My daughter wrote “BLACK FRIDAY,” on our calendar for the day after Thanksgiving. “I do not think that means what you think it means,” I said.
“It’s the biggest shopping day of the year,” she said.
I stared at her in mute horror, planning to limit television, turn off the computer, keep her away from all retail establishments until she turns eighteen. “Oh,” I said.
“I’m going to make presents because that’s when you get Christmas presents.”
These days, I try to avoid the mall, unless there is a big need to go. I don’t like crowds and I don’t like searching through a billion racks. When I go, I go early or late. Have you noticed whenever you have money and need to get something, it’s hard to find? Then you’ll see it a year later on sale but you don’t need it any more, or you need to like pay the gas bill or whatever.
There was an era when going to the mall was sport and fun. Not when I was a teenager. When I was a kid. My dad worked retail. Sometimes he’d get a Saturday off. Usually he’d get Wednesday and Sunday off. Sundays were the Sabbath, which meant no shopping. No church for me, either. Lots of TV watching and waiting for it to be Monday.
On those Saturdays he had off, he’d usually take us to the mall. We wouldn’t get anything. My brother used to go with us, before he started doing more interesting things on Saturdays. My mother rarely went. My dad was the shopper in our family.
We would start at one end and work our way to the other, looking in the major shops. “Do you like this?” Dad would ask, and then he’d make mental note of it. Later, I might get the outfit when it got marked down.
It was also when I learned my most important math: how to calculate discounts. This is still the only math I know well. Let’s say an item is $50 and 20% off. Subtract the percentage from 100. That is 80, or .8. Multiply 8X5. $40 is the total. Cadillac takes 50 and multiples by .2 which is $10 off, then he has to subtract it, which to me is harder, because the total will sometimes be a more random number. He does not think my method is better.
At lunchtime, I’d get hungry, and my father would take us into See’s and get a chocolate. Plus the sample. That made two chocolates. That was my lunch. Dad knew all the See’s ladies by name. “How are you?” they’d ask. Dad told me I should work at See’s when I was old enough. They got paid more, I think at the time it was a few dollars above minimum wage. “Plus you get the samples!” With the sugar hitting my bloodstream, I’d be ready to go back into the mall.
Dad also knew everyone at Neiman-Marcus. The sales ladies would flock over. They’d tell him when things would be on super discount and when the new line of Lalique whatevers would come in. When I was a teenager, they would help him choose clothes for me. One Christmas, when I was about 14, I received some fabulous clothes from the middle-aged rich lady cruise line. They were wide-legged bright orange silk satin pants. They looked like pajamas and made a cellophane-like noise as I walked. It was some time ago, but I’m pretty sure I burst into ungrateful, bratty tears when I put them on. Mostly because I was not looking forward to getting beaten up when I wore them to school. My dad obtained a new sales lady, who a few years later recommended much better clothes for me. One Christmas gift was a pair of black pants that zipped up the back that were the best fitting trousers I ever owned. Plus, I’m pretty sure they caused my husband to fall in love with me. I still remember those pants fondly, because I’ll never fit into them again.
The best memory I have of Neiman-Marcus is of some rich guy (though perhaps he just had the air of richness) who had a huge black Newfoundland dog. The dog would come in and lie down by the escalator, and everyone would pet it while the guy shopped. It would put its massive head down on its paws, and when it got up there’d be a puddle of drool. This was probably the eighties or early nineties, before people schlepped their little dogs into stores. It was not a service dog, it was just the guy’s pet. I think that would be one of the best perks of being rich. If I were rich, I’d have a small Shetland pony and bring it into the store and make everyone water it while I shopped.
I never feel quite in place at Neiman-Marcus, which Cadillac calls Needless Markup. Right before my publisher sent me on a book tour, I went in to Neiman-Marcus to get a particular kind of make-up they carry there. It was a special occasion (one that, for all I know, may never come around again) and I was excited and feeling like I’d arrived. Thus, I should have felt like I belonged there, right? The sales people looked me up and down and then went on to the next customer. Walking into Neiman-Marcus is like being a contestant in some kind of strange pageant, complete with judges wearing quite a bit of makeup. Apparently my father gives off an air of luxury, while I give off the Ross sales rack aura. I am pretty tight, though, so maybe the sales ladies merely have a really good sixth sense about who’s going to help out the economy.
I don’t know what it is about me, but I generally don’t get helped in any store. I worked a few Nordstrom sales and attended their sales training. They told us that people had to be greeted within two minutes of setting foot in your carpeted section or it was a FAIL.
Years have passed since that training and I have come to a conclusion. I am invisible. I once proclaimed, “GOSH, I really need an evening gown and I have this huge budget, whatever shall I do?” and the sales people continued polishing the racks with wax paper or categorizing the clothing by shades of blue. Usually I don’t care, because I don’t like people hovering; but if I am actually searching for a specific item, I don’t want to go through ten areas. In this case, I will pretend to faint and lie down in the middle of the floor. Then, when the sales people help me up, I say tremulously, “I’m just looking for a gray blazer.” Though I wouldn’t recommend trying this on a sale day, because you will surely get trampled.