibe… and I managed, with the transvestite’s head shakes and nods, to acquire something he approved of. I completed the transaction feeling like Rip Van Winkle making his first payphone call.On the way back, I became sort of ‘high’ and chatty to my fellow N train passengers and realized I was acting like some kind of psychotic housewife—like I was trying to ‘feel’ normal. Back home I felt kind of Christmassy—and when my son came home he saw it and started laughing--- well, I said, I can put my laptop in it, and my books, and my gym clothes… It is kind of huge…
Twice now I’ve tried to put things in it and leave the house-- -and I can’t quite pull it off. Maybe I’m just warped and so used to this deprivation thing…but I feel sort of ridiculous. And it’s not pretentious-- -after all it was Macy’s and it was on sale and it’s just a piece of an old cow that died of natural causes, and now it has a home and doesn’t have to be poked and critiqued by fake interns with no pants and other perverts and shopaholics. But I wake up in the middle of the night and I’m nearly compulsively drawn to return the thing--- Still, I’m toughing it out. I’m keeping it. It’s burning a hole in my closet. Everything feels absurd.
Most of all, I keep thinking about my kids--- my son is difficult and moody these days. He is working and being a man and succeeding and ambitious--- but something is not there---something essential—something that loves even Herald Square. Sometimes I store up all of this stuff—like I need to tell him about my heart, and about how I feel… that life is going by so quickly--- and about 34th Street and seeing the fake snow and the Macy’s reindeer in the 1950’s and how he himself sat on Santa’s lap and didn’t really want anything in his 3 year old head and he was ‘trusting Santa to bring him a toy’…but we end up just shrugging at each other.
My niece is struggling too. Sometimes I want to tell her about a moment—when I was maybe 23 and high in a room with cool guitar players and someone was playing Pink Floyd or maybe even David Gilmour himself with that beautiful mouth was actually there in the room…playing for you… and everyone was in love but you just wanted to sit with your eyes half closed and your cigarette falling out of your hand and the smoke thick and sweet everywhere and the music perfect and your clothes are maybe on or maybe off and there was no future or past but only the perfect weightless present of all-possibility and your mind is perfect and the sex was perfect and you are just where you should always be…
But it’s Sunday and I will go for the few groceries I can afford, because I am, after all, a pumpkin and the leather bag unlike the glass slipper doesn’t fit, and even if I wore it to the designer’s store, she would still not associate this badly dressed woman with the music and the night and the margaritas and the way she needed to tell me something...the way she whispered…
Maybe I’ll just give the bag to my niece and she’ll politely take it and then leave it on a train where some homeless person will find it and use it to shoplift meat from the supermarket whistling the BB King song perfectly and they’ll look the cashier right in the eye as they hand over 82 cents for a can of cherry coke and leave with $170 of ribeye in the expensive leather satchel still whistling.