Sunday, January 31, 2016


The concept of “dressed” can fall into a broad range. Don’t believe me? Visit Walmart almost any time and you’ll see it all -- from threadbare pajamas to worn jeans and stained sweatshirts to fancy wedding guest attire and ball gowns. Check out People of Walmart ( for a real fashion show, although I bet many of the ensembles presented on the site were captured as people dashed in for snacks en route to a costume party.

I’ve known people who considered “dressed” to mean they had on one garment, say a pair of boxer shorts, making them not technically completely naked, and therefore “clothed.” Others I’ve known (my late grandmother comes to mind) wouldn’t consider themselves dressed unless donned head to toe in a coordinated, fully accessorized outfit and would never consider leaving the house in anything less.

My own concept of “dressed” falls into multiple niches, with very rational (to me, anyway) reasons to my potentially neurotic methodology.

In my former office life, work wardrobe items were subdivided into categories including but not limited to business portrait, client meeting, and all-day-in-the-office-while-clients-are-closed-for-holiday outfits. I didn’t want to be spotted in the office by a client looking like I thought it was clean out the garage day, and I generally tried to dress as if our biggest client would arrive at the office unannounced, which had, on occasion, really happened. For me, it was an image thing.

There are ensembles for “going out,” separated by level of casualness based on the target establishment, and different, fancier (often vintage) clothes for benefits and galas. I don’t like wearing conservative work clothes or plain pumps out to a club, so immediate after-work plans require attire be stepped up or down accordingly to match the plans. Or a quick dash home to change.

It probably sounds a little complicated. Maybe, but it works for me. And like I said, there are reasons. The whole office wardrobe thing was inspired by an early career mishap involving an ad campaign and critical bit of information that never trickled down to me, primarily that the three person IRA department of which I was a member would be featured in a newspaper ad.

The day of the photo shoot of which I was woefully uninformed, instead of my usual mostly-conservative banker suit, I arrived at work in a casual skirt, oversized sweater, and scarf. The art director arrived, declared my scarf made me look like a bank robber, and made me remove it, eliminating the element that tied the outfit together. Not a great fashion day for me. Worse, was the four month stretch where the three-quarter page ad featuring the three of us was plastered all over the paper, with me looking like a slouch.

Nowadays, a retail work environment has me moving between office, sales floor, and dusty stockroom all day long, with multiple trips up ladders. Current work clothing is a mind-numbing array of monotonous dust colored, androgynous khakis and neutral sweaters, peppered with the occasional pair of tweedy, dust camouflaging dress pants. It’s practical. It’s hideous. I avoid going anywhere directly from work and hope I don’t see anybody I know in the store. It’s a self-image thing.

If I’m sick and at home for any duration, it’s generally pajamas all day. If I’m sick and you show up at my house unannounced, I’m probably going to be pissed because, even if they are cute, I don’t care to entertain in my pajamas.

Again, there was a situation. It was during a stretch of unemployment, while married to a man who wanted a stay-at-home wife (which it turned out I wasn’t good at). It was one in the afternoon, and I lounged around in baggy red plaid flannel PJ bottoms and a red waffle-weave thermal top with no undergarments because these were, as the husband of the time called them, my “sleeping clothes.” I wasn’t going out and I didn’t expect anyone, so it seemed fine.

That was the day the president of the photography club of which I was treasurer stopped by on his lunch hour to deliver dues another member had given him. I nearly died of embarrassment when I made the mistake of answering the door. Not a proud fashion moment. It inspired the change in philosophy concerning “at home wear.”

Housebound with a cold, the concept of “dressed” is based on how awful I feel. One recent day, while in bed literally all day, was definitely a pajama day. Beside never feeling human again, my other big fear was that a friend would stop by with soup or something equally thoughtful and I’d die of mortification coming downstairs all pale and sickly, swathed in fleece PJs and the purple fluffy robe that makes me feel like Barney the dinosaur.

Another day with the same cold, still feeling lousy but somewhat less so, “dressed” meant changing from snowflake printed fleece pajama bottoms into solid black fleece athletic pants, which are essentially exactly the same, except I know that one came from the sleepwear department and the other from active wear. The cotton tee shirt knit pajama top was exchanged for a printed tee shirt knit “shirt,” topped with a fleece vee neck, and I was “dressed.” Sort of. I mean, I wouldn’t actually leave the house like this. That would require a change into “ohmigod, my luck I’ll run into someone I know, I better look like I at least tried” jeans, sweater, and makeup. And wouldn’t you know it, while I was the only one home, campaign workers came ringing the doorbell which I answered, dressed like a scrub in my fleece “outfit.”

