tales of a girl in the city

juin 16, 2005

Not-Pretty Women

Yesterday I was shopping for work clothes. This means that I didn't want to spend a lot of money.

Why did I not want to spend a lot of money?

Because work clothes are not fun, and therefore not worthy of frivolous spending.

For example, at no point in my life, when I am sad or in need of something to do, will I ever go over to my closet, pick out my best "work outfit" and traipse around my apartment in it, imagining the faxes I will someday send.

I do not see a blouse and think, "That is the blouse I want to have on tomorrow when I turn on my computer."

Perhaps this makes me odd.

I'm not sure.

I'll have to talk to Lenny about it later.

In any case, yesterday I headed to the Upper Westside to shop for work clothes, thinking that what I was after were some inexpensive basic items that I could mix and match every day.

On my way there, as a punishment for thinking the words "mix and match," I made myself mentally summarize the argument of an essay I wrote in college in which I deconstructed Toni Morrison's novel Jazz using the semiotic principals presented in Roland Barthes's S/Z.

Then I tried to think of all the words to "We Didn't Start the Fire."

Upon my arrival at 72nd street, I walked over to Amsterdam and stopped at the first of the usual stops: Olive and Bette's. I have, admittedly, never bought anything at this store. I find it to be a not particularly well-organized chain of boutiques with merchandise that is, for the most part, uninspired.

But, you never know.

At this point, I'm open-minded.

I begin to browse, thinking: Lebanon, Charles de Gaulle, California baseball, something-something, homicide, children of thalidomide...

Then up comes a sales girl.


The way she says it, I can hear the exclamation point.

"What! are! you! looking! for! today!?"

"I'm just browsing really," I tell her with a smile. Then, I'm mentally back to my favorite verse, the one with the "B-b-bah Buddy Holly, Ben Hur" beginning. Love all those "B's."

"There's! nothing! I! can! help! you! find!?'

I sigh. "Work clothes," I offer, hoping she will leave me alone.

Instead, she brightens, and I realize my mistake; I have given her a purpose.

She trots over to a skirt.

"What! do! you! think! of! this!?"

I half expect her to finish with a one-handed cartwheel.

"It's nice," I say, thinking that it isn't. It is tie-dye looking and rather billowy. It's not right for work--unless my job were selling organic butter in a park somewhere. Never mind that she didn't even ask me what I do.

"Want! to! try! it!?"

I finger the tag just to be nice, and can't stop myself when I see how much it costs, "Not for three-hundred and forty dollars." I can hear my mother and grandma gasping into my ears, "Goodness gracious! It's not even lined."

Suddenly, the sales girl ceases to be my perky best friend. She is now the new Homecoming Queen, and I am a Nerd Girl Sound Technician who just ruined her victory slow-dance by accidentally playing Baby Got Back instead of Lady In Red.

"Oh," she sniffs haughtily and the exclamation marks fall from her voice, "Well, let me know if I know."

Then she goes back behind the counter, I assume, to have an urgent conversation with the other sales girls about which of the new line of summer accessories most screams "Fun in the Sun!"

As she returns, I hear one of her companions ask, "What was she looking for?"

(I hear her ask this because I am standing only FIVE FEET AWAY.)

The Homecoming Queen Sales Girl looks at me over her shoulder, then back at her friend. "We don't have anything in her price-point," she says.

Now the other girl peers around Homecoming to look at my jeans. Queenie follows her gaze, and the two of them exchange a "knowing" look: Old Navy. $24.99. Poor.


At this point, it is hard for me to remember that I am actually wearing jeans, and not--as the situation would suggest--a white and blue midriff-baring cutout dress that barely covers the thigh-high patent leather HOOKER boots I've had on since last night when RICHARD GERE PICKED ME UP AND TOOK ME TO THE REGENT BEVERLY WILSHIRE.

I stand there dumbfounded....