Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Untimely Death of My Own Crate and Barrel

You know how Holly Golightly used to cruise Tiffany’s to cheer herself up? Well, I used to cruise Crate & Barrel for the same kind of therapy, and now my heart is thoroughly broken because the one I used to go to has died.

I didn’t even know it was sick. And, since no one bothered to notify me, I discovered its death only by accident while looking on line for something to buy for a friend's birthday. Not that I would have bought anything I hadn’t seen and fondled in person--I just wanted to get my shopping brain humming before heading off to the store. And then there it was:

Hillsdale Shopping Center
101 Hillsdale Shopping Center 
San Mateo, CA 94403

After more than 15 years, our lease at Hillsdale has ended and this location is now closed. We thank all our friends and neighbors for your continued loyalty over the years. We hope you to see you at our Union Square and Stanford Shopping Center stores. Or shop us 24/7 at 

Union Square? Are they kidding? That isn’t therapy, that’s death by parking. And the Stanford store is death by enormity. As for online shopping, let me just say that if Holly Golightly were with us today, I don’t think she’d be ordering tiaras from home.

No, the Hillside store was the perfect refuge for my pulverized self. It was small enough (one floor!) not to be overwhelming, close enough (ten minutes away!) to facilitate my fast, frequent fixes, plus it had easy (and not underground like a damn car coffin) parking. And, unlike Kohl’s (see previous post), it had employees. Not just employees, but women so consistently kind I never felt weird about spending six years floating around before finally buying a ten dollar vase. Or, as happened more often, spending six years drinking in the warmth of their glimmering merchandise and then, duly soothed, just going home.

Not to say I never bought anything. Looking around in my blurry-eyed grief, I see how thoroughly my dead Crate & Peril has beautified my environment: My “apartment-sized” couch in warm terra cotta. (Okay, Pretend Husband Hank Fitz and I had to go to Stanford to order it, but that’s only because Hillside did not do couches.) My sheer linen curtains that turns my windows into glowing persimmons. (Okay, I had to get those on-line but that’s only because they weren’t stocked in the stores.) The book case that made sense of my bedroom, the baskets that made sense of its shelves, my drinking glasses with their festive red feet, my perfect sautee pan, and oh my god, the great dead botanicals!  And the stupid sleek stones in which they are anchored, and the way they glisten through their vase of teal glass!

And talk about customer service! Did they look even one iota askance when I brought back my Simple Human compact dish rack and asked why the spout no longer worked (Pretend Husband Ed Head had broken it but never mind)?  No, they smiled gently and gave me a new one.

Ditto when I had to explain that I could no more locate this place they called Pick-Up than find my way through the Minotaur’s labyrinth, and thus needed—but seriously, needed—one of their Pick-Uppy he-men to find me instead and carry my unwieldy wall shelf (42 inches and 4,000 pounds) out of the store and into my car. Again, they did not report me to the Insanity Police, they just called the he-man and did it.

Yeah, I know: It’s only a store and stores sell only things, and as we all know, things aren’t important. And, lest we forget: Every day a little death. 

Who wrote that death part? Oh yeah, Cranky-Pants Sondheim. At least he hasn't died yet.  Or not that I know of.  And if you've heard otherwise, then please--really, I'm begging you, please--don't ever tell me.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Self Reliance at Kohl's

The best place to find a helping hand is at the end of your own arm. 
    ---Swedish proverb

Or, if you’re shopping at Kohl’s, at the end of a pair of barbecue tongs. 

The thing about Kohl’s that nobody tells you is that absolutely nobody works there. Okay, you might, if you look really hard, find one suicidal cashier, but trust me, that’s pretty much it in terms of employees. The good part about nobody working there is, of course, that they can afford to sell their stuff cheap. The bad part, is that this peculiar dearth encourages—nay, demands—that its shoppers be capable of self reliance. As someone who has always regarded self reliance as some kind of disease, I was clearly not meant to shop at Kohl’s ever. And yet one day, in need of a pillow, I did.

