Friday, June 09, 2006

The Center of the Universe

June 8

I had planned to go shopping Wednesday. The catalogues had intrigued me for months with their slick pix of gorgeous people in glamorous settings with palm fronds placed strategically in sight. I should know better -- I used to stage those photo shoots. Even then I wished I were the person in the great clothes looking happily off camera to a non-existent, even better looking person of the opposite sex, ready for an adventure, aided immeasurably by the look I had achieved by donning the great clothes. I wasn't close to being that person, but I was a hell of a lot closer than I am now.

Wednesday I spent waiting for a phone call about the situation with the possible teacher, then when the call came 2 hours later than I expected, I had an interview with the teacher and her husband. My day was tense and fraught with responsibility. And I never did get that shopping trip in. So Thursday would be the day.

It's not that I am one of those people who looks at shopping as therapy. I did need some new togs. I decided that rather than take my chances by ordering from a catalogue, waiting for the order to be delivered, then trying on and being disappointed, I would just do what most people around here do and go shopping in Fairhope. I knew what I wanted and decided I would be able to spend $125 for the look, which, according to the catalogue prices, would be about right.

That should be doable, even in pricey Fairhope, now chockablock with chic boutiques that are under no threat of being displaced by the advent of a Wal-Mart three miles out of town. Most of these places are owned by lawyers' wives from Mobile, and they carry upscale fashion with price tags that can be staggering. It's not like me to go at the height of the season and pay full price, but for some reason I thought it was already markdown time. I found out otherwise.

I tried the place I expected would have just what I'd seen in the catalogue, probably already on the 30% discount rack. No luck. Prices were three times what I expected and I could tell the clothes would make me look like somebody's grandmother. Don't remind me I am somebody's grandmother; we're talking about shopping here. The ultimate fantasy land.

The second shop had a sign on the door that said 50% off but when I got in I saw that was only for a few heavy suits and what looked to be winter evening dresses. Didn't need either. A good-looking blouse was $225, a pair of jeans $300. Not my kind of place.

I crossed Section Street diagonally to go into one of the many shops that make up the arcade that used to be the old dry goods store. This is the spot, once called The Center of the Universe by the late Joyce Dickey, who moved here in the 1980's to teach the finer points of English literature and creative writing as part of adult education programs in town. I have stolen the phrase and often apply it to that intersection. The original general store, owned by the original Fairhope Henry Crawford, stood on the spot. The town water tower was once in the middle of the intersection, where the dirt roads intersected.

The little shop is called The Cat's Meow and it had just the kind of thing I was looking for. It seemed to cater to an older clientele with a light heart. Large sizes, bright colors. A white haired couple was in there and she had a few things to pick up for a cruise. Her husband was trying to hustle her out when I got there, but the saleslady (probably the owner) suggested he have a seat in a comfortable chair. She had one of those irrestible Mobile accents, heavy with honeysuckle, and as soon as I heard her talking I knew I was going to buy something. When that accent is applied to gushing comments about how cute and darlin' you look in the clothes, you (or at least I) have no sales resistence at all. I put on one outfit I didn't particularly like, rainbow stripes that looked like a pajama set, and I knew it looked kinda cute on me but that I wouldn't buy it. I proudly paraded it out of the dressing room for the group to see. The white haired man had already given in and was helping sell the clothes.

"That looks wonderful!" he said to me. "Like a teenager!"

I didn't buy the pajamas, but I did buy the bottoms and a couple of other things, and ended up writing a check for $207.07. I had a contemporary Fairhope experience: I heard this cruise-couple saying they were selling their house on the beach when they returned from the cruise. How much, said the saleslady-owner. A million dollars? "Two and a half," they said. Well, it had five bedrooms, and was an old bay house that had never had hurricane damage. It was just too much house for them. That's an odd thing to hear in Fairhope, where empty-nesters are building houses that assure a bedroom and bath for every grandchild.

I left my contemporary Fairhope experience feeling like I had just taken a trip to a foreign land. I guess I had -- an emissary from the the old Fairhope glimpsing the new. The price I paid would have paid for a trip in a time machine.

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