Tuesday, November 25, 2008

I'd rather wear Obi-Wan Kenobi, fer shure.

In all the time I've lived in New York, I can't recall a single incident of being cornered by an aggressive salesperson. If anything, I've encountered the exact opposite: snooty fashionistas who won't talk to customers who don't look a certain way, or waitpersons exercising their trade with such laissez-faire, devil-may-care panache that all fruitless efforts to get a check at the end of the meal result in me filching a menu off a random table and leaving a best-guess, tipless (which goes against everything I stand for) collection of cash underneath the container of sweeteners. (And I'm not impatient; I've done this after 45 minutes to an hour of chasing down the check. Not unreasonable.)

So maybe it's the hyperventilating economy, or maybe retail folks are just getting acclimated to the onset of the shopping season, but I was walloped twice while shopping in the past couple weeks. Here are two examples of What Not to Do to a customer when you're trying to sell them something:


There is a plus-size boutique in my old neighborhood in Brooklyn that has, hands down, saved my style-challenged sanity. It started off being for women sizes 14-24, but the owner, noticing that most boutiques in the city now stop at the wee size 8, expanded her inventory to carry sizes 10-24 to give the forgotten 10 and 12 women a place to shop. (How dare they have perfectly normal bodies?!? Good heavens!) Anyway, I found the store last year, and I have an excellent experience every time I go. The clothes are high-end, fit beautifully, and are stylish in a way that most plus-size stores never even consider. It goes beyond shrouding us in ponchos. I've found the best-fitting jeans I've ever worn in my whole life. I've bought sweaters that take a spin on the normal winter pullover and funk it up. I've walked out of there with the most flattering dresses I own. The owner has tracked down the most innovative, smart designers and finally given those of us who have been festering in Lane Bryant hell a destination we can feel grateful for. Thanksgiving, indeed.

The major perk of the whole experience of going there — besides finding beautiful clothes — is the owner. She's effusive and intelligent and creative and honest and makes you feel at home. She will tell you what works on you and what doesn't, and she's turned her store into a mini-empire, getting television exposure, hosting trunk shows, and organizing a Fashion Week every year, doing what she can to bring plus-size fashion into the mainstream and proving that we're looking for gorgeous, well-made clothes and don't want to just be covered up. She's gotten the word out and works her ass off. And she's hired a staff of lovely, informed women. Soup to nuts, it's a dream shopping there. It isn't cheap, but it's worth every penny. Every single item I've bought there I've worn to death and not a single piece is frayed, muted, thinned, or dated. I always walk out of there happy.

So when I looked in my closet and realized I didn't have a dress that I had any desire to wear to my friend Carol's evening bridal shower, I rolled my tired head out of bed one day and headed over to the boutique. I've had an unbelievably busy last couple weeks and didn't have a lot of time to shop, and I was so busy running errands that morning that I ended up walking into the store with my hair in a haphazard ponytail, wearing my ginormous jeans and a sweatshirt of undefined color that I've owned since my freshman year of college. Now, I'm a firm believer in showering before shopping; when you know you're going to try on someone else's clothes, you better be clean, dammit. But really, that day? Yeah, it didn't happen. I looked like a foot. The plan was, I was going to take a quick sweep through the store and be in and out in a half hour, and hopefully not stink up the joint too badly.

But that didn't happen. Actually, the exact opposite happened.

Because there was a trunk show. With cameras. And a designer with boundary issues. And I got hijacked.

Here's how it went:

I went in and started browsing. Josh parked the car and met me there. The women who work there know us, they love Josh because he helps me pick out a lot of my stuff, don't ask, I hate shopping, he loves shopping, so we were warmly welcomed the way we always are, and I went about my business and tried to avoid the cameras. The designer whose show it was works mainly in business attire, which wasn't what I was looking for, but I browsed through her rack (dirty!) to be polite. I mean, she was sitting right there. I picked out a shirt that looked promising, and then the shop owner graciously asked me if I'd try on one of the designer's dresses and sort of "model" it for them and let the camera guys take a few pictures of me for the Web site. OK, fine, I had some other stuff to try on anyway, including a cocktail dress that looked festive enough for Carol's party. So what if I wouldn't be out of there in a half hour. So what if I looked like I just came home from a camping trip.

I picked out a dress to model from the designer's rack (dirty again!) and went into my fitting room.

