When it comes to opinions my Muse has a mind of her own.
So much has changed over the last year. We’ve adapted to new rules. We’ve adjusted behaviors and restructured lives. It’s been a bleak Spring and a parched Summer sandwiched between two cold, hard Winters.Gratefully, the end is nearly in sight.
Remember when restrictions had eased and retail stores began to open again? Didn't it feel as though we emerged from our burrows a little kinder to one another? Employees, who hadn’t seen customers or clients in months, seemed friendlier. Customers, who’d desperately missed Mall Crawls and Retail Therapy, didn’t seem to care that inventory was lacking. We were simply grateful to have a small slice of “normal” to savor.
Although my outlook remains hopeful––the vaccines are getting into the arms that want them, the economy is faring better than expected, and Trump is still not tweeting–– I’ve sensed a retro-shift. Our mid-pandemic largess might be wearing a little thin. Still, Spring is here, flowers are in bloom, and the weather in Sacramento is glorious. A perfect day, I decided, to venture out “amongst them”.
My mission statement: black espadrilles. Nothing fancy. Reasonably priced.
I found no joy at Sacks Off Fifth
Or the Rack
But what about Macys?
Shopping, for me, is like the hunt; the expedition doesn’t always deliver a kill yet when prey is detected and within arm’s reach, it can be exhilarating. And this, Dear Reader, is where our tale begins.
First let me explain that I have experienced both sides of the counter. In my youth in Southern California (first as a 15 year old Christmas extra and then through high-school and college as a part-time-sales-associate) I was employed by I. Magnin and Company, a once-upon-a-time department store. When I moved to Sacramento in 1986, they hired me again, as a full time employee.
In the Cro-Magnin era, sales associates had criteria: greeting Customer entering one’s department, learning what Customer requires and offering assistance, if Customer wishes to browse unassisted, don’t hover but do pay attention. Always be courteous, especially when taking returns. Know your inventory. Finally, comportment; think Ms.Hughes a.k.a. Elsie Carson, head housekeeper at Downton Abbey.
Fast forward to today:
Sunrise Macy’s wasn’t nearly as busy as the other stores. During the time it took to make one leisurely lap around the shoe department, I saw only two other women loitering by the sale rack and a young girl trying on adult slippers. A thin guy behind the register was focused on his cell phone and the twenty-something I’d profiled as a customer in too-tight jeans and gangsta hoodie, picked up a stack of boxes and disappeared into the stock room. With an espadrille in each hand, I wandered and waited and when Twenty-Something appeared again, I held up the shoes. She stacked up some more boxes before muffled words came out of her mask. It sounded like, “Yeah, be back in a minute.”
I was just about to approach Thin Guy at the register when Twenty-Something came up behind me. “What size?” she asked.
“ An Eight...probably,” I said as I turned. “I’m looking for espadrilles. In black.”
I’d offered up this last tidbit because, in Cro-Magnin times, when a customer told The Shoe Guy what she wanted, Shoe Guy would return with multiple boxes, pulling anything and everything from the stockroom that resembled the parameters. I. Magnin Shoe Guys worked on commission and they were ruthless.
Twenty-Something was gone quite awhile. Which made me feel hopeful.
Sadly, she returned with only two boxes. “There aren’t a lot of this one left," she said, " ‘Cause they’re pretty popular. We have lots of the other, though.” She dropped the boxes next to me and left.
Back in the day, Shoe Guy would present a shoe. He eased it from the box on bended knee, just like Prince Charming offering up a glass slipper—because, back in the stock room, Shoe Guy had already buffed the merchandise. He’d removed the plastic or tissue-paper wadding, and the plastic stretcher-sticks and cardboard reinforcers. Anything that might distract from his choreographed Cinderella presentation .
Yet Twenty-Something, being the twenty-something she was, couldn’t possibly know of these antiquated rituals, so it was up to me to do the tearing of plastic and tissue and removing of wadding and spacers.
