Friday, December 5, 2008

Shopped till we dropped

Everyone is crazy. You've probably noticed. Your friends forget dinner dates, or show up with no money, lose their keys, don't answer your e-mails. You yourself forget to take your morning pills. The cat just licks up the gravy but scorns the tender slices of real chicken he used to love. I mean, everyone is losing it. All right, it's my personal experience I'm going on, but that's all I've got.

In this maelstrom of anxiety, I noticed something funny today: I felt like going shopping. How strange. Shopping . . . let me stop to define it, girl shopping as I have known it.

By "shopping" I don't mean going to the grocery store or hardware and getting things that sustain what we know as civilized life, extension cords and toilet paper. I mean looking for clothes you don't need. It is a sort of recreation, a way of fantasizing a new, more beautiful self that can take you out of drab reality for an hour or two.

I once worked in a place that had a significant culture of shopping. It was a research facility that employed quite a few bright women in support positions, project assistants and the like. Many of us had advanced degrees, and were capable of higher-level work than we were assigned. And these were the days of double-income. So at lunchtime, we often "went shopping." You just fell into it, the way you get in trouble when you hang out with the wrong kind of people.

I remember the lead shopper, a bright woman and a sharp dresser, saying once that the reason she liked shopping was that it gave her a chance to use her analytic mind. On that particular day she had come back from lunch with a rayon leopardskin print skirt. You could dress it up or down. It was very expensive, but washable, and given the versatility . . . That was the kind of conversation you found yourself in back then, before you had a spiritual practice.

While I am telling stories, I want to mention my Aunt Whoshallremainnameless. A lot of people have an aunt like that, whose idea of a wonderful time is going with her girlfriends to the outlet malls for the day. When her daughter cleaned out this woman's estate, she found forty pair of slacks on hangers, tags still on them. She didn't understand it.

But I do. Shopping is therapeutic. I thought that was common knowledge. What did the little sign posted over the secretary's desk say? When the going gets tough, the tough go shopping. It was like a credo.

And what's happening now? Very few people are shopping like that. On Black Friday, people went in with lists and budgets, and bought only what was on their list and heavily discounted. That's not really shopping. That's work. Shopping was about following impulse. It was fun.

No wonder we're all crazy. Here we are, under all this stress, the whole concept of the economy blown sky high, even Warren Buffet is losing money. And at the same time we have been deprived of a significant means of destressing.

I thought about it today. God knows I need to destress. But shopping rapidly tires me these days. And I don't want anything except maybe some dressy warm pants, the kind without elastic at the ankles. You have to be psychologically ready before you can really shop for pants - all that looking at your behind in three-way mirrors is the opposite of destressing.

So I went to the grocery store instead, and there I did indulge in half a pound of good chocolates. Some things they're going to have to pry from my cold, dead hand.

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