I had a new outfit. I had beautiful new outfit. And as I approached the crosswalk, I knew: this was my moment. I felt the onlookers settling into their places on either side of the street. The cross traffic light flicked from green to yellow and I took a deep breath, apprehensive as a runway model at her first show.
On Sunday Grandmother, who otherwise usually forgot me, took a car into town to “have a day” with me. I thought that her visit was over when she folded her napkin at the French brunch place on the Bowery, but as the handsome waiters whisked away our saucers and butter dishes and stemmed juice glasses, she looked me over and said, “I believe we need a visit to the dressmaker.”
It seemed that Grandmother had momentarily forgotten that one now “shopped” instead of having garments made to fit, but nonetheless her driver swept us around to the big B department stores and called ahead to book fitting rooms. There, attractive middle aged stylists (were they not really just floor saleswomen?) brought hanger after hanger of designer trousers and blouses and cocktail dresses. Grandmother would never buy anything piecemeal, and therefore everything I liked had to be completed with an “outfit”, down to the clutch and shoes. The women clucked and fussed and complimented my figure—”slender in all the right places!”—and asked me to turn this way and that on a dais before a trifold mirror. All the while Grandmother sat on a chaise or a sofa, sipping her Earl Grey and smirking.
The payment exchange was discreet: with a flick of her wrist Grandmother handed off her card, then acted as though nothing had happened until the receipt was returned on a silver tray. She signed with another wrist flick, eyes hooded and mouth tensed, as if she was doing something distasteful. We only purchased about five percent of what I tried on, but I estimated that she spent about 3 times what I paid in rent. I briefly considered whether I could sell the garments, or return them, to help ebb the cost of said rent. But noI was a young woman, struggling to get by in New York City; I needed—no, I deserved—some proper, fashionable clothes.
They were delivered a few days later, after some slight tailoring, by a foreign man who helped me make room in my pathetic armoire. My room had no proper closet.
I decided that the next day I would wear the simple silk dress and one of the 2 killer pairs of shoes. Mindy at work had a husband in finance and she always dressed to the nines; I always felt like I’d just fallen out of the Goodwill when I was standing next to her. And then there was beautiful Viola from Bushwick, who was closer to my age and likely did shop at the Goodwill. She wore such tattered, mismatched, ratty clothes that they passed as fashionable and excused their cheapness. Next to her I seemed frumpy, like someone who shopped at the Banana Republic outlet. Well, this outfit would show them. I topped it off with my big new hat.
And now here I was, waiting to cross 5th Avenue, finally feeling like one of those Manhattan sidewalk women whose photo could get snapped for a fashion blog at any moment. They were the women of establishment scenes in movies about New York, who worked in tall towers at fashion houses and magazines, whose apartments were made of glass and granite and had skyline views. They were models and they dated models and they only got bottle service. I wasn’t there yet, but finally, at least, I was dressed the part.
The avenue light turned red, and the crosswalk flicked to white. I began.
I could feel the eyes on me, the men hanging on the back of the garbage truck, the sunglassed woman trying to hail a cab, the teenage girls in cutoffs who were crossing the other way, the commuters in the bike lane, the homeless man leaning against the scaffolding—they were all looking at me! Me! Me!
Then, all at once, the buttery bottom of my new shoe slid forward on the slick white stripe of crosswalk paint, and I collapsed into a pile of silk and leather and street grime, right in the middle of 5th Avenue.