I’ve been shopping with my friend Pat ever since we worked at the same law firm more than 30 years ago. She’s always been a bad influence on me.
“Buy that,” she’d command me and I’d buy whatever it was I was trying on. Pat was kind of the mentor to my protegee, since she was older and more opinionated. I still use those terms to this day, since it makes me ecstatic to refer to myself as being someone’s protegee at my age.
In those days, buying something wasn’t that serious. If we purchased something at lunch, took it back to the office and didn’t like it, it wasn’t a big deal. We’d have one of the law clerks return it for us. They even returned a white dress I bought once that I decided I didn’t like after I spilled a glass of red wine all over it on a business trip to Dallas. (This was also the business trip when we were too hung over to attend the seminar we’d allegedly come for.)
Anyway, between the law clerks, a good dry cleaners and plenty of aspirin, we managed to cope and shop some more.
These days, of course, we’re much more decorous and abstemious. We only shop occasionally, although Pat often advises me about my purchases. When I dithered about whether to return an expensive pair of shoes a couple of years ago, she explained to me how an article of clothing is amortized. The longer you keep it and the more you wear it, she proclaimed, the less it costs. Every time she sees me in that particular pair of amortized shoes, she gloats. “Such a smart buy,” she says.
Today, Pat had to return something at Tiffany’s. That sounded benign enough. I should have been a little suspicious, though, when she announced she was too sick with a cold or allergies or something cruddy to go to a movie, but healthy enough to shop. That defied logic, but I’m gullible.
At Tiffany’s, she thrust her little blue package at a shopwoman, announcing she didn’t like the necklace she’d bought several months ago. “It hangs wrong,” Pat sniffed.
The next thing I knew, she was trying on several pairs of diamond earrings. I wasn’t sure what this had to do with the returned necklace, but, in Pat’s mind, the two seemed related. I played my usual role — as a human brake — saying things like, “Don’t you want to think about that?” and “Isn’t that a little expensive?” But I could tell Pat was in one of her Jackie O moods, and you might as well step in front of a steamroller when she’s feeling like that. So I moved into my other shopping role: Enabler.
Around us, the store personnel began to get more and more cheerful and animated. Sure, the economy might be tanking, but Pat was doing her best to stimulate consumer spending. “She’s selfess in that way,” I told the guy who was helping us.
We left with a larger blue bag and the diamond earrings and sauntered to another jewelry store. This was my part of the shopping trip — what I call a planning excursion for my husband for a significant birthday I’ll be having in the next 18 months. I’m not a split-second, decisive buyer like Pat. I agonize forever. I looked at one watch after another, amazed at their cost (the dollar’s nosedive, the price of gold). But hey, browsing’s free. Right?
I moved to a less expensive watch and showed it to Pat. “It’s a little common, don’t you think?” she asked. “I liked the other one better.”
I tried on the first watch again, admiring it on my wrist. “It’s not a purchase,” Pat said. “It’s an investment.” She directed the young man behind the counter to write down a description of the watch so my husband could come in and look at it. “You have layaway, don’t you?” she asked. Yes, they had layaway.
“You see?” Pat said, triumphantly. “What you’re doing is a courtesy for your husband.”
I looked at the price tag again. I was fairly sure my husband wouldn’t regard this as a courtesy; a heart attack in the making was more like it.
By the time I dropped her off at her house a couple of hours later, Pat could barely get to the front door with all her packages. I watched her go in and thought how wonderful it is to have an old friend with decades of memories, good and bad purchases, return credits, spilled wine and shoe amortizations in common.
“You can borrow the diamond earrings any time you want!” Pat screamed as I drove off. She waved the blue package at me emphatically.
(Copyright 2008 by Ruth Pennebaker)