Sunday, August 9, 2015

Wardrobe Analysis

I got a new position at my retail job. I’m now the mannequin wrangler and graphic sign hanger! Ok, the official title is “Visual Merchandiser,” but that just forces people to ask what I do, so my wording saves time. I value efficiency.

This job means many things to me. Full-time hours with benefits are huge for my psyche. The pay raise is good for my wallet. There is even the bonus workout of schlepping ladders and rolling staircases through the store, then climbing them. I’m hoping to have the legs of an Olympian for ski season.

This position required a couple changes. The schedule sometimes has me arriving for work at 6 am, something I never imagined in my most hellacious corporate nightmares. Come holiday prep time, there are overnight shifts to decorate the store. There have also been wardrobe tweaks needed.

In office jobs in previous career chapters, my wardrobe was suits, dresses, or dress pants, paired with heels. There was a year-round sweater or jacket, because luck always dictated my assigned desk be directly below the Arctic air vent. Colleagues sweltered a few feet away while I silently chanted, “Shivering burns more calories.” Yes, I looked it up.

Mobility needs of cubicle life were limited to reaching for a pencil or the phone, and the most strenuous physical event on the average day was walking back and forth to the rest room, coffee machine, conference room, or copier. High heels are fine when one is parked in a chair most of the day.

My return to retail resulted in a wardrobe shift. The reality of standing for four or more hours and a once broken, still slightly numb leg that sometimes swells in the process ruled out most of my sit-in-a-chair-all-day footwear.

There were additional considerations. Customer service desk wardrobe evaluations included tests to check if shirt seams might shred a la The Incredible Hulk when reaching over the counter, or if a neckline provided the person on the other side of the counter with a full view down my top.

Sales floor wardrobe analysis focused on needing to bend, stoop, and squat to fetch items from the floor and restock low shelves. I learned the hard way which pants bore the potential of exposing butt cleavage and/or ripping open at the back seam. Long skirts got stepped on when walking; short skirts had other flashier issues.

Obviously, I don’t find dressing for work to be particularly easy. Maybe I over think it (along with almost everything else).

As mannequin wrangler and ladder climber, my wardrobe has morphed again. Almost immediately, clothing was analyzed through a different lens.

High heels are clearly out, as are soles that could skid when I’m precariously perched on one of the many ladders, or atop the three elevated displays holding full sized mannequins, or on the shoe cabinets.

Pockets are critical to my sanity. There are small parts involved in hanging graphics and it’s a really long walk from parts of the store and through the stock room, up 21 steps (yes, I counted), then to the furthest corner to fetch some critical one-quarter inch component.

Delusions of the fashion industry mean all ten pairs of my nice pants lack pockets. Some feature the bulk of welt pocket trim without the utility of an actual pocket. Sans pockets, I’ve dropped a handful of sky hooks from the metal ladder I don’t fully trust and perforated my sweaty palm with push pins while climbing the rolling staircase to tack up posters measuring 162 inches. Ahem, I mean “graphics.” And yes, “push pins.”

Ladder time is where I learned that if my pants (pockets stuffed with push pins, sky hooks, and ceiling clips) are a little loose, I can jam the handle of the push pin banging rubber mallet into the waistband, freeing my hands to schlepp a 10, 12, or 14 foot long graphic up the ladder in one trip. Yes, this comedy routine is usually a solo performance. 

The beauty of carpenter pants with hammer loops and plentiful pockets is now brilliantly, belatedly obvious. I wore them in high school because, at the time, they were fashionable, but their true functionality went completely untapped. Too bad denim violates the company dress code, or carpenter's pants would be my “go-to” pant.

A change from my new baseline of dust-colored, androgynous khakis paired with a usually boring shirt and neck-saving, sensible flats would be nice. Maybe a fashionable non-denim carpenter’s pant or a farmer’s overall in a dress-code compliant fabric. Vera Wang, Ralph Lauren, Jennifer Lopez, can you help me?

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Seeing Ghosts

Some things seem bound to happen. Like running into a long ago ex who trampled your tender heart to mangled bits. It’s purely a matter of time when you both live and/or work in the same city.

The first few times it happened with this ex-boyfriend was at events where I was free to move about the venue and hide behind a plant, flee to the ladies room, or leave. Which is what I did. All three times. 

It had little to do with him. I’ve long since recovered from his erratic behavior where he would say how great everything was with us, and then, barely 24 hours later, declare he “needed space” and break up with me. Then, two weeks later, he’d be back. Lather, rinse, repeat, until we finally, thankfully, broke up for good.

It had to do with how I felt about myself. On none of those occasions did I feel good enough about my current occupation or housing situation to deal with this person, or anyone who knew me when I had an office job, my own place, and traveled.

When we dated in the early 1990s I was a full-time corporate treasury analyst, part-time ski lodge waitress, fledgling photographer, and full-time smart ass who regularly packed a bag and traveled on a whim. Recently divorced, I had a great apartment in New England’s second largest city, and was finishing my MBA. Life was shiny, good, and full of potential.

After him, I went on to even better jobs, better salaries, better boyfriends, and more interesting travel destinations. It’s funny how life unravels.

