By Reason of Insanity
Phew. I don’t know about you, but I’m still a bit of a wreck since the last blog post. It’s one thing to do something wrong and be called out for it. But it’s an entirely different thing, a whole damned nother, to be accused of something you not only haven’t done, but wouldn’t, in a million years, do.
Reliving the moment, I couldn’t help but wonder: why hadn’t I—I mean, we–just hauled off and punched that Register Bitch right in the nose, shouting “Return this, bitch!” before flinging the ugly maroon dress on the ground and flouncing out of e.b.pepper?
Was it because we didn’t know how to punch, and even if we did, we probably couldn’t have reached her nose?
Were we too timid?
Did we fear reprisal, sensing (perhaps correctly) that the Register Bitch’s greater height and weight might prove devastating should she take us up on our offer?
Or are we the type of person who immediately believes herself guilty the moment she’s been accused of anything, whether or not she actually is? In other words, are we, ultimately, guilty by reason of insanity?
(For those of you who have no idea why I’m writing like this, you’re probably a guy who’s never seen Sex and the City, and you’re just reading this because you’re afraid I’ll ask if you’ve read it, and you won’t get dinner if your answer is “no.” Here’s how it works: at the start of the show, the writer character, Carrie, poses a question using the brilliantly distancing first-person plural, then provides a series of implausible answers until she arrives at a pithy, punny conclusion to which the rest of the episode will be forced to conform. We’re having gluten-free meatballs tonight, so it’s entirely your decision as to whether you want to go on.)
(Oh, and for those of you who have seen Sex and the City but still have no idea what I’m talking about, you may want to read the previous post, below.)
(And for those of you who have seen Sex and the City and don’t want to read the previous post, below, as well as for those of you who haven’t seen Sex and the City and haven’t read the previous post, below, oh my God just try to follow along and pick up contextual clues or something. I’m not recapping that shit.)
So here we are, stuck at e.b.pepper for at least a week now, frozen in what is probably our worst shopping moment in the history of horrible shopping moments that include the time we went to Safeway after taking Nyquil, and all we can manage to say to the Register Bitch is the one thing that one should never, ever say to a Register Bitch, which is: “I’m sorry?”
“You should be,” the Register Bitch replies. “The return policy’s right there on the receipt.”
“No,” we say, “I’m not sorry I wore it! I mean, I didn’t wear it! The party’s tonight, so I couldn’t have worn it yet, anyway—I just bought it yesterday. The tag’s still on it!”
The Register Bitch takes a moment to mentally wipe us from her shoes. She opens the tissue wrapping and pinches the shoulders that don’t match our shoulders, gingerly shaking out the dress.
Which looks, frankly, a bit wrinkled, the way a dress shouldn’t look if it’s only been worn long enough to be dismissed as a thing that looks not berry good on somebody’s mother.
Nor should it look like a thing that no longer has a tag.
And yet it does.
The Register Bitch raises her carefully waxed brows.
We lunge for the dress. “Seriously, seriously, I didn’t wear it. The tag should be there, look, there,” we say, stabbing our finger at the plastic thingie that should have held a tag, and now we can’t even remember whether there had even been a tag on the dress in the first place.
After all, there hadn’t been one on the necklace, we think, or maybe say, since we’re completely falling apart. I mean, maybe there had been a tag, since we’d done that math stuff about how the necklace was twice as much as the dress, but then what had happened to it?? We can’t remember having seen the tag since we were in the store! But we hadn’t taken it off, because why would we have done such a stupid thing, since we didn’t wear the dress and were never going to, because it looked bad on us! Just ask our four year-old daughter!
The Register Bitch shrugs.
There was no party! We stayed in all night and watched Dumbo, swear to God!
“Can’t help you,” says the Register Bitch, lifting the receiver of her phone, because this was—hang on a minute—2001.
Twelve years ago.
