Second hand

“But I do think that when you own something that once belonged to someone else, it’s like some secret contact with them, with their past. A way to touch people without having things get all messy and emotional. That is what second hand is. But then there are always people who worry about whether those hands were properly washed.”

–Michael Zadoorian, “Second Hand”

I’m ironing a new pair of pants. New-to-me pants. In between puffs of steam I wonder the reason they were cast away: weight gain? weight loss? they were *gasp* so last season? an impulse buy?

I’m happy to have them. I only paid a few bucks at one of the local resale boutiques. There was a time in life when I’d cross the street and hold my nose if I saw a resale shop ahead. And the thought of using or wearing something that touched someone else’s skin? Well, that was one step above the bottom.

Not now. I’m reformed. Financial hardship and the local ethos have influenced my thinking. If I have to buy new I hang my head in shame. It’s like a reverse failure. I like the treasure hunt aspect of second hand. I like the shops. The people working in them seem to genuinely like their jobs. They play good music.

Just last month I landed a pair of gently worn Durango cowgirl boots for $10. Another reason I love resale is the endless possibilities. If I want a red sweater, I just go to the racks with all the red garments grouped together. So easy.

Recently I suffered through a trip to the mall in search of a red garment and left in utter frustration. There was no logic to any of it. The offerings seemed as contrived as the piped-in music and the corporate-ordered decor and employees. And not a stitch of red. Apparently red is the color of losers this season.

Do I care anymore? The answer is mostly no.

It’s part of being 47, I think. It’s a place in life you earn. I no longer care all that much about high fashion. Not that I was ever a style maven.

Speaking of pants, which I was not wearing at the gym last night, and thereby exposing my legs to the unforgiving overhead lights. I once had very shapely legs. Next to my eyes, my legs were my second-best feature. No more. They’re thicker and a bit saggy around the knees. Worst of all are the scabs and scars. Some are old scars from hiking and biking injuries. Some are the result of chronic hives. The itching makes you reckless about what you use to answer its call. The aftermath of blood, pain and burning is a relief compared to the itching. When the welts recede, you’re left with a crime scene of scabs and bruises.

I’ve caught side glances at the gym, mostly from young men but sometimes women, too, as my legs are an attention-getter. I’m sure they shudder once I’m out of range. Why don’t I wear yoga pants or capris would be the obvious question. On my worst days, I do. But sometimes I just don’t care.

Head to toe I am a collection of second-hand parts.

I’m inspired by a 70-something woman I see around town. She proudly wears her hair in a fuchsia mohawk. Sure it looks crazy, but wow, to be that free.

That’s what I want. Not careless, but carefree. Not looking like I let myself go, but like I can let go when necessary. Like I have great stories tucked away in secret pockets.

Go away, homecoming

Can I say a few things about homecoming?

Whew.

Aaaaargh!

WTF?

OK. Now that I have that out of my system, I’ll say this: I’ve never cared much about homecoming. I know to some folks it is the biggest deal ever. In my high school days, the biggest thing about homecoming was using float-building parties as an excuse to be out of the house doing things that made us feel, er, floaty.

Homecoming has changed. My mother and in-laws tell me back in their day it was just a dance. Maybe you wore your good wool skirt. While I never went to a homecoming dance, my friends did. I saw the pictures. It was a night to dress up, no question, but not on the scale of your wedding or a debutante ball. I don’t recall stretch limousines, party buses, full-length beaded gowns and elaborate up-dos, either. For prom, yes. Homecoming, no.

Am I showing my age?

The first hurdle in homecoming is selecting a dress that is neither a budget-breaker nor a vomit-inducer. Luckily, my Girl from the West did a pretty good job of staying within the bounds of taste and decency. There were a few times I had to leave the dressing room in frustration due to disagreements about the proper size and fit. What I saw parading around in the dressing area was both amusing and shocking. First, that some of these dresses were made at all. Second, that they were under consideration for purchase.

