Warning: Some (men) may find the following discussion too embarrassing. Reader discretion is advised.
I find conversations among women at a coffee bar frequently become the adult equivalent of ghost stories at summer camp — designed to frighten you to bits. Accounts of icky diseases. Sagas of ugly divorces. Rumors of crimes in the neighborhood. If you come away from a morning break with the ladies at your favorite Starbucks without a spike in your blood pressure or feeling just a little bit squeamish, you haven't done it right.
One day recently, I do believe I scared the socks off my exercise group when I uttered these two words: Bra Shopping.
I heard a gasp. One woman shuddered. Someone clapped her hand over her mouth. In the silence that fell upon us, the dread was palpable.
And so, with my grande, half-caff, soy, no-foam latte with caramel drizzle illuminating my face like a flashlight at a bonfire, I began my terrifying tale.
It was a dark and stormy day. Lightening flashed and thunder rolled as the glass door of the lingerie shop creaked open. Two shadowy figures at the cash desk looked up with sinister expressions that made my flesh crawl. They seemed to cast a spell over me. I tried to turn and run, but their gaze fixed me in my spot.
"How can we help you today, my pretty?" one of them croaked. The other returned to her ceaseless folding of underpants too small for a Barbie, a zombie-like glaze cast over her hollow eyes.
"I'm looking for a..a… bra," I managed to choke out the words. "You see, my car broke down outside your store, and I.…" Sweat beaded up on my forehead. Words caught in my throat.
"Come. Come in, my dear. We have what you need."
I felt my legs stumbling forward though my feet were like concrete blocks.
"What kind of bra do you want? You see. We have so many." She wheezed a maniacal, breathy "uheha, uheh," a simpering laugh not unlike Peter Lorre in a mad scientist movie.
"Well, you know, I, uh, oh, I don't know, um, what do you recommend?" The cat had my tongue. There wasn't a cat on the premises. This is a metaphor.
"The older gals seem to like this one," she thrust a giant, padded structure toward me, its back and sides clearly meant for full coverage and shaping.
I was too stunned to react to the pejorative "old lady" remark.
"Come, my sweet," she beckoned me to a fitting room, "Try it on. You'll see."
Meekly, fearfully, I followed her to the back.
"Let me know when you have it on and I'll come and check it for you. Uheha."
My heart raced. My mouth went dry. Panic was setting in. I removed my T shirt and discarded the pathetic rag of a bra I had on. I slid the monstrous cup-shaped garment over my shoulders.
"Do you have it on?" she cackled from the other side of the fitting room drape. "I'll CHECK it for you."
My survival instincts kicked in — not a moment too soon — I threw my T shirt back over my head and shivered it down across my torso — bosom now encased in foam gathered up firmly and pointing skyward. I stepped out before she had a chance to push the curtain aside.
I gasped at my reflection in the mirror. "OH! It's too much!" I said aloud, "I look like I'm all boobs in this thing!" The "girls" were up around my collarbone.
"Isn't that good?" she asked.
"Well, I don't know. Maybe for dressing up. But for everyday, it's a little pretentious."
And then, she hit me with the magic words — the hex to which I surrender every time — "It makes you look slimmer, dear."
I bought the damn thing. Curse you, Bra Lady! I escaped the store by the skin of my teeth.
When I had finished, the ladies at coffee sat quietly for a moment. Then, one of them broke the silence, "Yeah, bra shopping. The worst!" she paused, "But we should be grateful for healthy breasts."
Amen to that, Sister!