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Sneak Attack

I fall pray to the sneak attack. I once had office coworkers who discovered I can be a little jumpy. They would approach my cubicle as silently as ninjas when I was thinking, writing, and/or had my earbuds installed blasting music. All they had to do was utter a word or make a sound and I would literally jump up from my seat. Sometimes it happened in the kitchen as I was engrossed in making a pot of coffee. It seemed like a game to them, but it was so easy it probably wasn’t even even fun for them once the novelty wore off.

Lately, it’s happened with customers. I’ll be walking through the store, focused on what I just discovered needs doing but can’t write on the notepad in my hand because for the fifth time that day I’ve mislaid my pen. As I’m rushing through the store, silently mouthing “Clearance signs, Brand X accessory rails, holiday tower crowns,” a customer appears in my path asking where the socks are located. Startled, I jump. Then they feel bad for startling me. I direct them to the appropriate sock area, already having forgotten what I was retrieving from the stockroom.

At least once a year, I succumb to the sneak attack of a cold, flu, or some other annoying and disgusting ailment. It usually happens out of the blue around a major holiday or scheduled vacation day. I don’t even have to know anybody who is ill. I’ll be minding my own business, busily working on the last workday before said holiday or day off, and suddenly receive an unwelcome visit by a runny nose, sneezing, and general feeling of crappiness. 

On a regular work day I could use some of the many hours of accumulated sick time to my credit. But I can’t exactly call into work and ask to switch my holiday or vacation day to a sick day.

This week, I had a two day work week, with Monday, Thursday, and Friday designated as paid time off. I didn’t even know I had PTO until the approach to Black Friday and the busiest time of the retail year with all hands on deck and no vacation requests.

Unlike the many office jobs of my past where vacation time was bestowed upon the weary worker after a full year of full-time servitude, apparently my PTO was granted when I was changed to full-time status in June. Maybe it’s the retail industry’s way of atoning for wages that are less than half what I used to earn. In any event, the PTO didn’t print on my pay stubs for six full months so I never knew I had it.

Come January and the last month of our fiscal year, my 60.67 hours of time off was scheduled. It resulted in glorious long weekends all month long and freed up weekdays for skiing, which was nice, but paid time off in the summer at the beach would have been even nicer. Live and learn.

So anyway. To recap: last workday of a two-day workweek on the cusp of a four day weekend. Sniffles, sneezing, chills, feeling like death on toast.

Arrived home from work two hours late (was trying to cram five days work into two), ate supper, visited my neighborhood location of America’s second largest pharmacy chain for over the counter cold medicines. And mixed nuts, because they were on sale. Drank fizzy vitamin drink. Cancelled ski plans for Thursday morning. Tucked into bed with two mutts and a book, and after barely a chapter, enjoyed a lovely shot of the “The nighttime, sniffling, sneezing, coughing, aching, fever, best sleep with a cold medicine.” Fell asleep, wedged between two snoring fur balls.

Ten hours later, I awoke to my paid day off and dragged myself out of bed to feed and let the dogs out. After returning to bed for several hours, I arose again to drink a fizzy vitamin drink and let the dogs out. Feeling as weak and limp as an overcooked noodle, it was a clumsy retreat back upstairs to bed. Several hours later, I tried the out of bed thing again, came perilously close to fainting, and bolted to the couch. After dining on scrambled eggs prepared by Mom, I encamped on the couch for two hours with a pillow and quilt, mindlessly staring at TV before returning to the bed which now felt more like a prison than a tranquil refuge.

On Friday, thirty-six hours after first taking to bed, I felt human again. Reborn and revived, I showered, dressed, and engaged in normal adult activities like drinking coffee and participating in conversations with other adults. I plowed through the 200-plus new emails accumulated since Tuesday evening. I resisted heading out to ski, because, after all, I’d been barely alive a day earlier, and why push it?

By early evening, emboldened by a feeling something akin to aliveness, I went out with a friend to a bar. And then to another bar with a band. And dancing. It wasn’t a late night, and I was home shortly after midnight and back in bed.

Saturday morning began with the usual activities of feeding the dogs, drinking coffee, reading the newspaper and Facebook newsfeed, and suddenly, I was sniffling again. And sneezing. And chilly, except where it felt like my face was on fire. It felt like Wednesday all over again, and it stunk, because now my Saturday was ruined. There would be no winter festival for me. No dinner with a friend. No anything fun because I felt awful again. Back to bed it was. Felled by another sneak attack.