Wednesday, June 06, 2007

A Very Weird Day

Bambi was really frayed at the seams; it was time to replace her. Bambi was this deerskin shoulder bag bought in a little store in Banff a decade ago, for C$70 (US$35 at the time). The name came about because of the mock-horrified exclamations received each time I said it was made of deerskin: “what? You killed Bambi?” The bag had not been replaced because a) I liked it; b) a friend who had promised to take me to Banff again courtesy of an erstwhile knight in shining armor got into a tiff with him, and c) I feel guilty after shopping, berating myself for wasting resources which could’ve gone to yet another pamphlet or to food for empty plates somewhere in the world.

But Bambi definitely had to be replaced -- a sudden realization in the middle of Manhattan’s 34th street, between one appointment and the next. There was this seemingly apt revolving door into which I ducked before my mind could decide otherwise and presto, I was in a department store.

Wrong choice. This was Macy’s, which before Wal-Mart was the biggest store in the universe. Wrong time. This was three days before Mother’s Day, which started out as an anti-war day and was now the busiest business day in the universe. Wrong section. The revolving door gave into the perfume chapel where I was instantly bathed by moist air redolent of flowers, spices, and musk, accosted by tall-handsome men and women offering cardboard strips and perfume bottles, asking in seductive tones: “would you like to try it on your skin?“

They wouldn’t let me go, seeing the LSR stamped on my forehead (low sales resistance). At moments like this, my brain goes into dual processing mode. One half went “oooh, that is soooo nice! Honeysuckle, is it?“ while the other half began accessing my mental encyclopedia: “there are only four cosmetic companies in the world, they own/control every other brand; so each time a woman squirts herself with scented water, she likely adds a few dollars more to the income of that guy -- what’s his name, check database -- whose funky divorce from Ellen B (what’s B’s newest film, check database) was the talk of the town, he ran for mayor here and outspent everyone, though those millions didn‘t even come to one per cent of his income…“

Swear to god, this is how my leftsideofthebrain speaks when I lose control of it, a cascade of associations and data, clicking merrily away, drowning me as much as the scents wafting my way… Prada, Dolce & Cabbana, Lauren, all promising with one squirt to transform me into an odalisque in a garden of lilies. One woman spotted my increasing vulnerability and moved in for the kill, aiming a bottle at me and saying, “this is our newest.“

Rightsideofthebrain was inspired to come to the rescue, turning me supercivilized and making me say that that was really nice but I was looking for my favorite, the only perfume I use, had been using since I was 15. She arched an eyebrow. Coldly: “And what is that, ma’am?“ And I named the greatest perfume ever made, currently difficult to find: Joy by Jean Patou. “Ah,” she was impressed. “Where are you from, ma’am?” Rightsideofbrain spoke up: “France.” I had no idea why I answered that way. She did a double-take. I looked Asian, certainly. But then, I could be French Vietnamese.

She switched to French, saying no, they did not carry Joy. Now, I understand French but can barely speak it. Rightsideofbrain made what seemed to be a proper French gesture of regret: back of right hand to the brow. “But Lord & Taylor does.” Good. That was ten blocks away. Escape. I turned toward the revolving door. “Ma’am, better to go that way.” She pointed to the interior of the store. I said “merci,” aspirating my “r” the way my French teacher used to, breathing out “Mme, Rhoshca.”

I was congratulating myself as I walked past display cases, loads of merchandise, inching my way between men and women who were, I swear, salivating over goods when boing! I was in the bag section. Oh, good. Let’s look for Bambi’s replacement. Now, I like my bags pure and simple, geometric, more vertical than horizontal, preferably with a front panel into which I can stick plane tickets, passport, ID cards, Metrocards, a green tea chocolate bar, etc. Surely I could find a plain and simple one among what looked like a million bags. NOT. All the bags had straps, chains, buckles, studs, so much metal they barely kept from sprouting steering wheels and zooming away. Not a single plain and simple one; each seemingly inspired by an upscale bikers gang. One hour searching and I couldn’t find one.

So away; forget about it, look elsewhere. And there it was, inside a glass case, in a section remarkably bereft of shoppers, right near the front door. Voila! “Can I see that, please?” The saleslady took it out. I inspected the thing, opened it, removed paper stuffed inside, turned it upside down, rapped it with my knuckles, was pleased with it, said: “A little shiny, but won’t it crack?” “No, ma’am, it’s patent leather.” “It looks okay, how much is it?” “$799.95.” Anak ng tinapa! which translates to child of smoked fish! No wonder no one was shopping here. “It’s Louis Vuitton, ma’am. It’s a classic.” I was looking for something a little more practical, I said. “What kind of bag, ma’am?” “British,” rightsideofthebrain replied. “We Britons make sturdy bags, unlike the French.” I had acquired a British accent.

Having done shopping in the last five years on the fly, mostly at airport malls, I could hardly believe that people periodically go through days like this, days rendered weird by commodity fetishism. Oich veh! Sorry, Bambi, but I’m coming for your sister. ###

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hs, ha, ha.

Anonymous said...

This is so unlike you, Mme. Rosca. What gives?

Ninotchka Rosca said...

Just stretching my writing. A reader asked (privately) why I was so serious.

Ninotchka Rosca said...

Update: A very nice person in another country read the blog and bought one of bambi's sisters for me. Being used to brickbats, I am floored by gestures like this, to say the least. Thanks, thanks, thanks.

Anonymous said...

I can't bear you not serious.

Anonymous said...

I think she's being very serious. Cosmetics business is like billions/trillions of dollars. Perfume is nothing but scented water with alcohol. And costs hundreds. On the other hand, the deer population in Canada is culled every year, the leather goes to handbags, etc. Culling is done by the government, not by corporations; so the money goes to governance. Even when being light, Mme. Rosca is being very heavy, indeed.

Anonymous said...

Yes, I think she's trying to tell women something. Ms. Rosca, do you use cosmetics?

Irene said...

Ninotchka, it was great meeting you in Boston! I recently stumbled upon this blog and find most of what you write personally resonating with me. Thanks for the insight. I wish to come upon more minds like yours :)

rebyuwer said...

masaya ako't nahanap ko itong blog ninyo.

nasa kalagitnaan na ako sa pagbabasa ng at home in the world, gayunman hindi ko ito binili hehehe. kaya ako natatagalan sa pagbabasa dahil softcopy at wala naman laging kuryente sa aking kinalalagyan. so far ay nakakatulong nang malaki ang librong ito sa akin, sa hinaharap, kapag natapos ko na ito ay tiyak na "rerebyuhin" ko ito, bagamat kung mapapansin sa aking blog ay hindi na ako masyadong makapagrebyu at puro charoz at chenez na na lang ang naipopost.

mabuhay kayo!

Suyin said...

oh poor, poor bambi's sister...

Chana said...

This is great info to know.