Not eleven, twelve. We have felt the sting of this thing for long enough that if years were doughnuts, we could have gotten an extra one for free.
But we have no doughnuts. (Which is for the best, really, given the gluten issue. But still.)
Instead, what we have twelve years later, besides the lingering frustration, the simmering rage, and the vague fear that maybe we really did wear the dress to an event after all, somnambulating and somndancelating the night away, is a purple Kate Spade wallet.
Which we got in exchange for the money we spent on the dress, which we did ultimately manage to return, but only for store credit, and only after not only breaking down and weeping as we fled e.b.pepper, but after returning the next day with the dated menu from the swanky party we ultimately did attend—and with, as The One With The Wavy Hair informed me after reading the last post, our four year-old daughter, “Maddie.”
A fact that we had completely and conveniently blocked out all this time.
“Only,” “Maddie” elaborated, “I think I forgot what it was I was supposed to say and just looked at all the shiny stuff. I think I failed you, because you were crying.”
“That didn’t happen,” I—I mean, we—said. “Did that really happen? No way, I wouldn’t have brought you for evidence. You were four.”
“Well, yeah,” “Maddie” said, shrugging.
“Oh my God,” we said, because this was rapidly becoming one of those moments where even if we hadn’t done the thing we’d been accused of, we know ourselves well enough to know that we are perilously like the type of person who might have done the thing we’d been accused of. While we would never, ever be the type of person who would wear a dress to a party and then try to return it the next day, we are exactly the type of person who would bring her four year-old daughter to a store and ask her to tell the Register Bitch that her mother couldn’t possibly have worn something that she, as her personal, preschool stylist, had told her not to wear.
In other words, a total lunatic.
“Maybe I made that up,” “Maddie” said, because she’s fundamentally a much nicer person than she should, genetically, be. “Maybe I just imagined it.”
“Was there a dog?” we asked, because suddenly we could see her, this “Maddie” as a four year-old, crouched down and talking to one of those ridiculous little toy dogs that probably belonged to the owner of the store, at whom we were babbling stuff about not being the type of person who would wear a dress and then lie about it, because we were a Moderately Well-To-Do-Wife, and not some Perpetually Poverty-Stricken and Lying Lowlife Liar.
“Oh my God, yes! Yes, there was a dog!”
I—I mean, we—sank down onto “Maddie’s” bed.
“Are you okay?” “Maddie” asked, after a bit.
“I guess,” we said. “But that totally ruins the story. It was supposed to be a story about how awful e.b.pepper was. But now it’s kind of a story about how awful I—I mean, we—am. Are.”
“No it isn’t,” “Maddie” said. “I mean, not all of it. Besides, you can just leave that part out.”
“That’s a good idea,” we said. “I think we will.”
Tomorrow: How I Met Your Blue Dress
It’s that time of year in New York City when women slip out of their Manolos and in and out of consciousness, the sky over Barneys turning a heathery shade of gray, and while this has nothing at all to do with buying a dress for our midlife wedding, I couldn’t help but wonder: why were the women at the expensive boutique (across the street from the boutique owned by the pink-haired lady) such bitches to me eleven years ago?
Was it our fault? Were we too needy? Had we just moved to Pittsburgh and not had time to make the kinds of friends who would tell us not to go to e.b.pepper, ever, especially not if we had to go to a swanky party the next night, and had nothing to wear?
Pretty much. Especially when you put it in the first-person plural like that.
But also, it’s because the people who work there are such bitches.
Seriously, even the name of the store is bitchy: e.b.pepper, all lower case, like it’s pretending to be modest, but secretly it thinks that it’s better than all the other stores on Walnut because it’s referencing not only a second-rate poet AND the writer of Charlotte’s Web, but also a spice.
But the real bitchiness is inside the boutique, where first they lie to you and tell you that you look great in a maroon, tea-length dress that is actually full-length on you, and then they convince you that the thing you need to do to make this look work is to accessorize with a sparkly, fake-jeweled necklace.
