Birthday time, and this year I’m womb-ing it at my mother’s in Plainfield, New Jersey. (Shoutout 1972 Cardinals and Parliament-Funkadelic.)
I got back from my $65 haircut (Ridiculous, my mother said. Not ridiculous, I truly believe) and she was hyped to shop, but we had to go to the doctor’s office first to get her pacemaker checked out. Dr. Khanna doesn’t get why having my mother jump a lot in his office doesn’t trigger the reaction she gets from the pacemaker when she’s in the sanctuary and the bass is thumping and the percussionist is taking the congregation higher. I didn’t explain.
Our family friend Rose will marry Jonathan on November 2. The wedding is formal and in the American South. The last time I wore a formal was when, with profound relief, I gave up my debutante queen’s crown (tiara, in all honesty) to my successor in 1973. Here is the text my mother sent me last week:
We can go to jrsy grdns when u r here & cnsgn shops b rdy
This is like receiving orders from a five-star general. She means: have money, the proper undergarments, minimal jewelry, a single agenda, bottled water and adequate stamina. We will shop until the goal has been achieved.
I love shopping like this. She is from New Jersey where (some) parents encourage their children to spend as much time at boutiques and malls as they do at school. We went to Jersey Gardens. We set up in two dressing rooms at Last Call (at Needless Markup) – one room for my mother and the purses and stuff we came with, and the other room for me and the clothes. I tried on 9.5 dresses (I count the two that didn’t make it over my hips as .25 each). My mother loved the bubble dress – I felt like bubbles in a washing machine when I had it on. It was a shift made of light blue iridescent disks that shook like the skinny women’s dresses from that show Hullaballoo in 1967. Super cute, and great for shimmying, but not for November, my mother decided. And Rose’s mom I think wouldn’t have dug it.
I loved the khaki silk off-the-shoulder Zac Posen to 100% death. It is still in the store, in case you want to buy it. I could not figure a sane way to make it work, even at 30% off. I’d found out this morning that my car repair would be $309, and I just spent a bunch on windows. Ta ta, Zac. We were effing stunning.
So I try on this silver, gold and black shirtwaist number, not really paying attention to it, as I’d quickly grabbed it off the rack. I look in the mirror and, no lie, say Oh my God. Step into the dressing room aisle and the woman who is helping her friend buy something to wear to her son’s bar mitzvah looks at me and says Oh my God. Her friend peeks her head out and looks at me and says This dress was made for you, oh my God you look incredible. I walk in to show my mother and she nods. Says nothing. Then: How much is it? I don’t know. I can’t afford it it’s perfect isn’t it perfect?
Am I 17? This happened with 90% of the flawless stuff when I shopped with my mother and it was happening again like 42 years hadn’t passed since we’d had a shopping trip like this just the two of us.
The woman helping the bar mitzvah mom says Is it 30 or 50% off the lowest price on the ticket? I say I don’t know and she barks Find out! My mother says, You can’t afford it, you can’t do this. I remove the dress, a Victoria Beckham (Posh Spice, my son Asa later remarks). We go back out on the floor for another run, bring in a new batch. This batch has a svelte sparkly silver/black cocktail dress with a nice V-neckline. It’s snug, but my mother says it doesn’t look hoochie. It reminds me of a swimsuit (I spend a lot of time swimming) because it’s so obviously flattering. I’m not excited, but I’m good with it. My mother says I could wear it with a bright cashmere cardigan and matching shoes to classy imaginary lunch with similarly attired imaginary friends maybe on a soap opera; the dress is versatile like that. I go out to ask a salesclerk if it’s 30% off. She says it’s 50% off, like magic. I’m turning to go back into the dressing room to give my mother the good news, when bar mitzvah mom’s friend pops up out of nowhere and says Was the dress 30% off? I say I didn’t ask. She says Where is the dress? You didn’t leave it in the dressing room you left it in the dressing room? Bring it out here and find out! What is wrong with you? I don’t get out much, I say. The clerk laughs.
Whoa OK I go back in and there’s a retired kindergarten teacher frowning because the dressing room clerks won’t let her go into the dressing room with her adult son who’s trying on shirts. My mother and I show her the dress and she says Oh my God. Victoria Beckham there’s no discussion get the dress. I tell my mother I can walk away. She says, You can’t walk away. I know I can walk away and am willing to show Loretta Wynn what I look like when I do not go over budget. I take Victoria out to the floor and it’s 50% off the lowest price on the tag like magic and I see bar mitzvah’s friend and wave You were right and she nods, does not smile, she is a 5-star general.
What’s the place that has the coffee I enjoyed so much in California, my mother asks me as we climb into the Maxima that is actually an aircraft carrier outfitted with a Mission Accomplished banner. Starbucks, I reply. Maybe they have one in Westfield, she says.
Call your mother when you’re ready. Oh my God is she prepared.