After selling my house and leaving a solid job in Tennessee in 2013 to be closer to family, I was two years into living at Mom’s, taking “closer to family” to a different level than initially envisioned. The only job I could find after 100 applications was part-time and minimum wage, which is where I saw Mr. I-Need-Space. At my pay rate, it would require a lot more than 25 hours a week to afford luxuries to which I had become accustomed and fondly remember. Like my own dwelling. And groceries.

I did not feel fabulous, or even adequate. I was feeling angry and trapped in my own personal definition of failure.

One day, feeling especially burdened by the specifics of life “back home,” my luck in dodging that ex ran out. I was at work, running a register to help clear the line of customers-waiting-to-pay. While finishing a transaction, I scanned the line to estimate my triumphant return to the glamour of clearing the fitting rooms.

There he stood at the front of the queue, looking better than ever, waiting for the next available register. Which appeared to be mine. It was too late to drag out the current transaction with time-sucking, idle chit-chat. We were done. That’s why I was scoping out the line in the first place.

There was always the chance he wouldn’t recognize me. My hair was really short when we dated, and now it’s a few inches shy of my waist. Instead of contacts, I’ve been wearing glasses at work. 

He approached the counter and set down a pair of gloves. He looked me right in the eyes and said, “You should smile more.”

If it was anywhere but my work, I might have told him to shut the hell up. Or playfully asked if he was always so bossy with store clerks. The me he dated a couple lifetimes ago would have blurted either of these without hesitation. The current me felt mostly brain dead with nothing to say.

My flight instinct begged to activate, and if I was anyplace other than the checkout, I would have relocated to the fitting room or a far corner of the building the instant I spotted him. But I was trapped behind the counter.

I said “Hello,” and asked if he’d found what he needed -- standard transaction dialogue. I asked if he was using a store charge card (standard query) and if he knew he could get a discount by opening a store charge (standard query). I finished with “That concludes the company speech,” lest he think I was trying (and failing miserably) at basic conversation. 

While signing for his purchase, he asked, “How is your life?” I almost said, “Terrifying! I just saw a ghost!” The me he dated a lifetime ago would have. The current me is dull around the edges and snappy comebacks are rare.

The life story I could have told includes a recent return home after decades away, travel to three continents and multiple islands, three months in Korea followed by 12 years in Tennessee, and satisfying career chapters in writing and marketing. But I wasn’t going to fill him in on the past 20-plus years or even the past 20 minutes with a line of people waiting. Besides, it hurts to think about my old life, because right now, I lack the means for any of it. And my only crime was moving back home in a crappy economy.

The discomfort of interacting with someone I knew in more successful times led me to mumble something that may not have included any actual words from the English language. He left. The whole thing felt weird, because I felt weird. Like I don’t fit in my own life anymore.

As I was completing the transaction with the customer after him, he reappeared at my side of the counter, stuck a business card on the keyboard, and told me to get in touch with him “so we can catch up.” He left again. Feeling obliged to acknowledge the interruption, I said to my customer, “THAT was a ghost from forever ago,” as I returned to her transaction. 

And finally, the line of customers was gone, allowing my overdue departure to the safety of the fitting rooms.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Match this

A couple months ago, I joined an online dating site. Again. Here I am, toying with the mode of meeting a partner that previously provided mixed results. But real life isn’t exactly delivering lately.

Way back at the turn of the century, a now-ex-husband and I met through a popular (and still operating) dating site. We shared some fine adventures including an overseas military paper chase wedding and plans to be together forever.

Instead of forever, we lasted roughly a decade from dating to divorced. Granted, part of that time felt like forever, which is when at least one of us accepted we were incompatible and split. Ok, it was me who ran.

For a while, I kidded about suing the site for a membership refund and compensation for my time, but finally forgave them, accepting that the relationship’s demise had more to do with us being starry-eyed and mis-matched, and less to do with the site.

After a cooling down period, I ventured into the online dating pool of Tennessee and Kentucky.  Because I was both optimistic and on a budget, my commitment was limited to a three-month package. Unfortunately, there were few single, local men meeting my nonnegotiable requirements of no smoking, no heavy drinking, and holding a college degree.

Maybe my expectations were just too high. Good thing I omitted “must love the Oxford comma, criticizing television personalities for poor grammar, and discussing the AP Style Guide.”

There were email exchanges with a Kentucky man who wrote entertaining messages in full sentences. One day, however, he used his grammatically correct sentences to call me every foul name under the sun when I couldn't meet for coffee on short notice. And by “short notice” we’re talking within a couple hours.

After the name calling incident, he continued to email, demanding responses to rambling dissertations referencing his “great family wealth” and proclaiming I'd never meet another man like him. Let's hope he was correct about his particular flavor of crazy being in limited production.

Now I’m back in New England, and it’s my mother’s fault I’m involved in this online stuff again. She pointed out that potential suitors are not exactly storming the family fortress to take me on dates, and because I’ve lived with her for the past two years, there’s no pretending the situation is otherwise. Living 1,200 miles away had advantages I may have overlooked.