That costs TWICE AS MUCH AS THE DRESS.
Which cost nearly $200.
Eleven years ago.
But they don’t tell you this until they ring it up (and of course it has no price tag, since this is a classy boutique), and you, you sniveling, needy coward, don’t ask, because 1) it’s sparkly and fake, so how much could it be? And 2) you’ve just moved to Pittsburgh and are trying out the role of Modestly Well-To-Do Wife (as opposed to Perpetually Poverty-Stricken Writer), and Modestly Well-To-Do Wife wouldn’t dream of saying what Perpetually Poverty-Stricken Writer would when handed a receipt for $600 for a couple of yards of stretchy material and some heavy cubic zirconia (which would be something along the lines of “No, seriously, how much, you crazy kidder?” but with swear words).
And we haven’t even gotten to the bitchy part yet.
Here’s how it goes down:
You take your package from the Register Bitch (who is a different bitch from the bitch who made you wait by the dressing rooms for nine minutes before deigning to pull back the curtain and let you in, and different from the bitch who then took one look at you in the short black dress you’d pulled from the Sale rack, shook her head imperiously, and brought you the maroon dress instead, then raved about how you looked in it, to the point where you began to believe her). “Have fun at the party tonight!” the Register Bitch says, brightly, because apparently she listened to the conversation you had with the Sales Bitch, and you try to pry open your lips to tell her that no, the party’s tomorrow night, but you’ve been sticker-shocked into silence, and can only give her a weak wave.
You drive home, terrified at the prospect of telling your husband how much you’ve just spent, and when the babysitter asks to see your new dress, you realize that it actually cost you $630, since now you have to pay her, too.
That night, you try on the dress. Because you are the mother of three children born in fewer than four years, odds are that you are trying it on in front of at least a couple of them (since the only thing you do alone, when you don’t have a babysitter, is travel to that place in your head where you’re shooting pool at the Shanty with your grad school friends and you’re all singing along to “Me and Bobby Magee,” because freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose, and your brain is associative and ironic).
As it happens, you try on the dress in front of your four year-old daughter, “Maddie” (the older girl, whom you distinguished from the younger back then not by the waviness of her hair, but by the having-ness of it). This “Maddie” looks you up and down.
“Mommy,” she says, solemnly. “Dat not look good on you.”
“What?” you say, in case what she’s actually said is “Dat hot. Good on you!” because little people are always picking up grownup phrases like that, like “that’s hot” or “Jesus Christ, the light can’t get any fucking greener.”
“Dat dress not look berry good on you,” she says, unmistakably, furrowing her tiny brow.
You climb up on the bed to see yourself in the dressing-table mirror, and you immediately see that she is right.
Dat dress not look berry good on you.
In fact, dat dress not only not look good on you, it look bad.
The neckline is too low. The shoulders of the dress bear no relation to your actual shoulders, which, along with most of your breasts, are showing in the too-low neckline. The waist of the dress hugs your belly, which has held three consecutive babies recently enough that anyone except this dress would forgive you for its poochiness. The hem is ridiculously long, even for your highest-heeled shoes. And it dawns on you that the reason you’ve never previously worn a maroon-colored anything is that the color maroon makes you look like puke.
Like a little, stupid, floopy-bellied splotch of puke.
“Wait,” you say to your daughter, “I forgot about the necklace! You have to see it with the necklace!”
You scramble down from the bed and tear through the tissue the Register Bitch wrapped the dress in until you find the necklace and hold it, triumphantly, aloft.
“Oooh,” “Maddie” says, because, you realize, this is precisely the sort of costume jewelry that appeals to four year-old girls. This necklace would look SWELL with her Belle costume! Even better with her Princess Aurora dress! In fact, “Maddie” has a necklace that looks almost exactly like this one, and it came yoked to a piece of cardboard along with two giant, sparkly, clip-on earrings, for $4.95 from Toys Fucking Backwards-R Fucking Us.