The pillow in question—the only pillow in the store that would possibly do--was taunting me from so high a shelf that I could not get near it even by jumping. Had I been at Dread, Wrath & Foregone, an employee would have hopped on a ladder and brought it down to me, but since Kohl’s has neither employees nor ladders (nor, on that particular day, any visible shoppers over 5’3”) I was forced to seek help from, yes, my own self. Indeed, I was forced to travel all the way from Bed & Bath to Kitchen & Dining into the kingdom that is Bobby Flay. Within minutes I was skittering back into Bed wielding a pair of Bobby Flay’s 14" locking barbecue tongs. After several more minutes of leaping and plucking, the pillow popped forth and onto my head.

As proud as I was of this personal triumph, I felt no need to ever repeat it, yet repeat it I did---in fact I would say I even surpassed it. Since only Christmas itself could have driven me back into that deep Emersonian pit, this happened just before Christmas Eve when I suddenly noticed I needed a gift for Mrs. Pep, my uncannily non-aging sister. I found it, the One Perfect Nightgown (perfect in that it reversed from festive red garment to stately black shroud and was, resultantly, really two nightgowns) in the second floor’s Intimates section, which was located, conveniently enough, just between Bobby Flay’s Empire and Unreachable Bedding. Thrilled with my finding (it not only reversed, it fit all, and cost nothing!), I couldn’t wait to fly down the escalator, make my purchase, and get safely home.

Which was when I realized that, as much as nobody works there when it’s not Christmas, even more people don’t when it is. The line to that one suicidal cashier was as serpentine as it was Soviet, and everyone in it was buying six items at least, if not seven, if not--or so it seemed to me--forty-two.

I stood in it anyway, for maybe a minute, or until I could feel my face start to twitch. Torn between two evil prospects (stand in line and implode, or return my perfect gift to its rack and come back the next day when it would surely be gone), I felt a lightbulb form over my head. A lightbulb which, since this was Kohl’s, no employee would ever notice, let alone dust, let alone, no matter how burned out it was, ever think to reach up and change. And back up the escalator I flew.

It--The Crockpot—sat not far away from Mr. Flay's tongs, perched on a shelf displaying itself--a crockpot not meant to be sold so much as admired. Glancing around lest someone (but who?) catch me (but for what? Was I stealing?  No, just rearranging!), I lifted its lid, slipped in the gown, put the lid quietly back into place and, still expecting to be seized by security, skittered like a (like a?) paranoid all the way home.

I can’t say why exactly it felt so delicious to return the next morning (when the cashier’s line was no longer long) and lift up that lid to find it still sitting there so very placid and so undisturbed--I just know that it did.   

What’s more, Mrs. Pep likes it.  She even wears it.  It fits her, she says--both sides!--like a glove.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Atrocity Upon Atrocious Atrocity

First, let me just say this about Sarah Palin and her astonishing use of the term “blood libel” as well as her perhaps even more astonishing (to me anyway) use of the verb “to purport:”

She does not know what she is saying. 

Seriously. She just does not know. She’s like a toddler who grins at you while bleating the F word she heard on TV, except she happens to be in her forties. But if you think she has ever once said “purport” in real life, then you must also believe she understands Blood Libel to be something more than the name of a rock group, and I sincerely, but truly, believe she does not. She might, with the dubious help of her speechwriters, purport to have a vocabulary, but no speechwriter living or dead can convince us she has any kind of  context at all, particularly a historical context. Jews? Are you kidding? She has no idea. If she hasn't been told that Jews rhymes with Booze, she rhymes it, I'm totally certain, with Moose

Moving onward, or rather backward, to other atrocities, let me just say how very pleased I am that the holiday season is so very over. And let me just tell you how I got through it, which was mainly by getting sick (unplanned) and feeling atrocious (also unplanned). 

