Thursday, August 31, 2017

Bra Shopping: An American Horror Story

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!

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Where Will YOU be for Totality?

I plan to squeeze in a short vacay and a few too many glasses of wine before the end of the world next week.  

Oh, you haven't heard? August 21st apparently. That's the day that the moon will eclipse the sun.

"Some" folks are predicting that the solar eclipse is a sign of the coming apocalypse. (Hey! "Eclipse" and "apocalypse" rhyme. Maybe that's where they got the idea.)  

Anyway, they are going to be SO disappointed to wake up on August 22nd and find things pretty much the same as the day before. 

Or, at least, that's my prediction. I'm proceeding on a reasonable assumption, based on having actually LIVED through a total eclipse of the sun, that another day is coming. Sure, anyone can get hit by a bus, which I suppose could justify taking precautions against armageddon, but are we all going to snuff it because of the moon passing between us and the sun? I'm guessing not.

And besides, the Calamity Crew are going to miss out on all the fun! (By the way, what WILL people who are expecting the end of days DO next Monday? I'm guessing they aren't shopping online for solar eclipse glasses and setting up folding chairs on the lawn, or organizing viewing parties along with the thousands of others staking out spots in one of the cities under the path of "Totality." Maybe they will all join hands and chant something, like, oh, I don't know, "We flunked Science. We flunked Science.") 

Already there is considerable buzz about the eclipse in the media. And why not? This is a huge deal — the first time in 99 years that the path of Totality will pass entirely within the US. 

Solar viewing glasses are sold out anywhere I've searched locally — and we'll only get 90% of the full show where we live. I can't even imagine the excitement where they will see 100% darkness.

But, wait a sec! Yes, I can! Because, as noted above, we lived through Totality! It was February 26, 1979. Winnipeg was directly under the path of a total solar eclipse. We were about to witness an honest to goodness, 100% coverage, full daytime-turns-to-night solar event, and the whole city was lit up about it. 

We had government-issued viewing goggles — scientist-approved, safety lenses mounted in cardboard — and some enterprising designer created handsome commemorative buttons that everyone wore for the week prior to the eclipse. 

For weeks afterward, the conversation each time you saw someone you knew, went something like this, "Where were you for Totality?" And you'd reply, "Oh, I was (fill in location)….wasn't it incredible? Where were you?" This awe-inspiring, celestial event united one and all.

And where were WE during Totality, you ask? 

Well, the Mr worked for Manitoba Theatre Centre and acted as company manager to escort a mime troupe on tour around rural Manitoba on a Greyhound. They stopped the bus at the side of the Trans-Canada and everyone tumbled out -- silently, of course — because it was a group of six mimes who were not speaking to each other either on-stage or off — a deeply ironic fact that has always amused me — and the Mr took this picture. Note the viewing glasses and the parkas. It was February in Manitoba — mind-numbingly cold.

As for me, I worked in a three-story, flat-roofed building downtown. Our entire office crew, along with about a hundred other folks, trooped up the fire exit stairs to the rooftop, a few minutes before the Big Moment. We all gazed skyward, freezing our Canadian toes and tuchuses off in the -30 degree air, and fell as silent as six touring mimes when the daytime twilight of the partial eclipse lapsed into darkness. The sun became replaced by a black hole in the sky, its corona glowing outward like radiant beams from a angel's halo. 

Where I was standing, only the snow on the roof lay behind me. I glanced back to witness two phenomena that we had been hearing about. Birds raced across the sky as though startled from their regularly programed activities, in a sudden hurry to find a roost as darkness set in. And then I saw the "shadow bands" — the ripple of the moon's shadow — a fleeting display scooting across the snow, perfectly contrasted on that white canvas. It was magical.

And so, I say to all those nut bar predictors of doom, "Get your heads out of your butts and enjoy this! This ultimate of astronomical displays! This most wondrous of natural phenomenon! You may not see another total eclipse of the sun in your lifetime — especially if there is no tomorrow!" 

Me? I have lunch plans for the 22nd. Ever the optimist.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Let's Dish, OR, A Brief History of Dinnerware I Have Known

Most nights, the Mr and I eat our evening meal at the dining room table. It's our little ritual effort to elevate midweek meals to the "wine and dine" category; also designed to keep us from noshing out of take-out containers on our laps while watching TV, like characters on "The Big Bang Theory." Conversation is important at dinnertime — much of it along the lines of, "How was your day, dear?" We listen to music. During winter months, I might even light a candle or two. On ordinary days, we use the kitchen dishes — "ordinary" being the operative word here because this is our "everyday" set of serviceable plates and salad bowls. The "good china" is reserved for guests.  

