Ever been to one of those super high-end outdoor shopping malls? Boasting names like Williams-Sonoma, Louis Vuitton and Burberry. “Gaaaaawd,” I inwardly groaned (in that Napoleon Dynamite sort of way). It’s such a love-hate relationship. I end up feeling like such a hater when I leave those places.
I traveled at least 60 miles (and let’s be real, somewhat out of my comfort zone) to find a dress for a black-tie event. “Comfort zone BE DAMNED,” my acerbic brain unleashes….but then reality; self-doubt inevitably creeps in and my entire identity and value as a person somehow begins to correlate with whether or not I am able to “keep up” with the people at places like this. Because I like to mix me some judgmental with my irrational, I start to become angry at the upper class for having a different lifestyle than me. Needless to say, I wasn’t going to step one Mossimo-shod, “man-made materials” ballet flat into Henri Bendel or Kate Spade…not these babies; I was certain they’d smell I was not of old or new money and somehow inherently know that most of my shopping takes place in discount retail chains and Target.
I walked into Neiman Marcus and made a bee-line past the expensive dresses. The woman at Neiman’s, who introduced herself as “Sandy,” was a living doll: 5’2”, champagne blonde precision-cut bob and in black, head to toe. She had just a smidge (exponentially speaking) of filler in her lips along with steroidal-induced eyelashes.
She first steered me to some tight black numbers that had a bunch of layered draping…yoooou know the kind ladies. It’s supposed to “camouflage” one’s unflattering feature or attribute. Hmmmm, if that’s the case, my garment should be a goddamned Ghillie suit. I explained that after four children and having a new baby, there is no amount of expertly placed draping that will disguise my belly. I failed to mention that my new baby had just turned one, and that the ship housing the hope of losing the next twenty lbs. by “aggressively nursing” has long since sailed. She began to explain the miracle of Spanx (I can barely afford a dress, Sandy!) with these disguise panels (WTF Sandy, look at me!) I think. I continued to peruse the dresses, doing my best to pretend to not look at the price tags. I thoughtfully ran my hand over gown after gown. Anytime I touched something that was not synthetic, I inwardly winced and dreamed of a different me, with nothing but money to burn.
The adorable Sandy found me again by a gorgeous Tadashi Shoji dress that had a price tag of $610. WHAAAT? She told me how great this dress would be at disguising my midsection, with its floral applique masterfully placed under the bust line and zigzagging down to the middle of the gown. And besides, it was black. God I love black, a shroud like night, the cocoon of death, and the only color that may disguise the cronuts and pizza that form the inner tube that I now call my waist.
At last, I had to be honest about my budget. I told her the dress was over my budget. She smiled (I think it was genuine), “Okay,” (pause, head tilt, cute smile) “let’s be girlfriends; where else have you been today looking for dresses.” Girlfriends? Wow, I sort of liked this concept. For a minute, I thought of that scene in Pretty Woman where Julia Roberts has that fairy-tale moment somewhere in Beverly Hills. She is shopping on her “uncle’s” dime and the scenes are a collage of Cinderella-like moments. Vivian, as she was called, whisked out of her Rodeo Drive dressing room multiple times looking more ravishingly beautiful after each new outfit. I think of sugar daddies and pimps and wonder how I missed that boat. Then I remember I’m not a hooker; and sleeping with a man I’d never met (hmm, what’s he look like)…but taking money for it? You betcha. DAMN YOU MISSED OPPORTUNITY.
But alas Sandy is not going to save me from my financial ineptness or my mediocre figure. She is merely suggesting there are other department stores whose gems I may have yet to unearth. “Lord & Taylor,” I meekly admit. Goddammit. Isn’t Lord & Taylor the Dollar General of department store retail? Why do I even care? This girlfriend thing is like truth serum suddenly. She says that Lord & Taylor and Macy’s may be more feasible with all of their discounts and sales. For some reason, I trust Sandy. I do not feel mocked. I think she really wants to help me.
Sandy gently guides me to the sale rack (she must know I already browsed it, albeit with a feigned carelessness so as to not let her and her Neiman’s guests know my meager price point). She pulls two dresses (one, a size 6–ouch) and the other a silver, shimmery number that I tell her is too big and must be size 12. I’m very fashion-savvy, with my keen designer sense instantly knowing the size. “Size 8,” she says without an ounce of judgment. Shit. I keep screwing up. If it looked like a size 12 on the hanger, imagine what it’s going to look like when I squeeze my middle-aged, post-baby, cellulite-ish body into it. She shows me the price tag, $700 marked down to $220. We make eye contact. I inwardly give her an air-five.