Three minutes later, the designer burst into my fitting room — praise all that is holy that I was dressed — and shouted, "Let's see what's going on in here! How's it fitting?!? Let me fix your bra!" She pulls me out of the fitting room, and this happened:

DESIGNER: Did you try the belt? The belt would look great on you!
DESIGNER'S ASSISTANT: Have you heard of the obi? It's an obi! We wrap it around you and it's a belt! An obi!
DESIGNER: You have to try the obi! GET HER AN OBI!
ME: Um, uh, I don't really wear belts. I carry my weight right —
DESIGNER'S ASSISTANT: Oh, but it's an obi! You can move it up! Or down!
ME: But I really don't like ... It just doesn't fit r—
DESIGNER: Don't worry! Here, let me tie this around you!
ME: Uh [being spun around] ... uh, OK ...
DESIGNER: Someone fix her hair! Make a higher ponytail!
ME: [being spun around, someone pulls out my hair band and raises my ponytail]
DESIGNER'S ASSISTANT: Red lipstick! Here [hands me a lipstick], put this on. It'll look great!

So there I am in the middle of the store, being videotaped, and one person is doing my hair, the designer is wrapping the freakin' obi around my waist and moving it up and down and up and down, the assistant is coaching my lipstick application (granted, it was a great color), the owner hands me a cute pair of shoes, and then the assistant throws around my head a necklace that, admittedly, I was completely in love with. And the next thing I know, I'm posing for the cameras, with Josh, with the store owner, smiling my unwashed face, totally unprepared.

I really wish I'd showered. It would have been so much more fun if I'd showered. Objectively, it was fun: It's fun to be dolled up and photographed and told how great you look, but it's not so fun when a) you reek, and b) you've just been groped by an overzealous stranger.

The good news is, I found the perfect dress, of course, as well as two sweaters I never want to take off. The owner, as always, was fabulous, because even though she had a designer in the store and kept the attention on her, she helped me leaf through the other clothes — not necessarily the designer's — to find what I was looking for. But I have to say, shopping when a designer is in attendance, then modeling her wares for her, makes it really uncomfortable when you have no intention of buying her clothes. I felt obligated to take something of hers, but I just couldn't afford it and, flat-out, it wasn't what I was looking for. The dress I modeled was cute, but it wasn't me. A giant ruffle was involved, and I just can't participate in activities involving a giant ruffle. I felt like I was cheating on her by buying another designer's dress, and what made it all the more awkward was that I thought she was obnoxious, so it just turned me off to her clothes. The second she walked into my fitting room and grabbed my bra strap, she lost me. I'm not prude by any stretch, but woman, what the hell is your name again? And please get off of me? I'm all for boisterous, but the second she crossed that boundary into my personal space, she lost my sale. And she was objectively entertaining and her clothes were really nice, and the store owner had a lovely rapport with her, so it seemed like a successful event, but, bottom line, don't walk into my dressing room and then belt me where I don't feel comfortable being belted. It's just pushy, presumptuous salesmanship and it was bloody annoying. Dude, it's not even your store. If the owner has ever come into my fitting room with me, she's always asked first. You know, common decency and all that.

On my way out, they took some pictures of me with my shopping bag and interviewed me about my experience there. And I was so wiped out and, again, unprepared, that all the eloquent thoughts I normally have about shopping in that store and how thankful I am for its existence took leave of my brain and I became Spicoli, all, "It's totally awesome!" I froze, and then left, feeling like a twit. A twit with a really high ponytail and fuck-me red lips.

I will go back again and again and again throughout the duration of my rotundity, but should I ever feel compelled to head over there during a trunk sale, I will do my research and make sure I like the stuff they're selling. And I'll bathe. Maybe the whole encounter would have been different if my hair didn't look like a monkey.


This past weekend was my sister Lauren's bridal shower and bachelorette party in Detroit. Both were great fun — the party landed us in a Filipino karaoke bar in Clawson, Michigan, so there's that. I've been sprinting the length of Manhattan these past few days, getting clothes altered, running tedious errands, and making sure I had everything for Lauren's various parties as well as for a trip to Curaçao that Josh and I are taking next week. I KNOW. Anyway, last Tuesday I wandered into a $5 accessories shop to find bedazzlement for the dress I wore to Lauren's shower.