The only good thing about feeling atrocious in the physical sense is that you no longer care about the psychological sense, as it is completely eclipsed by the body's discomfort. Some might say it is also compounded by the body's discomfort (did Sylvia Wrath have the flu when she put her head in that oven or did she not?) and this is true too. 

Eclipsed and compounded; contradictions abound!  Either way, I declined two Thanksgiving dinner invitations not just because I was feeling atrocious, but because the feeling atrocious made me recall that socializing when you’re half deaf feels like being stuck in a blender. A blender turned on to “puree.” 

So I spent Thanksgiving alone on my couch watching every episode of Six Feet Under I could get On Demand and dining, because the antibiotic I was taking was making me sicker than I already was, on soda crackers and ginger ale. Meanwhile, my upstairs neighbors (who had kindly extended one of my two invitations) were cooking up a Thanksgiving storm with relatives from what sounded like ten generations, their happy voices laughing and booming amidst the fragrances—the so very nostalgic and dangerously evocative fragrances—of turkey and sage and, yes, pumpkin pie. All of which would have made me hysterical with grief had I not, in anticipation of just this atrocity, practiced the art of self-immunization. 

I don’t mean a flu shot, though I’d gotten that too (and why don’t they work?) but immunization against olfactory grief.  What, I asked myself, was I going to miss most about missing Thanksgiving? The  post-Thanksgiving Day sandwich, of course! The turkey, the mayo, the sourdough French bread, the strategic dabs of unctuous stuffing and tartly florid cranberry sauce!

So what I did in order to not have to miss it was to have it instead. And not just to have it but to have it and have it, every day for a week before Thanksgiving even occurred. Being sick, I cooked nothing, of course, but I didn’t need to because my local deli had everything I needed hot and on hand. And after I finally became immune to the lure of the sandwich, I immunized myself against the lure of dessert, which for me will always be the pumpkin pie my Aunt Laura bought at Blum’s in the city to bring over the meadow and through the woods—okay, across the Bay Bridge—to her brother’s family’s Thanksgiving dinner. Only, of course, I did not go to Blum’s, I went to the supermarket and bought one of those hideous pies whose labels list six thousand ingredients.  I brought it home and sprayed it with the dubious and unspellable Rediwhip.  Luckily, its taste was so atrociously inferior to my Aunt Laura's pie, I was fully immune to it after only one piece, and got to throw the rest in the garbage.

Oh yeah, and then there was Christmas. By then I was feeling a bit less atrocious, and since Mrs. Pep, who is now the only sister—or immediate family-- I can lay claim to, was in town while her husband, the esteemed Mr. Pep, was still in New York, I made her come stay with me on Christmas Eve, the only might of the year when even I understand I should not be alone.

I lured her there with fresh Dungeness crab, which, like a Food Network mental, I served two ways: Cold on sourdough bread with Trader Joe’s organic mayo, and warm with truffle butter and angel hair pasta. Crab is my only Christmas tradition, and I always buy it out of the shell because I am way too old for the cracking and seeking. Crab meat might cost $30 a pound but since you can’t eat more than five ounces without throwing up, it is still a remarkable holiday deal. Mrs. Pep enjoyed the meal thoroughly, and also liked Carrie Fisher’s “Wishful Drinking” which I made her watch so as to avoid the potential grief of Christmas Eve conversation.

The next day we went, like everyone else, to see “The King’s Speech” where I unexpectedly threw a huge tantrum because the theater was filled not just with heterosexual couples, but with ancient, white-haired, fatly arthritic, but nonetheless still totally smug heterosexual couples. And I hated them so much for their nonchalant teamwork, for the males securing, as they had for decades, their mutual fat-laden popcorn and cokes while the females secured their two perfect seats, that I did not get over it for maybe five days.

Mrs. Pep, who is half of such a couple of herself, was duly appalled, but such is the nature of family relations.