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3 Clerks to the Rescue

March 29, 2011

It was almost sort of nice outside today, almost sort of springlike. Which reminded me that after six years spent working at an office where “casual” did not begin to describe the dress code lassitude, I am now in a place where smart business-casual is the bottom rung, suits are encouraged and if you can muster a necktie, this is even better. But, I made this transition in October just as the season changed from warmish to brisk then quickly grew ice-cold. And so, my wardrobe upgrade was limited to sweaters, heavy blouses, lined trousers and wool skirts. I stocked up on double-thick stockings ranging from charcoal to smoke to grey, with some black thrown for when I need to lighten up, and a dark blue suit that makes me look the right shade of bossy. April arrives in three more sleeps, and within weeks I will swelter through my commute, perspiring like a monster from 9 to 5. Not to mention the grim out-of-place-itude of wearing grey and black when all around, flowers and buds and sprigs of grass are doing their best to perk the city up. This is as clear a way as any to tell spring it ought to go fuck itself. After such a long winter, that’s the last message I want to convey!

And so, the first warmish day nudging me to take my time instead of rushing back to work, I picked up a take-out lunch then decided to fit in a noonhour shop. By 12:15, I was in a dressing room wearing only my slip and tugging sweaters and shirts and things over my head. By 12:25, I was trapped inside a broken-zippered skirt, and it wasn’t until 12:40 that the clerks agreed no option remained but to take a pair of scissors and cut me loose.

Hang on…I should reverse a bit here.

Clothes and shoes and cosmetics and the colour pink, nail polish and pedicures and the ladies-only spa…bikini waxes and salons and shampoo-girl chit-chat…these are my sheepish vices. Not “guilty pleasures” exactly. More like things I wish I shunned as superficial and wasteful but really, I’ve admitted to myself I kinda love all these things, so hey, why not write about it and let it all hang out?

There is something appealing (and conflicting) about perching barefoot while another lady primps my toes, talking about really truly dumb shit, like how I feel about the episode of Friends airing on the flat-screen TV mounted across from the pedicure chairs. Or, how much I totally wish it were patio season right now, oh I know for sure me too, I mean gosh the winter was fuckin’ bruuuutal, wasn’t it, and my hair SO needs a trip to the salon after all those months of toque. Ok, so that last bit demonstrates my fondness for hyperbole more than things that come out of my mouth (at the spa, or anyplace else, ever), but I feel like the calibre of cultural commentary I engage in at the spa isn’t much more vaunted than that.

For years I scorned all things ladylike, at one point going so far as to pass a young man. Not because I wanted to be one, or transition to any degree, or experienced any sort of gender dysphoria. More like because the kneejerk feminism I had devoured in university had settled in my belly like a rock, and I couldn’t quite digest the vagaries and variations of feminism paired with feminine. But, a lady must grow up one day and make peace with her identity and with her politics and with her likes and dislikes, be these what they may. Call it maturing, like a ladylike wine. My day of (to further the wine thing) being most politically mature and drinkable arrived a couple years ago…ahem…around age 35. Suddenly, all the femme trappings I had shunned and judged were not just ok but some were even desirable.

And so I found myself in a Bloor Street fitting room at lunchtime today, ok with the fact that I like heels and other fancy shit, and surrounded by a pile of pencil skirts, blouses, ruffly camisoles and a fantastic pair of slacks (yes, I said it…slacks…). Which brings things full circle to the changeroom and the busted zipper and the three clerks and their snips. To be clear, this was the skirt of my dreams: slate blue, the perfect match to a very pricey and very pretty jacket I purchased months ago and promptly ripped the paper tag out of so I could pretend it didn’t cost me what it did. This is to say nothing of the sensational ass this skirt bestows on all who wear it. Or so I am told…by a handful of ladies in the changeroom, the clerk who owns one just like it herself, and the hand-fluttering gay dude who assisted with my rescue up to the point where the scissors got involved. “Oh my gawd,” he swooned, “it is a CRIME to ruin this skirt! Have you seen what it’s doing to your behind?!” I am nothing if not a sucker for a garment that gives good ass, and so this skirt (which, in addition to being simply dreamy, was also reduced from $250 to $37 and could therefore be rationalised faster than a hummingbird flits his wings), THIS SKIRT WAS COMING HOME WITH ME.

It is possible pure vanity radiating from my eyes and bouncing off the mirror broke that skirt’s little blue zipper, or perhaps the children were using shoddy materials for their piecework the day it was made. I smoothed the fabric neatly over my cute bum, took one final twirl before the mirror, allowed my self a moment of “admire admire admire myself” indulgence, then gave the zipper a pull. Nope. Gave it a tug. Gave it two tugs: tug, tug. Nothing. Ha! I thought, wouldn’t it be funny if I got stuck in this thing and had to pull it over my head? Alas, any skirt that makes any ass look as fine as this skirt did is a skirt too tight to fit over a lady’s shoulders. But, I mean, this was the good ass skirt to end all good ass skirts, and the last thing I wanted was to damage it beyond further wearing.Yes, I really thought about wrecking it and not being able to purchase it and wear it more times and how this would make me kinda sad.

