In the last decade, I’d like to think I’ve become less interested in shopping. Mostly confined to farmers’ markets and antique shops, my urge to peruse and consume is diminished. For many reasons, I’ve tried to redefine myself as any number of things besides a consumer. You can’t take it with you and I’ve heard it said once or twice “you never see a moving van behind a hearse.”
I wasn’t always that way and yet as I look back on my consumer life, I realize how naïve I was about the whole shopping racket.
When I worked part-time retail jobs after college, I stayed out of the back rooms where merchandise arrived in big cardboard boxes. “Better Women’s Clothing” was my department at Jordan Marsh and I would spend my hour or two “merchandising” the department, cleaning up the dressing room, and trying to get my register to true up at the end of my shift. I worked in the outlet trenches, too; Anne Klein, in Freeport, before the label went into the toilet. Back in the early 1990’s it was all very “high end” and expensive; the store manager’s name was even Mercedes.
Bargain shopping wasn’t for me either and the first time I went to the now-defunct Filene’s Bargain Basement in Boston, I wanted to throw up a little because it was dirty and crowded. It smelled like smoke and the subways. Even if the automatic mark-down system could make a silk purse out of a pig’s ear, who wanted a silk purse anyway? Then there was the famous running of the brides…
Yes, everything was always clean and bright in my little consumer-retail world, spritzed lovingly with some Jean Patou’s 1000. My days and nights at The White Sarcophagus would change all that and remove the moss from my eyes.
The day following my manicure, I drove back to the strip mall where I had met spa and bridal salon owner, Bay Bracken. The door to the bridal salon was hidden around the corner of the spa’s façade, but on that particular November day, a headless mannequin wearing a big, white tumbleweed of a dress stood on the sidewalk near the entrance. I walked up the stairs and entered a strange new world of white. A smartly dressed young woman was kneeling on the floor, trying to tape together a broken vacuum nozzle with heavy duty packing tape. The vacuum bag was on the floor, too, and a small pile of dirt spilled out onto the carpet. She looked up and asked if she could help me. I asked for Bay; she was downstairs at the spa. The young woman said she would call her. She left the broken vacuum, brushed herself off, and slipped into the back room.
I poked around the 2,500 square foot space.
The far wall was made up of a long rack of dresses, broken in the middle by a three-way mirror. In front of the mirror was an armless, backless upholstered rectangular…thing. It wasn’t a couch, it wasn’t a bed, and it wasn’t quite a divan. A few magazines and bridal veils were on one end. I would soon learn that it was the magical bridal barge, the seat of all matrimonial dreams.
The decor was purposefully sparse; slate gray carpets, grey-tinted ivory walls, and black velvet swags over the front window. A neo-French provincial desk was next to the back room’s door from which I could hear the young woman’s voice. IKEA meets Restoration Hardware via Breakfast at Tiffany’s.
The young woman reappeared and said Bay would be up in few minutes; remembering her manners, she introduced herself as “Veronica” and suggested I have a seat on the bridal barge while she took a shoe inventory. I sat down and Veronica, having forgotten the broken vacuum, started counting shoe boxes piled under the long dress rack along the wall. I flipped through the latest big fat issue of Bride magazine and waited for Bay.
Time stood still.