Sunday, June 26, 2011

Suddenly Popular

I am suddenly popular. It doesn't feel good.

This isn’t the high school “dramatic save to win the big game for your team and become the homecoming hero” type of popular. Neither is it the “get the broken front tooth capped, feel unselfconscious enough to finally smile, and suddenly the cool kids notice you” brand of  popular.  Nor is it the “work on an award-winning professional project and people take notice” popular.
It is more of a flashback to darker days of eventual enlightenment. 
My recent newfound popularity began shortly after accepting an offer I couldn’t refuse -- a one year subscription to W magazine for some ridiculously low price like $10. My introduction to that publication occurred during one glorious semester luxuriating at a junior college in Boston’s prestigious Back Bay, where our dormitory was once a hotel and W, the consumer publication from fashion industry cornerstone Women’s Wear Daily, was required reading for my fashion merchandising class. Even in the olden days of the 1980s when I was in college, the average W reader’s income was in the $50,000-plus range, and I gladly handed over a full week’s worth of minimum-wage, part-time retail salesclerk earnings for the joy of studying the pages, worshipping the designers, then carefully scissoring out images for collages to adorn the walls.
Upon my return to the Burg and the four-year institution I had taken brief leave of, I proceeded to paper my bedroom walls with fashion images from W and confound my mother with attempts at conversation about designers, super models, diamond jewelry, and high-end watches and automobiles that cost more than the combined incomes of everyone in my family. These things had no relevance in her world and she told me as much every time I tried to discuss with her the classic tank watch by Cartier, iconic wrap dress from Diane von Furstenburg or night club escapades at Studio 54. It felt like we were from two different planets.
Recently, a mailer arrived for a “special professional discount rate” W subscription. I don’t know what profession they refer to, but I don’t work in fashion, modeling, retail or publishing. Whatever. That was unimportant. It was my favorite magazine at a rate I could afford even in junior college!
Past experience with magazine solicitations (and those for credit cards) taught there is room to play hard to get. And if they didn’t play along, it was one less thing to feel guilty about not reading. I ignored the offer for a free tote bag with subscription and procrastinated until it was too late to get the red mock-croc purse. Ultimately, thinking they’d stop courting without some payoff, I succumbed to the lure of the ivory scarf, spread open the checkbook, and sent the subscription order.
Around the time the first issue of W arrived, so did an invitation to subscribe to Vogue, followed in turn by more subscription invitations -- Elle, O, Allure and Lucky.  Even Architectural Digest suddenly wants me, the owner of a circa 1958, 1,200 square foot brick ranch (they must be really desperate). Architectural Digest has fascinated me since the glamorous days of my 20s when I possessed dreams, aspirations, an inflated sense of myself, and drank on the periphery of the same social circle as someone whose downtown apartment was featured in that magazine. 
My 20s and 30s were heady times of shopping in the best stores and sewing garments from patterns by the prestigious designers featured in W to create a wardrobe that (I hoped) announced to the world I was successful (or at least on the way). Cocktails and pricey dinners at beautiful (non-chain) restaurants were weekly rituals where my friends and I dropped a cool $100 each on a Friday night meal and drinks. It felt like I was on my way to, well, someplace. It was exciting, and almost how I had once imagined my life would be, back when I thought about such things.
Life is so different now. These days, my primary goal is to get through the day and make it out the other side alive. Cocktails and fine dining are memories from the past not worth dwelling upon, because the contrast to today -- where I panic after spending $25 on a meal that provides leftovers for three days -- is just too depressing. Wardrobe shopping occurs almost exclusively in thrift stores, thanks to an annual income significantly less than it was ten years ago, before I gambled on a dream of love, cashed in my chips, and walked away from a well paying career in New England to marry and relocate to a place with limited opportunity and maximum sense of entrapment.
The magazine subscription of my past, the freshly revived (bittersweet) memories of a lifestyle gone, and the ensuing onslaught of attention from other magazines reminds me of something else from my history. 

There was a time when I was better-versed in the fine arts of flirting and the male gender actually acknowledged my existence (to my face) on a semi-regular basis. One starry night, while a student at the hometown college to which I defaulted (another story for another day), I made out with a certain guy upon whom I had been crushing -- a high school classmate, home on leave from the military. In those days, I was naive enough to believe that what happened between two people stayed between them, and also that he would call me, because he said he would. He never called, but his friends started ringing me up. Even the ones with steady girlfriends. 
After a couple weeks of the sudden, puzzling attention, I got the scoop from one of the guys by asking, “It sure does seem like all of [name omitted to avoid potential lawsuits]‘s friends are calling me up lately. What’s going on?” He told me, and what I heard made me kind of mad. And ill. Apparently, my crush had not only shared, but embellished the facts of that one drunken night after Happy Hour at the Buttercup, and now the friends wanted a piece of some major action, which they had been told was me. 
Likewise, now it seems the W subscription database server is sharing with its peers, with the logical conclusion being, if my checkbook opened for W, it will also open for them. How adolescent. And erroneous.

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