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.