But hey, why not shop for a potential mate from the comfort of the home I rarely leave except to buy dog food and go to my part-time job? Antisocial, underemployed, kept by canines. Seriously, what man wouldn't want to be part of that? I probably don’t even need clever wording to make it sound attractive. But there I was, attempting to craft profile copy that makes me seem less boring than I’m afraid I am. Which is probably the scenario site-wide.

On a dating site’s “free communication weekend” I posted a recent photo and minimalist write-up, because I don't think anyone wants to read a novel for a dating profile. Or maybe it's just me, who also routinely rejects greeting cards for having “too many words.”

I vowed to respond to any and all messages received.

The first two days yielded 24 messages, which felt like more than the three-month volume in the Tennessee effort. It seemed an assistant might be needed, but it turned out I couldn’t respond without a paid membership. Apparently, “free communication” is a one-way channel, just like some offline relationships.

The wallet opened. Money was paid to cover three months of digital matchmaking.

Some 50 messages arrived the first week. Many were well written using complete sentences and correct grammar and punctuation, and seemed to be from sane men (as far as one can tell). Others were painfully brief: “hi!” or “ur pretty,” or “nice smile,” to which I responded with an equally minimalist “Hi!” or “Thanks!” What else is there to say to that?

I fell behind in corresponding while sick in bed for two days, prompting one guy with whom I’d swapped a few emails to declare an “impasse due to non-communication.” Seriously? It had been two days. I wonder what he’s like in an actual relationship. The woman probably needs to be microchipped with GPS.

Like the message lengths, the photos show extremes. Some profiles have no photo (what are they hiding?). Others have one photo, seemingly taken with their computer’s built in camera in horrendous lighting. The chin down, eyes glaring pose is less mysteriously smoldering and more Hannibal Lechter wants to FaceTime. It’s scary.

The other extreme overcompensates. The tab notation “25 photos” often means one pixelated image of a guy accompanied by random body parts and flowing hair of a mostly cropped out woman, and 24 images of scenery, vehicles, pets, and groups of guys at bars and sporting events with no clue as to which one is him. “Hey, look how cool my friends and I are! And I’ll never want to travel with you, because I’ve already been everywhere!” 

This could be interesting.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Kicking It

This year I decided to kick winter. Right in the snowballs.

It has (finally) become obvious that complaining about it, denying it, or remaining indoors because of it doesn’t change winter. That crap has gotten old and is making me feel prematurely old. It’s clearly time for a new approach.

Snow-filled winter 2014-2015 in central Massachusetts began with pre-Thanksgiving Day snowfall and the sideways slide of my Honda CRV off a steep driveway that felt like the marriage of an amusement park ride and a nightmare. The Thanksgiving hell ride illuminated the need for new tires, the purchase of which I was convinced would insure cancellation of all winter weather for the remainder of the season and possibly until said tires were bald. As an added precaution, I bought a new winter coat that would look lovely hanging in the closet during our cancelled winter.

The notion of my purchases killing winter is based on a lengthy track record. Items I like and TV shows I love are usually discontinued at a speed commensurate with my affection for them. Call it Puritan guilt, but I feel personally responsible for the demise of countless shows including “My So Called Life,” “Freaks and Geeks,” “Joan of Arcadia,”  “Chuck,” “Pushing Daisies,” as well as the entire AZN television network which shut down in 2008, four months after I discovered it. And y’all can thank me for ignoring your beloved “Sons of Anarchy” and “Walking Dead.”

Although the “tires and coat purchased to cancel winter” strategy failed and we’ve had about 897 feet of snow so far with another month to go before spring, I am not giving up (credit my Finnish stubbornness). Under a new approach modeled after the rapid retreat of boys I liked in high school and college, I’m chasing winter with open arms.

I have skied. I have viewed it as a workout and cheerfully shoveled, swept, and pushed snow more than times than I can count (and still fewer times than I could have). I even attended two outdoor winter festivals in the space of a few weeks, something I would have avoided in the past by barricading myself in the house under a quilt while whining “it’s too cold!”

At the first festival, which I managed to convince my sister, nieces, and friends to attend, I tossed a cross country ski boot (poorly) in a contest. Later the same afternoon, I participated in a Finnish-tradition wife carrying contest with a university exchange student introduced to me only minutes before the race. We finished second place, just one second behind the winning, long-married couple.  It was invigorating. All of it. The snow, the bonfire, the outdoor activities, the indoor dancing.

At the second festival, attended with my adventurous niece with whom I have climbed two mountains in warm weather, we snow shoed for the first time. Yes, it was cold, but once we were moving and on a trail sheltered by trees, it felt less so. Or maybe we were too focused on not falling over to think about the weather. We rewarded our efforts with New England Clam Chowder. And it was fun!

The snow shoe expedition was so successful, the following week was spent obsessively trolling the Internet in search of snow shoes. Success arrived in the form of an online retailer in Minnesota offering a package of two (new!) pairs of women’s snow shoes for less than the price of one pair elsewhere. This purchase will drive two possible outcomes -- either it will never snow in Massachusetts again, or I will have a new way in which to meet winter head on. On my terms and at my own leisure. Feels like a win-win to me. Take THAT, winter!

Originally published on February 10, 2015 on