Friday, February 22, 2013

working girls

 THE working girls in the morning are going to work--
     long lines of them afoot amid the downtown stores
     and factories, thousands with little brick-shaped
     lunches wrapped in newspapers under their arms.
Each morning as I move through this river of young-
     woman life I feel a wonder about where it is all
     going, so many with a peach bloom of young years
     on them and laughter of red lips and memories in
     their eyes of dances the night before and plays and
Green and gray streams run side by side in a river and
     so here are always the others, those who have been
     over the way, the women who know each one the
     end of life's gamble for her, the meaning and the
     clew, the how and the why of the dances and the
     arms that passed around their waists and the fingers
     that played in their hair.
Faces go by written over: "I know it all, I know where
the bloom and the laughter go and I have memories,"
     and the feet of these move slower and they
     have wisdom where the others have beauty.
So the green and the gray move in the early morning
     on the downtown streets.

 --"Working Girls," Carl Sandburg.

I ride the subway with pretty girls, with sleek ponytails and high boots and red pea coats, so many beautiful girls in one subway car -- the odds shouldn't be this good to have this much bloom of youth in one contained space, one moment, one 7:05 train hurtling towards the city. They have, to steal from Mr. Sandburg, a peach bloom of young years on them, a certain undeniable blush. They always have pea coats. They always wear boots. They always have long hair, pretty hair, down to their waist or past their shoulders. They're going to work at ad agencies and magazines and real estate offices, going to write or answer phones or fill out spreadsheets, and at night I imagine they go out and dance or laugh or order tall glasses of wine, and I hear them talk to each other on the subway as if in a different language. I'm curious, I admit, and I steal glances to those standing or sitting around me -- admiring the earrings, the silken scarf, the cream-colored coat.

 It reminds me so much of Sandburg's Working Girls, except as I move with them, balance the train car's shuttling movement and pour off the train with them, wait next to them on the street, I know we're going to the same place, but I can't help but feel I'm part of the gray stream, not the green, and I wonder when I ever was part of the green, and if I ever could be again.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

in which nicki snaps herself out of it and realizes she is absolutely ridiculous and incredibly whiny; also, muppets.

Yesterday was one of Those Days.

You know Those Days. The 90-minute-commute days. The disabled-train-in-front-of-us days. The grate-your-knuckle-off-with-a-microplane days. The your key suddenly, randomly, and cruelly decides that it will refuse to open your front door the way it has six hundred times before, forcing you to trudge through 2 feet of snow all the way around the back of the house IN FLATS kind of day.

I stood sullenly in the kitchen, grating ginger so hard I shook the entire counter. I hated the snow. I hated the commute. I hated that I had to cook. I hated that it was already 8:00 and I hadn't finished dinner yet. I hated that I got up at 5:30 and would do so again tomorrow. I hated this week. I hated the impending move. I hated a lot of things. But mostly, I think, I hated that tomorrow would be my birthday, and I was spending it alone.

So childish, yes? A birthday is a day like any other day. Another year gone by. I'd celebrate later. Set my sights on a play in New York that's opening in March; figured we'd make a weekend out of it, eat our way through Manhattan. Derrick's on nights for the rest of the month, and we live in opposite schedules, passing like ships in the night: he's heading home just as I get to work; by the time I get home, his shift has just started. When it's done, there'll be plenty of time to celebrate. And again, it doesn't really matter. Just a day. Like any other.

After I grated my knuckle bloody I realized I was doing it all wrong. Like Walter says: Don't you remember? You guys are the Muppets! You do this to music! And it turns out Walter was right: a strong song on the radio was all I needed--though the strong drink in my hand didn't hurt, either. I pulled myself together. Snapped myself out of it. After all, I had a birthday bottle of champagne and a marbled ribeye in the fridge, didn't I? Who says I had to have someone else with me to celebrate?

So today, yes, today I'm going to stand on the train with strangers and spend my day in the office computer training, yes, but I'm also going to have a damn party. A me party, to reference the Muppets again (and let's face it, it wouldn't be a Nicki birthday without the Muppets). Because eating alone, drinking alone doesn't have to be sad. It can be joyous. It can be empowering. And it can be a little bit liberating. Especially if the thought of a frosted glass of bubbly is the thing pulling you through a cold, dripping, puddle-filled workday.

And doubly especially if you have plans for an champagne-filled after-work Muppet Show marathon. There will be pajamas. There will be fuzzy slippers. There will be many, many bad puns. And there ain't gonna be no one around to judge me for it.