The second hurdle is keeping your teenager from slipping into the abyss of senselessness and divahood.  Like wedding No. 2 and baby No. 2, you learn that most of the stuff you thought you had to have for event No. 1 was unnecessary. I had a much easier time this year getting Girl from the West to realize that she had most of what she needed in her closet.

The third hurdle, perhaps the biggest one of all, is my own lack of understanding of how some things work in this world. I had an atypical childhood. I did not participate in many things that most people would consider normal rites of passage. So, now, as the mother of teenager, I question and marvel at things other parents consider standard operating procedure. For example, the pre-dance, picture-taking hullabaloo. After taking the obligatory shots at home with the corsage and boutonniere pinning, I was instructed to drive to a stranger’s house, which possesses some outstanding feature, such as a large foyer, a formal staircase, an elaborately landscaped yard. There, I would join a herd of bored and somewhat confused parents armed with cameras.  For the next 30 minutes or so, it was the red carpet on Oscar night.  I felt like a paparazzo outside a popular celebrity hangout.

In theory, it’s a nice way to get pictures of your teen and her date. In reality, it’s ground zero for drama. Last year, there was a meltdown over a cream-colored gown getting slammed in a greasy car door. This year, one young woman felt the need to openly mock and ridicule her mother, who apparently did not know how to use a digital camera. But it doesn’t end there. This goes on until someone says, “stop the madness.”

I always feel a little off after these experiences. The kids seem spoiled and full of entitlement. The parents seem addled or resigned. I’m scared to death that I’ve become the dim-brained parent of a spoiled teen.  I’m never sure if my perceptions are shared by other parents or if I’m hyper-sensitive. Like last year, I came home, drank a glass of wine, and assumed the fetal position for the rest of the night.

In another dozen years, I get to do it all again.

Oh god, hold me.

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Beautiful, tiny, gone

MZ archives, June 2007

“Why are you wearing those sandals?”

“Because they are so beautiful.”

“But they don’t fit.”

“But I want them.”

Do you want things, wear things, even if they don’t fit,  just because they are so beautiful?

My Girl from the East, who is four, is sitting on the floor trying to stuff her size 8 toddler feet into size 6 sandals. She doesn’t want to let go, much like the middle-aged woman who cooks her meals and drives her to school. That woman, who happens to be me,  also tries on beautiful things that don’t fit and insists on keeping them for irrational reasons.

In spite of these emotions, I purged her closet and mine and formed three piles on the floor: toss, donate and sell. She didn’t look twice at the jumpers and rompers and sun suits in the donate pile. Some things in the sell pile stirred feelings.

Like the white faux leather sandals accented by red and green butterflies. They were a favorite. When my Girl saw them on the floor, she immediately yanked off her socks and stuffed her feet into them. She walked in them for a few minutes, denying that the toe and heel overhang bothered her. (I know it did.) Then she sat on the couch (I’m sure as a way to avoid the feeling of walking in them) outstretched her legs and stared at them as if they were long-lost friends.

I know what she’s doing. She’s reminiscing. Those sandals, along with their scuff marks and wear, hold memories of summers gone by. I’m saying good-bye to the baby who became the toddler who is now a preschooler.  I’m putting the past in bags and boxes and getting it out of my life. Show’s over, folks. Time to toss, donate or convert to cash that which no longer serves a purpose.

I felt a little bad tugging the sandals off her feet. As I scrubbed them with a Magic Eraser and tucked them into the plastic bin marked for the consignment shop, I talked with her a little about growing up and letting go.

I know how she feels. I have my bag of things that don’t fit. I have my own issues of wanting what’s beautiful but no longer serves a useful purpose. After our chat, I grabbed the skinny jeans that won’t budge past my knee caps and threw them back on the donate pile. You see, I’d pulled them off the donate pile and sneakily stashed them on the staircase, with visions of saving them for when they’d fit again.