Surprisingly, the “popular shoe” wasn't quite right when I got it on. The other was too big so I looked around for Twenty but she was elsewhere--doing something very important, I’m sure-- so I went to the register and asked Thin Guy if the shoe came in half sizes. He put down his phone to check the computer.
“Yep, 7.5. We have ‘em, there in the back,” he said, just as Twenty-Something arrived on the scene.“Lady wants a seven and a half,” he said to his co-worker.
“Yeah,” Twenty-Something replied, “Everyone says they run big.”
Back in the day, if Shoe Guy knew that a style ran small or large or wide or narrow, he’d bring two, sometimes three, identical shoes but in different sizes. Shoe Guy was efficient. He lived to sell shoes and make commissions.
On the bright side, Twenty Something was going to get her steps in today.
Again I waited as Twenty-Something brought out the smaller shoe. Again I removed the plastic, paper, tape, stretchers, and wadding and, when I finally got them on my feet, they were perfect! I glanced at the considerable pile of shredded packing material on the seat and floor next to me and thought: I am Lioness. Witness my kill. I gathered up the box and approached the register. When I handed my Visa to Twenty, her eyebrows shot above her mask.
“You should use your Macy’s,” she said. “Don't you want the points?”
Once upon a time, sales associates asked, “How would Madame prefer to pay?”
“I’ll use my Visa, thanks.”
And then I saw it. Eye roll. Facial gesture that no pandemic mask can conceal.
I opened my mouth to say what I knew I’d regret.
“The reason I’m not using my Macy’s is because I tore it up, right after my last shopping experience, in this same store, a couple of years ago. I vowed I’d never come here again.
But then came the lockdown, and we were all starved for connection, and even though some suffered a whole lot and others suffered a little less, all of us looked for small ways to be a little kinder, and friendlier, and more patient. And we cherished small moments of gratitude, so when I was out today—shopping at all of your competitors, by the way—I thought to myself, stores are really hurting right now and it’s silly to hold a grudge and maybe I’d rushed to judgment on poor old Macy’s. But I was so wrong! With this brand of in store customer service, everyone will be shopping on line. ”
I didn’t say it, though.
Which is why I’m Caren with a C. Not Karen with a K.
A Long Time Ago in a Galaxy Far Away…
To be clear, the year was 2004 and the galaxy was Fair Oaks, California. That’s when we built the pizza oven.
To be truthful, we didn’t build it by ourselves. It took a village.
The oven itself, which came all the way from Italy, was a terra-cotta contraption of eight interlocking parts that needed to be “housed” yet the written instructions were somewhat cryptic on this point. The manufacturer assumed that EVERYONE in 2004 knew what a finished pizza oven should look like.
Having endless imagination confined by a restricted budget, we used cinderblock.
My one aesthetic contribution: Glazed tiles. The A to Z of pizza toppings.
For 17 years , our 8x8x8 cinderblock behemoth, with it’s skinny- belt of alphabet tiles, pumped out pizzas. It fed our friends and warmed our hearts.
Then came the pandemic.
The downside and upside of “sheltering at home”: it invites scrutiny while offering permission.
During our last 30 years of household renovations, I’ve saved stuff: extra tile, broken mirror, leftover lumber.Are all artists hoarders? Perhaps. Or, like the Wicked Witch of the West, are we simply biding our time?
For years, these boxes of building materials had been taking up space in our shed.So, when I asked my spouse “What would you think if I used that leftover tile on the pizza ov–“
“You go, gurl! ” He said.
Happily, some fully vaccinated wizards of my acquaintance dropped by to offer their assistance which, for one halcyon Tuesday afternoon, made life feel almost like normal again. Grateful thanks to Dianne Van der Carr, Marilynn Rasmussen, Ann O' Connell and Abby the Wonder Dog.
The finished product: :Mirror, broken ceramic tile, pebbles, and glass. Black slate interior.
The Back: A mural. Just because.