“Fuck,” you say.
“Fuck,” she says, clapping her tiny little hands.
You know what has to happen: you have to return this awful dress.
You should also return this stupid necklace, but you know that isn’t going to happen. You are not going to be able to look that Register Bitch in the eye and say that it doesn’t fit. You are going to have to suck it up as the price you must pay for being a Perpetually Poverty-Stricken Writer disguised as a Modestly Well-To-Do Wife, though you won’t be able to help but wonder: why does it cost a gazillion times as much to be the latter as to be the former, and would “Maddie” or whoever she is be really upset if you just borrowed her Princess Aurora dress?
So the next morning you call the babysitter and promise her that you will only be gone one, maybe two hours tops (because you can’t afford to pay her for more), and you pack up the dress in its tissue paper and put it in the car.
You drive swiftly to another store, where, in the space of five or ten minutes, you find a new dress, on sale, for about a quarter of what it cost for the necklace. This one actually fits you, and while it does sort of make you look like Maria Von Trapp if you had a big, floppy hat and a guitar, you don’t have a guitar (and you won’t wear the hat unless you’re on a beach. In the dark).
Then you jump back into the car, drive to Walnut Street, park as close to e.b.pepper as you can, square your trembling little shoulders, and march back into the store, the tissue-wrapped package clutched to your chest.
The Register Bitch spots you as soon as you walk in, and says, cheerfully, “Oh hi there! How was the party? Did everyone love the dress?”
“The party’s tonight, actually,” you say, and you swallow hard. “I’m returning the dress.” You put the package on the counter and then sort of nudge it, awkwardly, toward the Register Bitch.
Who pushes it back.
“I’m afraid not,” she says.
“I’m sorry?” you say, because maybe what she really said was “I’m a frayed knot,” which makes no sense at all, but then what do you know from Register Bitches? Maybe this is their way of cracking wise.
“You can’t return it,” she says.
While you’re stammering your response (“I–what? Why can’t–I just bought, here, here’s the receipt”), she elaborates, tilting her head and pursing her mouth. “Because,” she says. “Clearly, you wore it last night.”
To Be Continued.
Tomorrow* on Wrecks and the Bitchy: I Can’t Even. Seriously, I Just Can’t.
We join our family in the middle of its journey from the confounding boutiques of Pittsburgh, past the many byways and Subways of Pennsyltucky, to the bazaars of the King of Prussia on the banks* of Philadelphia.
*PNC and Wells Fargo, mostly, but I think there’s a First National ATM near the food court.
One of Your Daughters (either “Sami” or “Maddie”; check for straight hair): GOD. This is taking forever and there isn’t enough room in this car anymore, and Daniel keeps putting his big stupid head on my shoulder. And I’m bored. Can we play Ghost?
Everyone Who Isn’t Wearing Headphones: No.
Podcast: The Mongol leader Ghengis Khan displays an unmatched level of strategic genius while moving against both Northern China and
The One With Straight Hair: Come on, please? I’ll go first. ‘B.’ Daniel, get OFF.
Your Son (loudly, taking earbud out of ear): What the–? Why are you shoving me?
Your Fiance: Fine. I.
You: You what?
Your Fiance: What what?
You: You said ‘I.’
Your Fiance (shaking head): No I didn’t. I said ‘i.’
Podcast: Civilizations are left stunned, and millions are slaughtered
You (making a face you can’t describe, because you’re not looking in a mirror): [?]
Your Fiance: Little ‘i’ the letter, not big ‘I’ the me. ‘B-i.’
Your Son: Okay, but so ‘b-i’ is a word.
The One With Straight Hair: Ha! It is! Jack has a ‘g.’
The One With Wavy Hair (loudly, taking earbud out of ear): What?
The One With Straight Hair: Jack has a ‘g.’
The One With Wavy Hair (blinking): A gee what?
Your Fiance: Willickers?