We made peace with the idea that newer, bigger, more beautiful things are out there. We can’t wait to find them.

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Granny panties: public health nuisance?

bigpants

by alessandraelle via creative commons

Aside from fine lines and dark circles and loss of muscle tone, there’s one thing that really deflates my over-40 self-esteem: the underwear choices for the typical middle-aged body.

Gone are the days of  itty-bitty pretty things in bright colors, accented with lace and beads and bows. Now, it’s all plain and dark and thick. Now, it could double as body armor in a combat zone.

More than anything else about this age, I’m embarrassed of my underwear drawer.

A few weeks ago at a picnic with a friend — who has not yet crossed the threshold into fortysomething – we cursed our big appetites and what it does to our bodies. Then, she revealed a secret to me. She raised the hem of her pink ruffled sleeveless blouse to reveal a heavy-duty bustier that stretched from her rib cage to her hips. She made a fist and rapped her knuckles against the reinforced siding to demonstrate its figure-controlling power.

Wow.

I was floored. I assumed her smooth lines were the result of genetics. Some women are lucky. But for us, pregnancy turned a slab of granite into a bowl of mush. She bought it, she whispered to me over a bowl of Sun Chips we were sharing, because someone had asked her if she was pregnant again.

Ouch.

I feel her pain. As a former member of the itty-bitty bikini club, the crop top and low rise pants club, middle age has forced me to relinquish my membership. I hang with a different crew now, the ones who shop for what at worst can be called granny panties and at best are called figure shapers.

Ugh.

I have discovered some things that make this transition tolerable:  Spanx, or anything Spanx-like.

Shopping for this type of underwear, however,  is a different experience. No longer can I go to the cute  lingerie boutiques and grab a handful of candy-colored “fundies” in my size and pay for them. Now I need to go to stores that have senior discount days to buy something to return my body to what it once was, to smooth and redistribute flesh, to conceal and reshape.

So imagine my horror on a recent shopping  trip when the dressing room clerk plucked the Spanx out of the bouquet of try-on items in hand and waved them overhead.

“No. No. No.” She admonished, shaking her head to and fro rapidly for added emphasis. “You aren’t permitted  to try on undergarments in a store!”

She used words like exposed crotch, and hygiene and public health threat. Suddenly I felt like Borat in his man-thong.

Um.

Well, I wasn’t going to take everything off and put them on, I retorted. I was going to put them on over my own underwear and see how they worked with this rather clingy dress I just bought.

More nos from the dressing room monitor. More head shaking. More talk of dreaded diseases and H1N1 and health department crackdowns.

I know I’ve tried on these body shapers before at other stores. In fact, I clearly recall a dressing-room attendant at a very upscale shop helping me find one to wear with my wedding dress. I’ve tried on bathing suits in stores countless times.

I’m not a germophobe, so much of what this attendant was talking about flies under my radar. I’m also not a shopper. I do not enjoy it. Least of all do I like trying on clothes or having to return them if they do not fit properly.

I looked at those Spanx waving over my head like the flag of doom. I talked of the price tag. I suggested that it was a lot to spend on something if it didn’t fit.

The attendant offered a solution: Buy the underwear, try it on at home, then return it to the store for a refund.

Then — and get this –she said with great pleasure that if the underwear is returned to the store, employees will have to put on protective gloves, render the garment useless, and ceremoniously dispose of it.

Whoa.

Do they have a HazMat team on duty for underwear and bathing suit returns? I ‘d love to see that in action. Do they use big tongs and drop them in airtight biohazard drums? Do they set a granny panties fire behind the store?

I suppose this all makes sense. I know it does. But something about the way this moment played out seemed hysterical and over the top. And now I feel as if I’ve been living in a cave on this matter.  After conducting a bit of online research, it seems that this is a health code rule. It turns out that people are pigs and do horrible things in dressing rooms and to clothing.

There are a lot of Borats out there.

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