I was "dishing" about this with a good friend recently. It was a Proustian remembrance of things past.  Well, maybe it wasn't THAT brainy a discussion, but it certainly took us both on a nostalgic journey back to childhood — and beyond.

In my mother's generation, a bride received pieces of her chosen — possibly "registered" — china as wedding gifts. They would be displayed at her "Trousseau Tea" so everyone could admire her good taste. Or a newly wed might save up for items in the set, purchasing them one at a time with cash that was left over after all other necessary expenses had been paid. Some families inherited dishes from previous generations. Regardless of acquisition or provenance, fine china was among a family's most valued possessions; showcased in glass-fronted hutches; brought out for Sunday dinners when "company" came over. A dinner table laid with grandma's crocheted tablecloth and "the best set" announced that the folks you invited over mattered enough to get the good dishes down from the curio cabinet. It created a festive air appropriate for family celebrations and major holidays. 

Ours was not a wealthy household — comfortably middle class, maybe — but not rich. Regardless, "good" dishes were important and my mother treasured hers. As a child, I was fascinated with them, exhibited as they were in the china cabinet — a mini, curated museum of plates inserted into little slots that supported vertical displays, cups stacked one into another set upon the saucers, vegetable serving pieces carefully placed as accents, delicate sugar bowl and creamer arranged just-so. 

Sometime during my junior high years, Mum got a new set of china. I have no idea what happened to the old set, or why she made this radical change from the fussy, Olde English maroon floral pattern that I adored in the dining room display. It might have been a style shift for her or perhaps she heard of a good deal at Eaton's. My aunt worked in the Eaton's catalogue "China Re-Buy" department and, although we never had any idea what that meant, I suspect that she came across some robust bargains. In any case the new dishes were Minton, in a pattern called "Blue Symphony." They were oh, so elegant in a light, frothy turquoise with silver rims, a fluted edge, and a delicate leaf pattern laced around the inner circle. These new artifacts took their place in the cabinet to be admired and handled gingerly on Sundays. The way my mother said, "Minton" in hushed tones when asked what lovely new pattern she had bought made me think that they must be pretty high-class — a status symbol beyond our means.

Eventually, it was my turn. My mother and the aunt from Eaton's China Re-buy discussed my "hope chest." At 17, I certainly hoped that one day I'd be endowed with a "chest," but that's not what they meant. And seriously, why would they think that all of a sudden I needed a set of dishes? I had not had a single date throughout my entire high school career, so, I'm not sure why they thought I should be planning a wedding trousseau, but I guess hope springs eternal. Or maybe it was another steal of a deal at Eaton's. In any case, they encouraged me to pick a pattern. Absurd as that was, I did as I was told. It was a nice fantasy. I picked something befitting a modern miss in grade 12. It had white on white embossed flowers around the edge and a gold rim. Classy. Right away I got critique from the aunt about having to get gold flatware to match that rim, and wouldn't that just be a total nuisance?

Before I ever got a chance to use these dishes, I met the future Mr, and also went to Interior Design school. The times they were a'changin'. My modernist, Bauhaus-inspired, architecturally-based design education sent me spinning into a world unknown to a kid from the west end of Winnipeg. Danish, Finnish and German designs appeared on my radar — sleek, undecorated, simple, elegant, functional. I fell in love with the Mr, and almost simultaneously with a glossy white set of china, flatware and stemware from Rosenthal, called "The Plus System." A SYSTEM no less! Be still my modernist, total design heart! I registered these wondrous place settings at Eaton's when we announced our wedding date. My aunt took great exception to this rebellion against traditional bone china. She was incensed with the design, but more to the point for her was that I could put Rosenthal in the dishwasher. "Of course, I'll put them in the dishwasher," I said. "Who ever heard of such a thing," she griped, "truly GOOD dishes are always washed by hand." My mother understood and we sold the white on white florals.

Mum continued to use "Blue Symphony" until she no longer had the energy to wash it all by hand after a family dinner. She bought Corelle dinnerware that accompanied her to her tiny assisted living apartment. I continue to adore my Rosenthal and love bringing it to the table. 

Now that Mum is gone, I have her "Blue Symphony" packed up in a box in the basement. She tried to sell it on two different occasions — she knew it wasn't my taste and never insisted that that I take it. Toward the end of her life, I agreed that I would and that seemed to make her happy. Her good dishes held special meaning for her. 

I understand that the market for fine china has dropped dramatically. Apparently, "young people these days" buy at Crate and Barrel and Pottery Barn. Serviceable every day dishes. I say, good for them! It's surely an evolutionary thing. And better than eating from take-out containers.