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It Looked Different on the Model: Epic Tales of Impending Shame and Infamyby Laurie Notaro
Let It Bleed
The shirt was so pretty.
It had a little Peter Pan collar, and lining the placket were pintucks down the front, which were then framed by delicate little ruffles. The short puffed sleeves were like no other I had ever seen, almost Victorian but very casual and breezy. It was absolutely adorable.
So I went ahead and made mistake #1:
I picked up the price tag, which revealed a nugget of information that made my heart skip a beat—it was on sale. And while I could easily qualify for a conservatorship based on my math skills alone, I can divide stuff in half and am right almost 60 percent of the time, and in this case, that was dangerous enough for me to move on to mistake #2:
I imagined myself in it.
Of course, my imagination stars Laurie Circa 1994 and not Present-Day Laurie. Laurie Circa 1994, it also bears mentioning, is a Frankenstein-y hybrid of box-office movie posters and “Who Wore It Better” photos from Us magazine, which my mother appears to have a lifetime subscription to. This fantastical altered image consists of Uma Thurman’s Pulp Fiction figure, Andie MacDowell’s Four Weddings and a Funeral hair, and a Julia Roberts I Love Trouble smile. She not only looks cute in everything, she looks adorable. Laurie Circa 1994 also pictured herself in fifteen years as an editor at some hip magazine, high-powered enough to negotiate in her hiring package for her own bathroom that was complete with password activation and soundproofing. She never truthfully saw herself eating a fiber bar and a questionable banana for lunch right after checking to see if the whitehead on her nose had come back or if the yard guy would see her in her workout clothes, complete with her “Workin’ for the Weekend” headband, which she felt forced to apologize for. Laurie Circa 1994 would have been disappointed that Present-Day Laurie, in the course of a workday, would easily be obsessed trying to outbid “ChuckyPup” on eBay for a pink dog parka; would scrawl notes that say, “Your car alarm goes off constantly and is irritating to those who work at home and pay taxes on this street. Park somewhere else; and your car, by the way, is a stupid color. Who would buy a yellow car? Who? It looks like you drive a huge banana.” and stick them on the windshield of a particularly annoying Kia; or, for that matter would ever spend three consecutive hours looking in the mirror while employing six different sources of light trying to find one fugitive jowl hair. Things haven’t exactly turned out the way Laurie Circa 1994 planned, even though, to Present-Day Laurie’s benefit, if I feel like going to the bathroom at 2:30 p.m., I can do it with the door open should I prefer, although the potential to set off a car alarm is vastly upsetting.
In my head, Laurie Circa 1994 looked adorable enough in this shirt to actually brighten the day of not only herself but of everyone around her, in those puffy sleeves, pintuck details, and slight, flirty ruffles. And with that vision in mind—as Uma Thurman’s body walked down the street, accompanied by a dog in a pink parka, and Andie MacDowell’s hair bounced and glistened with shine in the sun, people turning and staring in her wake—Laurie Circa 1994 smiled to all, so cute in her ruffled shirt but so humble about it, her smile spread across her face, showing as many of Julia Roberts’s teeth as would fit into her head, which was roughly about half.
And with that, I made mistake #3:
I pulled the shirt off the rack and asked if I could try it on. To be honest, I was already in over my head. The boutique was very nice, and I had admired its windows for months but had never caught it on an open day. When my luck had changed, I took the two steps into the store and did a quick sweep with all five senses, noticing a) mannequins so tiny I swear a bony sternum was impressed into them; b) the piping in of music overhead I couldn’t possibly identify; and c) the presence of the lovely, exquisite creature positioned behind the front counter, who politely said hello with a French accent. I already knew by the international greeting Bonjour! that I was in the wrong space—I was the wrong size and wrong age and had the wrong wallet—but it was too late for me to turn around and swim back upriver to Elastic Land. Instead, I pressed on with the attitude that “I’m smaller than I look in real life,” and I scanned the first rack with interest. I found myself picking at a hangnail because of my quick discomfort, which is a nervous habit that I understand isn’t publicly acceptable, but if faced with a choice of thumb-sucking or fiddling with my crotch, I’ll eat my cuticles any day. It was there that not only did I discover that the clothes were just as beautiful as I had seen in the window but that my size, indeed, was on the tags and, most important, on the tag of the cute shirt.