I spun it around and yanked the zipper up in front and set to work fiddling, wiggling and just plain yanking it as hard as I could, but the fucking thing would not budge. By this point, the sharp pointy latch cut into my finger and I was handling the whole operation even more poorly in an effort to not bleed on the (broken, imprisoning) merchandise. This gingerness wasn’t so much out of concern for the skirt as that if I needed to seek assistance, no poorly paid shop clerk was going to help wrestle me out of a biohazard.

The first shopgirl on the scene smiled and asked me to turn around then daintily grasped the zipper. You might call her gesture a tug, but I don’t think so. And there is no way it qualified as a pull. If it had a sound effect, it would be something like “bink bink”! She smiled, got a better grip, and after a two-second struggle, surrendered. She clicked a button on her tiny walkie-talkie and summoned another lady to the dressing room. This one was shorter, stockier, wearing the new line of jungle-cargo fatigues, a bedazzled giraffe-print shirt, and a headset that made it clear she was a tier closer to “in charge”. Quickly brought abreast of the situation, she was not messing around. “Well, I can see from your shoes that you’re on your lunch break, so probably you’ve got someplace to be.” (I didn’t) “Turn around…” (I did) “We’ve very sorry for this delay. Do you mind?” And with that, she jammed her hand down the back of the skirt while hauling on the zipper with the other. Still, we got nowhere. Her headset crackled as she called in two more clerks.

This piece was nearly entitled FOUR Clerks to the Rescue, except one member of the squad was concerned about propriety, or more particularly the risk of impropriety, and after rooting around in the skirt a bit himself, fanned the air with his hands, declared his presence at that moment “beyond inappropriate” and bolted for the men’s department. I could have tried to explain to him why it’s not gender but sexual preference that makes it appropriate or inappropriate for him to assist in my books, but that might’ve set us back as far as my circa-1995 efforts to look like a guy. He excused himself, and a few minutes later, while one lady knelt to hold the skirt by its hem, another yanked on the zipper, and the third gave directions (“pull it! give it a really good one! really get it with your fingers!”), a male hand poked around the corner and deposited a pair of scissors on the dressing table then withdrew. Hard leather soles clacked on tile as he withdrew to the border of “appropriate” once again.

The trio of ladies now conceded defeat and agreed I would need to be cut free from the skirt. But, this was not a problem so easily solved. First, they needed to fully document their efforts and mine. Then, they needed to agree that everything had  been tried, short of destroying the skirt. The skirt of my dreams. Furthermore, they needed to sign off (I wish these were still typing pool days so that I could claim they did so “in triplicate”), attaching an official form to the damaged skirt then sending the works to head office to prove that not only did the zipper break, not only did they cut it off of me, but also that afterward, no one took the ruined garment to a tailor to have it patched up and fitted with a functional zipper then worn. For free!!! That, of course, would be theft. On the one hand, fair enough. In a chain as large as this one, it’s likely that without some sort of policy like that, more than a handful of clerks would decide that a slightly screwed up $300 skirt was probably better than no $300 skirt (and definitely better than paying $300 for it while earning $12 an hour), and would be cutting garments off one another left and right. But on the other hand, REALLY?! Three women had to sign forms before hacking me out of a skirt, in which I had been trapped for nearly 25 minutes?

Sign-off executed, the strangest part now became the ladies’ discussion about how best to cut the skirt open. My vote? Quick and dirty, straight down the side. But, focused as they were on the zipper, they instead plotted a path down my backside, as though their incision would confirm that the reason I couldn’t get out was indeed the zipper instead of, for instance, the lack of a bottom opening to step through, or the sudden seizing of the pockets. I was briefly certain the lady had snared my pantyhose and was about to send me on a second shopping trip to the nearby hosiery shop to replace them, but the snipper stopped just short, carving a neat V-shape down one side of the offending zipper and up the other.

“Well,” said the jungle-cargo clad one. Like the word was its own sentence. ‘Well. At least you’ve got a good story!”

At first I thought, what the fuck, a broken zipper in the dressing room of an overpriced and poorly manufactured clothing line, holding me up while my lunch hour ticks by and the ending is “and then I got out of the skirt, put my clothes back on, and returned to the office.” That is a good story? That’s not even a story, never mind one of quality. But then the same thing that impels me toward spas and nail bars and green tea pools and waxing studios and shops lined with row after row of tall, pointy shoes kicked in. And, I admitted that yes, it is. A good story. Because, yes, it was clothes and pretty ladies and wan banter and nice scarves and good smells like violets and maybe jasmine, too. And yes, those things are not the deepest of things. But…those things? They’re fun. And, that kind of fun, in moderation, if perfectly ok.


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