The store owner can be best described as The Narrator. She stood behind the cash register — the register as lectern, perhaps? — and commented on every single item I showed even the smallest dash of interest in. (And yes, I ended a sentence with a preposition. I'm tired. I'm going to Curaçao in ten days. I cannot be expected to perform.)

Me: [picking up a bracelet]
Her: Oh, that's very cute. We also have it in white and silver. Or pink!
Me: [putting the bracelet down; picking up a necklace, noticing that it's ugly, as it's made of buttons]
Her: That necklace is made of buttons!
Me: [putting away heinous button necklace, picking up a long silver chain]
Her: That's a silver chain. You can layer it with another long necklace and they'll look really cute!
Me: [heading to rear of the store, hopefully out of eyeshot of the woman; standing in front of basket teeming with plastic bracelets]
Her: Those bracelets are $1! They're really cute!
Me: [going back to silver chain, then taking it to the register]
Her: This is great! You can layer it with another necklace! [starts to methodically arrange the necklace onto a piece of tissue paper]
Me: Please. I can just throw it in my bag. Please don't wrap it.
Her: Well, we'll just take care of that then! [pushes it toward me]
Me: [drops a $5 bill on the tissue paper, leaves store, wants to cry]

For the rest of the night, the words That necklace is made of buttons! galloped through my brain. Buttons buttons buttons ...

When I was in high school and college, I worked a lot of retail. Folding sweaters at The Express in the mall during Christmas break, taking inventory of an overstocked children's store with an ornery coworker ... What I learned is that it's not that hard to find the grey area between showing interest in a customer and sitting in their lap. For two years, I worked in a women's clothing store where pretty much all I did was water plants and repeatedly rearrange jewelry in a display case while making sure the customers didn't steal the containers of shoulder pads. You approach a customer when they walk into the store, and if the store is small, you back the hell away until they ask for your help. You don't touch them unless they ask you to help them with an outfit. Depending on their cues, you can join in on their conversations. But there is no need to storm into their dressing room, and there is absolutely no need to point out the buttons. DO NOT POINT OUT THE BUTTONS.

No buttons.

Did I mention I'm going to Curaçao?

Also, I'm watching TV right now: How does Linda Evangelista still look like that?

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Sunday, November 02, 2008

FYI: My favorite color is purple.

Tonight I was in the bathroom — OK, I was peeing — and Nora walked in, got all catlike around my legs, and sat down, watching me.

"Let's have a conversation," I said. "Tell me about you."

She stared.

"What's your favorite color?"

She kept staring. (And yes, I am aware I was having this conversation with a cat. I am that person. And I bet that if you've ever had a pet, any pet, you've been that person too. When I was in college, I discovered, based on a pattern of enthusiastic tail-wagging or lackluster or nonexistent tail-wagging, our beloved Bichon Frisé's favorite colors. He liked: purple, pink, yellow, and blue. He did not like: orange and brown. He could was neither here nor there on: green.)

"Tell me, NoraBanks, what's your favorite song?"

More staring.

"I'd like to know: Where's the most interesting place you've ever been?"

She blinked, got up, walked over to the bathtub, sat down, and looked at me again.

"The bathtub?"

When I said it, I realize I'd taken a whole "You love Chuck Bass?" judgmental Dan Humphrey tone. Nora looked a bit insulted, so she left. I would have been insulted too. Dan can be kind of a dick. And Blair really loves Chuck Bass. So.

And right there, I realized that my cat being in love with the bathtub and Blair Waldorf being in love with Chuck Bass and me being in love with Gossip Girl were all teaching me to not be judgmental of people for loving who and what they love. See? I was tying in a real-life lesson during the course of a pee based on both my feline and terrifically fictional television characters because I love my cat that much and felt bad that I might have insulted her even though she does not speak English but I really think she knows what I'm saying because she's brilliant. Right there, that's what love does to a person.

Anyway, I didn't say that very important real-life lesson was going to stick, because there are folks out there who inexplicably love magicians and mimes and, like, wicker and, you know, Crocs, and I can't help judging those people. But that leads me to another life lesson culled from something I love tremendously — the New York City marathon, which was today: It all takes baby steps.

Can you tell I had nothing to write about today? Coolness. Feel free to use the comments section for thoughts equally random.

Also: vote vote vote vote vote Obama vote vote vote vote vote. Vote. Vote on Tuesday. Vote.

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