“Of course I’ll show you to a dressing room,” Amelie said as she walked out from the behind the counter and gave me a warm, real smile. Not only did all of Julia Roberts’s teeth fit into her mouth, but they were whiter.
It was a cute dressing room—full-length mirror, a nice antique chair to put my purse on, and beautiful lighting. I like that, I thought as I looked into the mirror, noting that during my most recent visit to Anthropologie, the lights were so audacious I wanted to ask the dressing-room girl if she could turn the setting down from its current “Cruel” to the next level, “Barbaric.” Now, I know I spent over half of my life puffing on a cigarette filter, but the Kitten Ass around my lips in my reflection at Anthropologie was so pronounced it looked like I had been injected with plasticine as I was sucking on a crack pipe. If you’ve never smoked, used a straw, or are still able to wear red lipstick without it spreading out like tributaries from your lips, you might not know that Kitten Ass is the nice term for the vertical fault lines that surround your mouth, and if you’ve never had a kitten, I suppose Puppy Ass would do. I refuse to take this conversation any further if you’ve never been a dog person, either, since I do not know what a ferret’s ass looks like.
In the Anthropologie mirror, I saw wrinkles, dents, flaps, bumps, and something that caused me to say to myself, “I hope that’s a tumor and not a horn.” I was nothing short of horrified. As I sunk to the depths of despair and looked up the address of the closest cosmetic surgeon before I even left the dressing room, I tried in a panic to calm down.
“Every wrinkle you see is a wisdom line,” I told myself in a nice, steady voice. “Wear them proudly; each one is a challenge and an obstacle you have triumphed over.”
“You have an asshole on your face,” one of my meaner voices replied. “Doesn’t everyone want a juicy Wisdom Kiss from that mouth?”
“You’re just growing into your face,” the nice voice said. “There is grace in aging.”
“Especially if you ever wanted to use your face as a baseball glove,” the mean voice countered. “It gets softer and more doughlike.”
“You know, these lights are ridiculously bright and are shining on you from directly up above,” the nice voice tried again. “When does that ever happen in a real-life setting?”
“I dunno,” the mean voice said in a mocking tone. “Ever hear of the sun?”
As a result of that experience, I do think all Anthropologies should provide a courtesy volcano just outside their dressing rooms so every woman who is revealed as completely inadequate by the lighting can throw herself in rather than contaminate the store staging for any longer than absolutely necessary.
But the lighting in this boutique was soft, welcoming, almost loving. Looking in the mirror, I swore there was a sheet of delicate gauze separating me and my reflection; I almost looked as blurry as a main character on Dynasty.
“I am perfect,” my nice voice whispered.
“I bet you have glaucoma,” my mean voice whispered back.
In any case, the conditions were prime for me to take the little ruffled shirt and try it on, and that’s just what I did. I hung it up on an old antique hook on the wall and admired it briefly. And that’s when I saw it: the “M” on the tag in the back of the shirt where the “L” rightfully should have been.
My heart made the sound of a deflating balloon. “Why, why?” it cried, like it had gotten whacked in the knee with a police baton at a practice for the U.S. Figure Skating Championship. I looked at the price tag, which did say “L,” and realized it had just been mis-tagged. I was about to give the whole thing up when I saw the sale price again and thought that I might as well give it a shot. After all, what is the difference between an “M” and an “L,” anyway? A boob size? Several good meals in a row? A couple weeks of unemployment?