The One With Wavy Hair (blinking): Wait, what?
The Exposition Fairy: He has the letter ‘g.’ We’re playing Ghost, which is a word game wherein the first player gives a letter and the subsequent players add to it while trying not to make words. However, if challenged, a player has to have an actual word in mind that could be spelled with that particular sequence of letters. If a player does spell an entire word, that round of play stops, and the player is given a letter from the word ‘ghost.’ If he receives all the letters of the word ‘ghost,’ he is out of the game. Daniel and Maddie–
The One With Straight Hair: My name is SAMI.
The Exposition Fairy: Daniel and Sami are saying that Jack has a ‘g,’ because he played ‘b-i,’ which is, technically, a word, but of course they know that anything under three letters doesn’t count.
An Actual Ghost In Your Car: I don’t quite understand. Could you give an example?
The Exposition Fairy: No. Studies show that most people won’t read blog posts that run over 900 words.
The One With Straight Hair: Okay, we have ‘b-i.’ Whose turn is it?
The One With Wavy Hair: I think it’s mine. Let’s see: b, i, umm—
Your Son: Heh heh.
The One With Straight Hair: Daniel, shut up.
Podcast: with locations as far apart as Europe and China feeling the bloody effects of Mongol war and retribution.
Your Son: Could you turn that off?
Your Fiance: No. The driver gets to pick the podcasts.
Your Son: I meant the Sami. Could you turn it off?
Your Fiance: Why don’t you put your headphones back on?
Your Son: Good idea.
The One With Wavy Hair: So wait, are we playing Ghost or not?
Podcast: The death of Ghengis Khan should have slowed the momentum of the Mongol conquests, but instead, it accelerated it.
You: Could we stop at the next oasis and then play Ghost?
Your Fiance: You want to stop again?
You: Look, two miles to next oasis. You have to get over soon.
Your Fiance: I would, but I can’t see if it’s clear or not. Daniel’s big stupid head is in the way.
The One With Wavy Hair: That’s not very nice. He can’t help it if he’s stupid.
You: I don’t know why you have to drive in the left lane in the first place.
Your Fiance: I don’t know why we have to stop again. We just stopped an hour ago. Are you okay?
Anyone Who Read “Sidebar: Medical Science”: No.
You: I’ll be fine. Never mind.
Your Fiance: No, no, we’ll stop. I just need Daniel to duck so I can see in the rearview.
You: Daniel, could you duck?
Your Fiance: Daniel?
The One With Straight Hair: He has his headphones on. [Shoving] Daniel, duck!
Your Son: [Something in Japanese that probably isn’t very nice.]
The One With Straight Hair: [Something in English that definitely isn’t very nice.]
“Sami” (Apparently): Oh sure, NOW.
An Actual Ghost in Your Car: Wait, he speaks Japanese?
Your Son: Look, I took the middle seat because no one else would, okay? Give me a break. And I’m the only one in this car who needs the leg room!
Your Fiance: Besides I.
You: You mean, ‘me.’
Your Fiance: You don’t need the leg room.
The One With The Straight Hair: She meant that you used the wrong word. You should have said ‘me’ instead of ‘I.’
Your Fiance: You don’t need the leg room, either.
The Exposition Fairy: Let it be noted that Your Fiance looked at The One With The Wavy Hair when saying this.
The One With Wavy Hair: You know, maybe it wouldn’t be so crowded in here if we hadn’t brought the Exposition Fairy along.
You: Guys, I know the Exposition Fairy makes things tight around here, but it’s going to be part of our family soon. You’re just going to have to get used to it, eventually.
The Exposition Fairy: Me makes things tight? What about the Actual Ghost?
Actual Ghost in Your Car: I think we just missed the exit. Anyone want to play a round of I?
Podcast: The Mongol incursion may have ushered in the modern era. But at what cost?
“Tomorrow”: Please. Like I’m really going to post anything tomorrow.