Last week my son turned 25. This prompted an uninspired shopping expedition which these days consists of a whirlwind tour in and out of various Soho 'label' stores, me getting a crash course in trendy fashion, the mid-20's consumer culture, a hands-on introduction to several moderate luxury items I've browsed online. I'm always hopeful that by some miracle of fate and season there will be a single pair of leather boots or J Brand jeans or that Montcler jacket at 95 percent discount-- an irregular, a close-out, a mid-season return. The reality is we both generally end up hungry, exhausted and humbled-- as though we've been allowed the briefest glimpse of paradise but no entry.
My French god-daughter and I once went on a day-long spree during which she tried on every dress, coat, ensemble, boot--- up and down Madison… twirling and deliberating, strutting like a princess, and ended up happily eating $1 hotdogs in our thrift shop jeans and leather.
My son doesn't have that gene. He has sophistication mixed with ghetto values that want to own these things. An iphone 6 on an entry-level salary doesn't phase him. His college loan debt does not bother him. His closet of discarded label-clothing is no argument. Debt is his back-door man. My lectures and principles are tap-water through the platinum sieve of his fancy. The better man in him knows these material things are transitory. But so is life. My brain is my largest asset; his future wallet is his. This year he hates John Varvatos. I view that as progress.
I've had the same gynecologist since I was a college freshman. We have developed this rapport now--- he has seen me through the important phases of womanhood and sexuality. I've been a loyal patient. He generally is non-invasive and non-judgmental-- asks little. But as he approaches retirement, he has begun this tradition that we go into his little office and we talk-- no longer about sex and childbirth and clinical things--- but about life, the books we've read-- the death of the New York intellectual, why plastic surgery is perceived by a patient's friends as a disappointment-- etc. He likes me. I have a brain, he says, with an irony that tells me he doesn't often encounter this in his young patients. It is irrelevant that I haven't had the kind of economic success he'd predicted for the precocious Princeton girl with the long legs and enormous vocabulary. I had 'married' my career priority and surprised myself by my own eccentric ability to manage the city on a starving artist's income. We have this professional intimacy and I trust him; he values me as a patient and I generally see him every year around my son's birthday-- Election Day-- marathon week. It's a ritual I will miss when he finally throws in his speculum.
As I leave his office, I am vaguely consoled that there is no real emotional hangover from my failure to dazzle my son with a gift. He deserves to be dazzled-- but is approaching the age when he will indulge himself rather than take the proverbial food from his mother's plate. Besides, I gave him my iPad. It was an extravagant gift from a super-rich lawyer to acknowledge the volunteer work I do. I confess I've never used it. It's not a brand new one, but he liked it. It's a pretty good present, with another year of Applecare still on the books.
I walked to and from the doctor's office; the weather was mild and I saved the $5 metro-fare. Coming through the park, I was thinking over our discussion about the subjectivity of sexuality, and I stepped on a $20. $20. In my pathetic world, this is life-changing. Maybe in some households on the other side of the world-- -even the other side of town, this is also a windfall. But in the Soho Bloomingdales, this was a useless bill. I'd browsed $400 shirts, $600 lace-up boots, a really nice jacket for $2,600, and $500 jeans. Everything seemed just so sad to me…there were a couple of young men in there buying-- some overdressed mothers indulging their sons… and 2 pairs of rap-star posers with every single symbol of fashion status including designer tattoos… commentating and handling the scarves and belts. It's not about the quality, my son explained, who had generally worn the Century 21 belts and Syms parkas with sportsmanship and style-- it's the fit. A similar observation had been made in my gynecologist's office, which elicited a subdued chuckle from the wise doctor who had authored, in the 1970's, a cutting edge book called 'Healthy Sex'.
Outside Bloomingdales, after our fill of Soho labels and the kid-in-the-candy-store thing, 2 of the girls we'd seen inside were trying on handcuffs and being shown into a patrol car. One size fits all, I remarked. My son gave me that look-- -after all, I'd bailed him out a few times during teenage years. The amazing thing was, he'd only stolen things he didn't really want-- like they were for someone else… some kind of warped pride in that. Besides, he always had those rich girlfriends who shopped for him at the Prada and Armani store. But even that got tired.
My friend has a high-end art gallery. Last week she hired an outside consultant for an in-house gallery retreat which was a 4-hour meeting during which the consultant told her the place was dysfunctional and she failed to communicate and acknowledge her employees. They were too disheartened by her attitude to fight for their opinions. For this advice she paid $12,000. I gave her the identical analysis 2 weeks ago on the phone, for nothing. But without a price tag it was useless. Consumo ergo sum.
I still refuse to give in. With my $20 I bought some groceries, 2 great books at a thrift shop, a fantastic vintage ceramic tile as a new-baby present, a lotto ticket, a homeless guy's hotdog and coke, and I tipped my local Starbucks barista $5. He gives me great coffee every day and charges me for a refill which is free. $20 would not get my son through half a day. When I die my greatest asset will go with me. No, at this moment I can't afford to fix my teeth or have my bass re-fretted; I can't afford my son's shoes or a new iPad. I still have no cellphone. But I will get what I need, as will my son. He may even get what he wants, which is not necessarily what he needs, as my gynecologist and I know, and which he will learn when he really needs to know this-- when he finds a Moncler jacket or a diamond Rolex lying in his path and he decides to leave it there for the next guy.