Friday, November 28, 2008

The Irrelevance of Fancy Stuff

Before Thanksgiving, I went to the Natick Collection one afternoon and was surprised to see that the newest part of the mall, the shi-shi part, was practically empty. As I headed to the store that carries my favorite makeup, I passed store after store where the only people inside were bored-looking sales clerks, a couple of them talking on their cell phones. Later that day I called my dad, who thinks turning the mall into the "Collection" was ridiculous, telling him the place looked like a ghost town. My dad, who was born and raised in Framingham, bemoans the front of Neiman Marcus, and nearly every other part of the new mall, almost every time we drive by. The wavy structure, with patches of tan, white and gold, is strange-looking; is it supposed to look like fabric? An upscale version of camouflage maybe? No one seems to know.

As I read Yvonne Abraham's column last Sunday in the Boston Globe, it was like she had read my mind. She too had gone to the Collection, only to find the new section all but deserted.
"This part of the mall looks like a giant diorama, documenting an opulent, archaic culture," she wrote. "Developers spent gazillions on this place so they could charge luxury retailers ridiculous rents to sell pricey fripperies to suburban status seekers. Only it turns out there aren't enough customers here to keep the place hopping, their slim ranks falling away as the bottom drops out of the economy."

Reading about how one sales clerk at Burberry showed her a $2,350 handbag made me think back to when I coveted designer bags. So much so that on trips to New York and Boston, since I couldn't afford the real thing, I bought fakes spread out on sheets on the sidewalk. Once, in New York City's Chinatown, my mother, sister and I were approached by a woman who led us into a store that sold hair accessories. After a quick look around, the woman pushed on the back wall, revealing a kind of trap door that led to two good-sized rooms stuffed with faux Gucci, Chanel and Prada. And even though I was gripped with a kind of paranoid notion that my family and I were about to be caught in the middle of a sting operation, I bought a fake Chanel bag for $60. For some reason, wearing it afterward didn't give me the same thrill designer bags (even the knock-offs, because who knew, right?) had given me before.
I don't plan on buying another. And, even if I could afford a "real" designer bag, I wouldn't buy one of those, either. When the line to get into the food pantry in my own city snakes down the block, carrying around a bag with big ol' "LV"s smeared all over it is embarrassing.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Holidays Are in the Air!

People always seem to be at their best around the holidays. Today, customers at the cafe where I work on Gainsborough Street were a little nicer, a little more talkative, and a little quicker with a smile. In between making bagels, Spanish lattes and iced raspberry mochas, my coworker Lea mentioned that she lost her paycheck yesterday somewhere in the pouring rain on her way from school to the T. Upon realizing she didn't have it, she retraced her steps, she said, but couldn't find it anywhere. She told our boss, who said the company could cut her another check, and in the meantime, could front her cash from the register if she needed it (which, I think, is pretty amazing in itself.)

But then something more amazing happened. While on her break today, Lea checked her Facebook page and found a message on her wall from a stranger. It was from a manager at a Boloco burrito place; he had found her soggy paycheck on the street, searched her name on Facebook, and found her. So after getting out of work today and before leaving for New Jersey tonight to spend Thanksgiving with her boyfriend's family, Lea was reunited with her paycheck.
"It really makes me believe in the goodness of people," she said.
Here's hoping everyone spreads a little goodness around this holiday.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

On Starting Again...

One morning about two weeks ago, I climbed into my husband's truck and drove from our street just outside Cleveland Circle to Logan Airport. It was 6 a.m. and still dark. One of my best friends was leaving on an 8 a.m. flight for Quito, Ecuador, where she had recently decided to take a job writing for a travel Web site. Rachael, one of the most energetic reporters I've ever met, and one of the most fearless people I know, had never been to Quito before, and didn't know a soul there.

On the ride to the airport, I kept thinking about how I could never be as brave as she was being right now. The catalyst behind her decision to move overseas was the fact that her boyfriend, an Army sergeant, was set to be deployed to Iraq. For months, she had applied for any writing job she could find in another country, the idea being that if she was away somewhere else, she wouldn't be home, alone, worrying like mad.

After parking at Logan and making my bleary-eyed way to the terminal, I found Rachael with her parents and younger sister. We hugged and talked; I asked if she was nervous; she was; we took pictures and started to cry. As she threaded her way through the security line, her sister Julia turned to me and said gently, "She's coming back, you know. Don't worry."

I knew she was. But I felt angry. Angry that things we have no control over, like the war in Iraq, have the ability to affect so completely the lives of people we know, and those we don't. I felt sad that Rachael, even though only temporarily, was losing the life she knew. But I was also excited for her, and a little envious even, that she was starting again, in her life and in her career.

While I was checking my email the other day, Rachael IM'ed me from Quito. She's renting a room with an Ecuadoran family, and has made friends with a French woman who works for the same travel site. The other night they went out for dinner; Rachael had tongue, and she loved it. In true Rachi fashion, she's having the best adventure she can.