Prunes and Prism

RULES FOR YOUNG LADIES: Some arch advice on snagging a husband. Exercising the mouth into a pretty shape through repetition of certain words seems to have been an indoor sport for young nineteenth-century girls; in Little Dorrit, Charles Dickens' overly bred girl repeats, "papa, potatoes, poultry, prunes and prism." (

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Miss America

My shoe guy from Tashkent -- let's call him Ivan Denisovich -- tells me some people never come back for their shoes, even when they've already paid for the repairs. He had a nice shoulder bag, the same olive green as the faux Balenciaga (the shame!) he fixed for me last winter, and it's been there for two months already.

"America," I said. "We can't remember how much stuff we have."

"Look at this big bag," he said, pointing to a big sports duffel on a top shelf that looked as if it would smell of Sock. "You need a big bag like this? And this" -- he hands me an ABC Carpet & Home sack -- "this has been here for a year already! Nice shoes, too! You see anything you like ..."

Then he went to help a customer who'd come in with a watch.* My mother says that, like Emily Dickinson, we should dwell in possibility, so I dug in.

_ One pair of Victoria's Secret platform espadrilles, with laces that would tie up the ankles
_ One pair of round-heeled stiletto pumps, Bananarama pink
_ One pair of high-heeled Lucite mules (which looked for all the world like the plastic shoes that came with the Miss America dress-up set I had at age six**), studded with tiny criss-cross rhinestones

I imagine whoever owned these shoes hasn't returned for them because she's too busy Turning This Mother Out. Everything was at least a half size too small, anyway, and I told Ivan Denisovich so. "Everybody in this neighborhood is so rich," he sighed, pointing out at the adorable West Village. "Everybody has 40 pairs of shoes!"

What I didn't say: I wonder if I could come up with 40 pairs of shoes, including both the summer and winter rotations and the unloved box underneath the bed.

The Comrade thinks I'm a woman of moderate spending habits, but that's only because he has no idea what I buy. Five days out of the week he comes home so late, I'm sitting around in nightclothes already, and if he does notice something new I just wave my hands around and look vague, like I found it under the tire of a bus.

When I wanted the faux midcentury-modern couch from the SoHo shop, the Comrade gently suggested we check the furniture places out in Brighton -- those nouveau showrooms that cater to his garish compatriots. Gentle readers, I'm 35 years old and well past the point in my life when it would be funny to have a red velvet sofa shaped like lips. Eventually he just lost the will to fight, so we're getting the couch. Though he threw his entire body over the $99 throw pillows before I could even pick one up.

I dread showing him the modest split-level where I grew up***: The refrigerator has one of those automatic ice things. Hardwood floors not because we couldn't afford carpet, but because we had carpet and my parents, in a fit of irrational exuberance shortly after I left home, ripped it up because it was ugly! Downstairs, friends, there is a free-standing globe with a mini-bar inside. Do you know what that will look like to someone who spent the early Eighties trying to get his hands on a D-cell battery?

I suspect growing up without any luxuries could lead a person to (a) conclude that they're vastly unimportant or (b) fetishize them, and that the Comrade is the former and that I'd be the latter.

When we were in the Kiev airport heading back home, we stopped in the duty-free and there was a leather Dior bag that was so especially soft and transcendent, I wanted to cradle it like a little animal. Its softness and transcendence and Dioressence were thrown into bold relief, of course, by the fact that I'd spent the week in various post-Soviet apartment blocs without a tub or a hair dryer. If it had been thrown on the pile in Ivan Denisovich's shop, I'd have probably just stepped over it.

I'm always lusting after something but have never wanted for anything, unlike my mother, who when she was a little girl used to cut watches out of the Sears catalog and tape them to her wrist. She has a number of actual watches now (including one from Coach that I got at my first magazine job -- the company handed them out to the employees, who lined up like serfs), and I like to think it's because she has always dwelt in possibility.

* To a man, every single shoe or watch repairman who has availed me of his services in this city has been from Russia or a former Soviet republic. I happened to be on the subway with Ivan Denisovich one night and asked him why this was so, and he said it was because the Russians know how to fix and make do. This theory seems to be borne out by (1) the Comrade, who claims his brother built his own running shoes out of spare parts in the Eighties and (2) this old joke: During the heat of the space race in the 1960s, NASA decided it needed a ballpoint pen to write in the zero-gravity confines of its space capsules. After considerable research, the Astronaut Pen was developed at a cost of $1 million. The pen worked and also enjoyed some modest success as a novelty item back here on earth. The Soviet Union, faced with the same problem, used a pencil.

** Also included: flame-retardant floor-length "gown," red, white, and blue Miss America sash, and, of course, tiara. Tendencies all this frippery was doubtless meant to encourage: Pretty Pretty Princess. Tendencies encouraged: Drag Queen.

*** In a less fashionable subdivision with a custom car-detailing place at the entrance


Anonymous ashok said...

...a leather Dior bag that was so especially soft and transcendent, I wanted to cradle it like a little animal.

I'm enchanted by your post, but something about it is the teeniest scary - the ability to hide how much one spends when one has tastes that can be rather expensive is probably what I'm thinking.

I wonder how much I hide from my own self in terms of my spending habits.

12:47 PM  
Blogger frostine99 said...

Ashok, you're right to be scared!

No, really, I do spend more than I should but am nowhere near Dior-handbag territory, and I pay the cards off every month. (Does this sound like denial?)

About the hiding -- you know, this is awful, but I can't think of one woman I know who lives with a boyfriend/husband and doesn't lie (as a sin of omission, at the very least) about what she buys! I realized many women in the free world are out there doing this when I saw the "Osbournes" episode in which Sharon and Kelly left their bags in the car so Ozzy wouldn't see. (And unless I'm making this up, I think he did ask about them and Sharon just gave him this breezy, "Oh, those have been there.") Even the God of Hell Fire is getting duped!

I can't say why other women do this, but *I* do it because (1) I don't want The Comrade to think I'm a shallow fool and (2) there have been times in my life when I haven't had any money to spare, and there may well be more of those times in the future -- but now isn't one of them so I plan to carpe the big old fat diem.

Also, it is an unfortunate fact that a new dress will necessitate new shoes, which will necessitate a new piece of chunky costume jewelry. To say nothing of the eye cream. Remember in Tootsie when Dustin Hoffman tells Bill Murray he can't BELIEVE all the stuff a woman needs to make herself attractive?

I speak only for myself, of course, not my feminine compatriots.

Incidentally, I did read and enjoy your Gettysburg address post, and meant to leave a comment but got distracted by shiny objects. (Which I probably put on my Visa card.)

1:55 PM  
Blogger Recovering Baptist said...

Is it sad that I live alone but still occasionally lie to my parents about what I spent on stuff?

2:49 PM  
Blogger frostine99 said...

Oh, heavens no, Recovering Baptist -- well, actually, it may in fact be sad but I totally do it, too, so you're not alone.

My (overpriced) pants are on fire!

4:59 PM  
Blogger frostine99 said...

Oh, heavens no, Recovering Baptist -- well, actually, it may in fact be sad but I totally do it, too, so you're not alone.

My (overpriced) pants are on fire!

4:59 PM  

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