By Lydia LaFleur, a member of Get Your Wordsworth
Yet another sign I was being downgraded to an alternate stage of my life; no shopping jaunt for me this Black Friday of 2011. Enough that I had made it back from my daughter’s Thanksgiving in New Jersey. There was a long wait at 5:00 PM for a taxi in front of Port Authority, and I considered but only for a moment taking the 104 bus which was only two blocks away, but one look at the crowds of people I would have to maneuver through dissuaded me from risking it. Reminiscing in the taxi I marveled at myself going just a few years before on a Black Friday by foot from Port Authority to Macy’s to buy ties for my son and sweater for my son-in-law. Ah, well. Besides, according to news reports the following day, stores had managed to do very well without me, with sales up 6.6 % over last year.
On Saturday I had arranged a get together with Soojeong, a singer, soprano, from Korea who fifteen years ago, had lived with me for two years while attending Manhattan School of Music. She is one of the most thoughtful and kind people I have ever known and the best organized, and also very beautiful. She went on to get her doctorate and taught voice at University of Alabama and gave recitals until she married Kim, a Korean American, moved to Texas and gave birth to Erin five years ago. Kim was here on business, and so the whole family came to spend Thanksgiving week in New York City. Since I planned to buy my son his birthday tie at Saks I had suggested our meeting there for afternoon tea at its very casual restaurant, Snaks. Since I was running late I decided to take a taxi to 50th Street and Ave. of the Americas. I should have told the taxi driver Fifth Ave. but I wanted to gauge the barometer of holiday cheer by walking the long block to Rockefeller Center. This I neglected to do, because my attention was almost completely focused on surviving the largest crowd I had ever experienced on one block and dodging baby strollers, ever afraid of being knocked down, more so that day when I was not feeling up to par. I did manage to note that the other side which housed Radio City was practically empty which meant that the show must have just begun. I thought of how years ago the audiences were treated to a performance of the Rockettes plus a top rated movie, all at a minimal price. Did you know that if you get up at dawn you can see the Rockettes perform at 9:00 AM? I also did note a Nine West window with a gigantic wreath made of gold and a large new Lego store and that Godiva chocolates was still in operation. There was a slight clearing at Rockefeller Center, because the crowd was nearer the skating rink and packed in front of the tree taking photos. The tree is truly magnificent, very tall and perfect in shape. I liked seeing it in all its simple splendor, without Christmas lights and decorations yet. The many banners surrounding the Center are silver and gold this year, and look lovely waving in the wind, but on a cynical note, the colors seemed appropriate to our times when gold and silver are touted widely as the only sure bet against another Depression.
There at last was Saks Fifth Ave. I was happy to note that Soojeong recognized me after all this time. But the real pleasure was getting acquainted with Erin with whom I bonded over frozen yogurt with a dumbed down strawberry tasting syrup. We talked about the picture she drew of mountains, sun and clouds, her love of princesses, and about my favorite color purple which was a color in the drawing pad her mother had bought for her along with some crayons. She really wanted to play with the lego set her father had bought her earlier when they went to FAO Schwarz but accepted without fuss that she’d have to wait until they returned home to Dallas. I could see that Erin is a happy child; she enjoyed her own company drawing and playing with her mother’s cell phone during the two whole hours that we adults talked and brought up to date our lives. Kim remarked that he noticed fewer stores that are unusual and different in NYC, that Dallas has many of the same stores as NYC. I was very moved that when we were parting, Erin hugged me as far as she could reach, my legs.
Now it was time to go shopping. Up to Men’s Wear on the sixth floor and into the suit department. Like last year there were very few customers, but lots of male sales clerks who looked too elegantly and impeccably dressed to be called clerks. One handsome African American probably in his forties brought me to the tie department to another sales person who could help me who must have been in his late sixties. Tables of ties to look at; I saw one immediately that I liked. “How much is this?” “All the ties on this table are $180.” Swallow. “Too much for me. What is the price range of the ties?” “They range from $99 to $260.” Over to the table of $99 ties. On the other side of the table the ties were 30% off. Only on one side of a table? I remembered a vast table covered with ties on sale last year. That morning in the Times a shopper was quoted as saying the sale on items this year was not as good as last. This was now corroborated by me. The ties on sale looked like they should have been given away for free, but one of the full price $99 ones caught my eye and held it. Yes, that was the one. Stripes of varying widths of burgundy on the verge of red, medium colored brown, pumpkin, grey and blue or was that lavender? It was hard to believe all these colors would work together but somehow they did. The clerk complimented me on my good eye. I noted the designer’s name on a sign on the table – Ike Behar. “Never heard of him.” “He’s an American designer, one of the few.”
Next stop Ladies’ Room. But taking the escalator up instead of down I landed on the other men’s floor, but oh how different from the one I had just left. Was that rock music I was hearing? This was casual men’s wear, how casual I’d soon see when a young man who looked like he’d be at home in the East Village approached me in a casual manner asking if he could help me. “I’m looking for the elevator. Do you work here?” thinking he was a customer. “Yes,” and good humoredly led me to the elevator. I liked him, but not the ties I had gotten a glimpse of.
Now to Cosmetics and the la Mer counter where I spent a chunk of my Social Security check on a two ounce jar of Creme de la Mer. After paying all that money, I ask blatantly for samples now. As I’m leaving I’m absolutely delighted by the appearance of a huge and, jolly Santa pushing a small sleigh through the store while hooting Ho, Ho. His Santa Claus suit with so many items attached to it that I can’t absorb it all, but I do note that in keeping up with the times he is wearing women’s high heel shoes and nylons. Merry Christmas!
Even though my purchases are small they are inside two huge Saks shopping bags, so that I look like I’ve bought out the store. Suddenly I feel very conspicuous, especially when I board the #4 bus on Madison Ave. On three of the single seats and on the wide one at the front are four Hispanic looking people fast asleep, a child, two preteens and a mother, all wearing serviceable but drab looking clothing. Covering most of the length of the bus is a large cardboard box with the words in large bold letters KMart Christmas Tree Made in China. They continue to sleep until their father who must have been sitting in the back wakes them up when they get to their stop, 106th Street and Madison Avenue looking quite happy as they lug their Christmas tree off the bus.
Such was this year’s post Black Friday shopping trip. But, unfortunately, the shopping isn’t over yet. A week ago my daughter and I decided against giving any presents this year, but at Thanksgiving the grandchildren seemed so disappointed that we did an about face but settling on presents costing no more than $25. Now tell me, where in New York City am I going to find a present for $25 or less? One thing for sure, I’ll not be going back to Saks Fifth Ave.