Maybe I did it for Sandy. Maybe I did it for me. Maybe I did it because I was still secretly praying for my Pretty Woman moment (minus having to blow somebody). She brought some Spanx (her sing-song voice cooed, “even though you told me you didn’t want them”) into the dressing room and laid them over a tufted footstool. She also placed a water bottle on a small table next to a Victorian styled floral chair. (They do that here?). God I am so out of the loop. This dressing room is nicer than my bedroom. The lighting in the dressing room makes me look, well, nice….almost. I give myself a mental pep talk to don the gowns.
I slip on the Spanx (which I want now too, thanks very much Sandy). The size six won’t fully zip in the back but it has the potential to be a beautiful gown. I gently ditch it and slip on the “It look like it’s a size twelve.” The “It’s actually a size eight” silver number is too, well, silver. I have a golden/yellow undertone and prefer something a tinge warmer on my skin (like black). Gosh, now I feel a little guilty. There’s the water, the Spanx, our girlfriend status. Fuck…how am I going to not buy a dress from Sandy? She gets me. She’s not judging me. She said I’d look good with the camouflage draping.
There will be no future for us. I tell her the truth; the zipper won’t close and that cool silver tone just underscores my corpse-like glow….. It’s the damned serum again…I give Sandy the absolute truth. She has utterly disarmed me with her bob (I’m a sucker for them). “There’s always these websites for Rent-a-dress,” she says gingerly. Again, I am struck by her honesty and lack of judgment.
I know what this means. I’ll have to stay up all night on a vanity-driven, manic-like binge to find the one gown that is not only affordable (aka used) but also fills my yucky void. So…I find myself dress-less but optimistic. I steer clear of MAC, L’Occitane, and nearly every other store in my path to avoid the temptation of material things. I secretly loathe the women I see with multiple shopping bags in their beautifully manicured hands and at the same time, I want to be them. On the drive home, I work at being present. I feel a little lost, as though I’ve been an impostor for the last several hours.
As I get closer to my home the landscape turns more agrarian. Corn fields line the highway and farm houses and the occasional cell tower dot the horizon. Vampire Weekend’s “A Punk” is on Pandora and I feel light and giddy as I slam my hand on the steering wheel to the rhythmic vocals. I look down at the speedometer and realize I’m driving 90 mph. I press my brakes and the van shudders….”brakes,” I think, “I still need brakes.”
My mind tries to hold the simultaneous thoughts of buying brakes versus buying a dress and it fails. One will win…the brain will attempt to rationalize one of two conflicting beliefs or behaviors to compensate for the discomfort of trying to hold two contradicting thoughts at the same time… If I had a sugar daddy I could have brakes and a dress. I think of the savings jar on my mantel that houses the likes of $20 and think about how long it will take to save for my children’s college education, let alone brakes.
I pass a small cross that someone has nailed to a large tree on the side of the highway. It is small and it is white. I notice brightly colored fake flowers at the base of the tree as I fly past. Somebody that was loved died there. That is the accident site of someone who was loved and now is no longer here. Of course I think about my dead brother. I think about the things that I hold most dear: my children, my family, my mom and sister. I think about how grateful I am that I am not out driving looking for the tree where my loved one died so that I may nail a small cross to a tree and lay flowers at its trunk. I feel fortunate and lucky and tiny. Tiny, because I have been consumed by my overarching need to look good, which sometimes translates: “to feel good.”
I cannot understand how I can feel so deeply for this lost person and his/her family along with having been fixated on me: my dress and accouterments, my appearance, hell, even my brakes. Regina Spektor’s song, “Fidelity” plays and I start to sing about the voices in my head.
I become certain that there are people who think and feel this way; significant yet inconsequential, secure yet lost, both fortunate and needy….. I think maybe I just don’t know them….will never know the stream of consciousness that gallivants within their brains…I wish to somehow see through or within, to be able to both hear and see their beating hearts or any other form of humanity in its absolute frailty.
I pull into the garage and turn off the ignition. I find a nickel and one penny on the counsel as I look to grab my handbag. I wrap my fingers around them and walk into the house and I pad toward the fireplace. I pull the big antique glass jug toward me and drop the six cents hearing the metallic pings as they come to rest against the other coins. I feel like there are thousands just like me and yet I also feel alone. Cognitive dissonance again; I must connect. I must find my fellow brethren. And when I do, should I ask, “Are we all just haters?”