I’m one of those losers who rarely asks questions. Tell me how to get somewhere (turn right at the third stoplight, unless it’s Main Street, in which case you go another block and then … ), and I’ll nod intelligently. Yes, yes! I understand! Of course, I do! Piece of cake.
Then I stride confidently forward and turn right at Main Street and get lost and ask somebody else for directions, all the time nodding and trying to look as if I’m indelibly entering every tiny piece of information in my steel trap of a mind. Got it! Thanks! I’m practically there!
Similarly, I had my usual feeling of I-don’t-get-it-but-I’m-not-going-to-let-on dread when I was at my favorite store in Dallas, being taught how to tie a scarf. The store owner, Paulette, who’s effortlessly chic and creative, pulled one of her gorgeous scarves out of my clammy little hands and showed me the many ways I could accessorize with it.
Over the shoulder, then drape it, then tie this little corner and swoop it here and there and voila!
Or — pull it around your neck like a parachute and loft it backwards! Or tie it around your waist and fling it so it lofts attractively over your hips!
I watched in the mirror as she arranged a veritable wardrobe for me out of one single scarf. Remember what she’s doing, I kept telling myself, even though I knew there was no way I would.
“Or, you could do it this way.” That was from my friend, Deanna, who was watching in the background. She’s creative and artistic, too, and she said she was going to buy the scarf if I didn’t. Deanna yanked the scarf out of Paulette’s hands and started arranging it herself in myriad. chic and unfathomable ways. All we lacked was Isadora Duncan to give us her personal scarf tips. Egged on by each other’s je-ne-sais-quoi vision, Deanna and Paulette competed to drape and tie the scarf. And me? Well, I was the dummy, grinning and eager-to-please.
I bought the scarf because it was beautiful and would change my life and because — haven’t you noticed? — everybody is wearing scarves these days. They flip them around their necks and look as if they just came out of a wind tunnel, looking casual and avant-garde and as carefree as a woman in a tampon commercial.
Not me. Of course not. I took the scarf home, trying to remember even one of the intricate ways Paulette and Deanna had flung it around me. But something was always wrong. You look carefree and avant-garde with your scarf; I look self-conscious and ever-so-slightly bedraggled. Something is always not quite right with me when I dress up, especially if it involves scarves. A hem is always dragging, a run in my stockings is always beginning its scorched-calf policy, a slip is always showing, which is odd, since I don’t even wear slips.
Oh, but I want to look chic, too! And I want to wear my beautiful new scarf. So I do, almost always tying it in the same clunky way, but moving it from my neck and shoulders to my waist, then back again. I wear the scarf constantly. You don’t have to recognize my face in public, just look for the scarf and I’ll be somewhere under it.
“I’ve been wearing that scarf all the time,” I report to Paulette the next time I see her. “I just love it.”
She smiles. “How have you been wearing it?”
“Oh,” I say, “lots of ways. Just like you taught me.”
(Copyright 2009 by Ruth Pennebaker)