So I did it. I jumped in, took the ruffled blouse off the hanger, and slipped it on. All was going well until I slipped my second arm in and we reached what I like to call “the friction point” of my arms, which is the upper portion right around the biceps area. After all, I’m pretty strong, so the circumference naturally reflects that, plus that’s where I store most of my winter reserves, which should save me if I’m ever floating out in the ocean on a raft and my foot begins to look like a delicious burrito. But it was no big deal. I met some resistance, but with a little tug here and a little tug there, the sleeves moved right into place and the shirt was over my shoulders and on its way to being buttoned.
But it turns out that there sort of is a significant difference between an “M” and an “L,” kind of like the difference between 1994, a decade’s worth of unemployment, and the cultivation of a Kitten Ass. I couldn’t even get the button and the hole to look at each other, let alone kiss. There was no bridging the mountain range—it was a statistically impossible feat, and one that was difficult to absorb. I really loved that shirt. I wanted to wear it. But it was a hard fact of life, a tragedy of reality you have to accept, like the fact that you can seriously injure your mouth by attempting to fit an entire Triscuit inside it, and your chances of bleeding don’t diminish the more times you do it.
I looked at myself in it, saw Laurie Circa 1994 donning it with a cute little flippy skirt and espadrilles, and then bid it adieu. I slipped it off one shoulder, then the other, and that was precisely when our goodbye came to an abrupt end.
I was stuck. The sleeves, which had perfectly popped into place with two teeny suggestive tugs, were now a little stubborn about leaving their nice, soft, cozy arm-fat nest. In fact, both refused to budge. I rolled my eyes and huffed at the inconvenience. I decided to pop them right back out of place with a tug downward and crossed the left hand behind me to grab the right placket of the shirt, and vice versa. One good solid tug.
Tug. Tug. Tug.
No movement. None at all. Not even a slide.
Now, when I say that the hems of the sleeves were firmly in place around my arms, I mean they came together like a pipe fitting. With a touch of plumber’s putty, I could have run crude oil through that connection and there wouldn’t have been the slightest chance of a leak.
And it was definite. Those puff sleeves weren’t going anywhere.
I stood there for a moment and pondered what my next maneuver should be. Clearly we were having a little problem with the fabric of the shirt, which simply didn’t have as much elasticity as it should have. Clearly. I mean, I have had to wiggle in and wiggle out of some items of clothing, sure, who hasn’t, but I’ve never been grafted to one before.
I decided that since both of my arms were stuck and pulling from behind me wasn’t working, I should try a different position, so I bent over and tried to grab the back of the shirt to pull it from that angle. I tried to grab it several times, but it was too tight across my shoulders to fall into my grasp, and I had been bent over so long that when I stood up I didn’t see just stars but a meteor shower. “You’d better not do that again,” I warned myself. “One more tip of the teapot and you’come up with one side of you mouth lower than the other.” I tugged again from the front, but the sleeves were decidedly not budging.
“How can you be trapped in a goddamned shirt?” I asked myself. “It’s not a coal mine. It’s not an elevator. It’s cotton. The fabric of our lives!” I had no idea that a steel trap would have ruffles on it when I brought it into the dressing room and it sprang on both my arms.
“Oh my God,” I whispered, then took a minute to refocus and pulled again.
Not. An. Inch.
“This is ridiculous,” I said to myself. “I am just not pulling hard enough. Try pulling one arm at a time, focus all of your strength into one arm. Focusing. Focusing. Now pull!”
Something moved. But as my stomach flipped like a fish, I realized it was simply that the nail on my middle finger had bent backward.
If I get this shirt off, I thought, I swear I will never try on a non-“L” shirt again. Never. Never will I try to tempt sizes. Never will I think that sizes don’t know what they’re talking about. The sizes are gods. They know all. They know all. I know nothing. I’ll stay in my size herd from now on and will never stray. There is safety in the herd.
I thought I could not only get an “M” on but that I could button it. I have learned my lesson. I have. I have. I promise I have. I’ll only try things on with Lycra in them from now on.
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