Monday, February 4, 2013

underdressed and overexposed; or, learning to shop like a big girl

I am not a Shopper. I do not understand Shoppers. I do not understand why anyone would willingly spend a day in the mall for fun. Malls are not fun. Malls are zoos. Malls are like the Sahara. I have seen women maul other women. It is a lion-eat-lion world, and I am not predatory enough to thrive. I am the lion who hides in her cave with a copy of The Great Gatsby. I am the nerd-lion. Shopgirls sense this and ask me if I am lost. Am I perhaps looking for the bookstore or the coffeeshop? Yes, I reply, gratefully, and they helpfully direct me back to my own kind. I take comfort in my espresso and The Catcher in the Rye. So what if I was here for a new pair of boots? So what if mine have the heel worn clear off? It is safer here among the cookbooks and self-help books. You are among your own kind. Do not stray.

When I am forced to go shopping, I make A Day Of It. There are no casual shopping encounters. If there are, I am going to either Target or the cookware store, which, I must add, is within walking distance of my current house--yet another reason why I'm sad to move. At this store, I can browse the grill tools, the tortilla presses, and the bakeware pans to my heart's content. I can drift from aisle to aisle, idly fondling garlic presses and dish towels, turning down help requests from the too-cheery aproned staff. Ah, this? This isn't shopping. This is drifting through a cloud of cookware. This is delightful.

But, sadly, as no one has devised a way to wear whisks and spatulas to work, I need clothes. I have avoided shopping for so many years I still wear clothes that I have had since I was in 9th grade. I tell myself it's vintage, but really, it's just sad. We have reached the end. The fiscal closet cliff. I have no choice. Thrift store pieces will only carry you so far. I am standing on the towering ledge of my closet, and I have no choice but to build a bridge.

Derrick is as almost as bad as I am. His dress shoes have worn soles and honest-to-god cracks; his shoes leak when it rains. He has dress shirts and surf T-shirts and absolutely nothing in between. His jeans are as frayed as they are faded. We are in sorry shape. We are young professionals now, we tell ourselves. We have to look the part.

So we go shopping. But not, as I said, "Let's just run out and look around." We tried that on the long MLK day weekend. Macy's is having a sale on dress clothes, I push, we should go. Just to look. Take back the Christmas things that we've been meaning to return. So we go. We take back the things. We head to Macy's, and women are everywhere. Crawling over the shoes, ripping things off racks, shrieking and shrillly laughing, all the while chattering, This is such a good sale -- would I ever wear this? -- is this cute or is this ugly? -- what's 20% off of $60? -- but I already HAVE  a mint blazer --  oxblood is soooo in this season. I'LL SHOW YOU OXBLOOD, I want to yell, IF YOU DON'T GET OUT OF MY GODDAMN WAY.

Shopping does not go well.

I try nothing on. In fact, I wind up fleeing to the men's department after a mere five minutes. Derrick circles the shoe department four times without trying on a single thing. "What kind of shoe are you looking for?" The salesman tries. "I can't explain it. I'll know it when I see it." 

And this, ladies and gentlemen, is why we dress in rags.

We end up buying a few light bulbs and a fine-mesh strainer at Target. We exit, defeated.

When we shop, we Shop. We are here for dress shirts, damnit, so let's buy eight of them so we never have to do this again. Let's buy five pairs of dress pants. I drag Derrick through the store, play interference with the not-helpful-at-all measure-you-wrong salespeople, encourage him to try on pants. I coddle. I plead. We leave with bags of dress shirts and pants and vow never to put ourselves through it again.

As bad as he is, I'm worse. Derrick pushes me through the store. Honey, you need clothes, remember? Just try this on. Do you like this? No, don't give up. I'll go get your size. How's it going? No, honey, they don't only make clothes for size-zero stickpeople from Mars. I think that's an armhole. I think that's a neckhole. I think that's a dress, honey, not a skirt. Yes, baby, I think these clothes should come with explicit diagrams, too...

And he's encouraging, even when I've tried on 14 pairs of jeans in 3 different sizes and none of them fit. Even when I've tried on dozens of dresses that are made for girls with no boobs or no hips or no waist or huge boobs or three boobs or clothing clearly made for size-zero stickpeople from Mars.

I've scored a few pieces from online shopping, where I can clearly see the measurements and know if something will fit (whether it'll actually look good on my frame is a different story). I've learned my "tells:" buy something with a defined waist or you'll look like a blob. A little skin showing in the neckline is good; a lot will make you look like a hooker. The longer the hemline, the better. If it looks like something a kindergarten teacher would wear, it's probably something you should buy.

But online shopping will only carry a girl so far. And I need boots. And I need more flats. And I need more...well...everything. How do you do it, women? Do you drug yourselves? Do you bribe yourselves? Do you get up early and shop right when the stores open? Do you wait 'til it's about to close?  Do you just get really, really, really drunk?

Tell all. I'm desperate.