By Lydia LaFleur, a member of Get Your Wordsworth
No way could I think beyond Thanksgiving Day what with family and friends coming to my house for Thanksgiving dinner, even though my granddaughter Sarah and her boyfriend Chris said they would be preparing the meal and that I wouldn’t have to do a thing. I was more concerned with extricating from kitchen cabinets dozens of plates, serving dishes and pottery bowls and washing them all (no plastic plates for this holiday meal) and whether at the last minute Sarah and Chris could purchase a large enough pan for the 13 pound turkey they were bringing. The two of them did indeed prepare everything from scratch, the first Thanksgiving Dinner they had ever made, and the best I had ever eaten.
The media had been touting Black Friday for days, but it was the farthest thing from my mind until that day arrived and found me recovering from the festivities and seeing off my friend Mary who had come from Albany several days before. I’m getting too old and frail, I told myself, to make this annual trek to Rockefeller Center and Saks Fifth Avenue amidst a sea of people. Maybe this year I could go later in the month and instead to the shops in Time Warner for the birthday tie for my son. But then I remembered a recent e-mail from our writing teacher Susan in which she said she was looking forward to my “Black Friday 2012” story. Her e-mail, and the thought of breaking with tradition finally motivated me when Sunday came around not only to get up early, but to risk going by subway.
I was pleased to find I could still climb up the subway steps hoisting myself up by holding onto the railing with both hands. I got out at 50th Street and 7th Ave. and into a sunny afternoon. The neighborhood looked very familiar at first but then I saw across the street a new occupant – a gigantic Applebees Restaurant covering a good part of the block. Now, why would tourists go to a restaurant that they literally have next door to where they live when they had such a wide choice of ethnic restaurants all over the Times Square area to choose from? Maybe overwhelmed by the crowds and noise and surrounded by brilliantly lit billboards, they need the comfort of familiar setting and food if only for an hour or so. Up the block was Radio City Music Hall, the two dimensional plastic tree with lights sitting on its roof. No line in front of it, so I gathered the Rockettes were on stage kicking up their legs. On the corner of the Avenue of the Americas stood a live Statue of Liberty, probably 6 ft. 5 in. tall, in a voluminous pale green robe covering him from head to sidewalk, a man’s face adorned with shaded glasses peering out. A small box with a slit rested near his feet; no open display of donations for this savvy New Yorker. A cheerful looking young couple with their little girl probably three years old and a grandmother wanted to record this scene, so the mother slid a dollar bill into the slit, lifted her daughter into her arms, the Statue of Liberty draped an American flag on the woman’s shoulder, put a crown on her head and handed her a cheap looking torch made of plastic; then the father took a photo. The grandmother and I smiled at each other enjoying this fun experience.
Just as last year across the street was Nine West, the shoe store for budget conscious women. Further up the street were adjacent stores selling women’ s handbags, probably also for bargain hunters. Several street vendors were also selling handbags, most of them large enough to fit a weekend’s worth of clothes. Do women really need that many handbags? I was looking forward to visiting the American Crafts Store that had been on that block for years and where in the past I had purchased jewelry and soaps made by talented artists. I was devastated to see that it was gone and in its place was a store full of neatly displayed, cheap stocking fillers and kitsch, every item I looked at made in China. I consoled myself by going into the Godiva shop and treating myself to two chocolates – a “midnight chocolate” and a “key lime truffle.”
Never having been in this area on a Sunday, I was surprised at the small number of pedestrians on its sidewalks, and those mostly foreign tourists I gathered from their conversations. Maybe most New Yorkers were at home resting up from Black Friday and eating turkey leftovers. I almost missed being jostled by the crowds of previous years. But more were gathered at Rockefeller Center, skating and looking at the Christmas tree which I thought was one of the most beautiful I’d ever seen, very wide and tall. It was not decorated yet except for a tinny looking silver star on the top. Surely, a tree this magnificent warranted a star made of the real thing or at least the Swarovski crystals that had adorned it three years before.
Saks main floor which consists mainly of cosmetic counters was teeming with people, but many of them sales personnel hawking their wares. (Most of a store’s profits I hear are made in cosmetics.) I headed straight for the men’s department on the sixth floor. Facing me was a display of ties; not bad looking but should look better at $195 per tie. As was true in the past, there were more clerks on this floor than customers. I felt like Pavlov’s dog; I knew from previous years the twists and turns, past the suits and the shirts to get to the tie department. I hoped that there would be ties on sale left over from Black Friday. As indeed there were, 30% off, but who would want them? Not me. Two young sales clerks were standing together, one white and one black. The former was closer so he approached me. No point in letting him think I was wealthy, my price, $100 – $130. He said they ranged from $99 to $195. He showed me the tables of ties by various name designers and a table with just the label Saks Fifth Ave. He pointed out one that was better looking than the others but still did not call out to me. I went from table to table, nothing appealed to me. The ties all looked conventional and uninteresting, designer or not. (You would think that with so little leeway men have in their attire, they could at least express some individuality with their ties.) The young sales clerk who told me his name was Gordon was the perfect salesman, keeping a distance, giving me time to look around but being available. Ah, there it was at last! A silk tie, with a blending of blue, purple and burgundy that changed hues depending on the angle from which one eyed it. And it was only $99! I would have payed $130. While he was attending to the purchase I learned that he was from Connecticut and that he had been with Saks for two months now, on regular staff. An older clerk who looked familiar to me from previous years saw the tie and complimented me on my choice; he hadn’t seen the tie and asked Gordon if it had come in recently.
Down to the main floor which was decorated with delicate tree branches and tiny pale lights extending above the counters. Should I or shouldn’t I? I had known I probably would. Straight to the Creme de la Mere cosmetic counter I went where I forked over $275 plus tax for two ounces of moisturizing cream. I reasoned with myself: only a minute amount helps to smooth out some of my wrinkles, the jar lasts me several months, my face is the only part of me that’s intact, more or less. Still I would be punished in my next life for this extravagance. Then to Clinique where I bought a lipstick and for the first time in my life, eye cream for the pouches under my eyes. I got one break: Clinique was giving a gift cosmetic bag full of samples. (Several nights later I would have a nightmare: I dreamt I had run out of money.)
I had wanted to walk up Fifth Ave. to see the decorations in store windows (I wasn’t that impressed by Saks’ windows), but it was already dark when I exited the store, and I felt tired from my outing so I boarded the #4 bus at Madison Ave. and headed for home feeling satisfied that at almost 86 years of age, I had made my way alone to see once again the magnificent fir tree at Rockefeller Center and to Saks to buy my son a tie for his birthday in December. Happy Birthday, Dear Christopher, and Merry Christmas!