Authors: Erma Bombeck
It is probably my own sensitivity, but I always imagine boot salesmen are the lowest in seniority. They are serving time in this department only because their father, who owns the store, wants to keep them humble.
My salesman was a leg watcher. (Not mine, however.)
“I would like a pair of boots,” I said.
He scrutinized me closely, squinted his eyes, and appeared
with a pair of Arctic boots that laced up to the knee.
“No, you don’t understand,” I said, “I don’t want to get a construction job. I want a pair of dressy boots to wear with wools and jumpers.”
With detachment, he went over to a display table and returned with a boot so long and narrow it had an echo. There was only one pair of legs in the world that would fit into that boot: Phyllis Diller’s. (As a friend of mine once remarked, on Phyllis’s legs, “The last time I saw legs that size they had a message attached to them.”)
“Where’s the zipper?” I asked.
“There is no zipper,” he yawned. “They’re the new easy-stretch pullons.” He reached in to take out the tissue paper and got his arm stuck.
“Perhaps one with a zipper,” I suggested.
He placed the zippered boot on my foot and began to ease the zipper all the way up to my ankle bone. Then it stopped.
“Thanks anyway,” I said, “but …”
“No, no,” he insisted. “It’ll work. Just twist your foot a little and bear down.” A crowd began to form.
“Really,” I said, “it’s no use. The boot is too.…”
“We can do it,” he insisted. His pocket comb fell out and he ignored it. The blood rushed to his head and I feared for a nosebleed.
“Maybe if you took off those heavy hose.”
“My nylons?” I gasped.
“Look, lady,” he shouted, forcing the zipper, “suck in! Suck in!”
My leg throbbed. I spoke softly. “I appreciate what you are trying to do, but just bring me that pair over on the center table.”
“Are you sure those are what you want?” he asked.
“They’ll do fine,” I said. I slipped easily into the ankle-length white boot with a stencil of Cinderella and a castle
on the side. I may not be a fashion plate, but I’ll be a smash at Show and Tell.
As a woman who thinks a needle is something you take out splinters with and step on in your bare feet, I have always been annoyed with the inequality of alterations.
Why is it when a man buys a suit, his alterations come free, but when a woman buys an outfit of equal or more value, she pays extra?
I was with my husband a few years ago when he bought a $49.95 suit (with a vest, two contrasting pairs of slacks, a matching tarn, and a set of dishes). Not only was it a cheap suit (the label said, “Made in Occupied Guadalcanal: Fashion Capital of the World”) but it hung on him like an ugly blind date.
“I don’t like the way it breaks across the shoulders,” he said, twisting before his three-way mirror. “And the sleeves—I like them short enough to count my fingers. Maybe you can reset them.”
“No problem,” smiled the salesman.
“There’s too much slack in the seat and the waistband seems a little loose … maybe a tuck or two.”
“Of course,” grinned the salesman. “Let me summon a tailor.”
The tailor spent thirty-five minutes chalking up my husband’s anatomy. The suit looked like a steer being divided for two freezers—all at no charge.
The other day I tried on a dress of comparable value.
“It bags a little in front,” I said, looking sideways into the mirror.
“There are operations to correct that, honey,” she yawned. “Or we’ll alter it for three dollars.”
“And the sleeves. They hang so long.”
“That’ll be two-fifty or you can roll ’em up and keep your elbows bent.”
“I don’t know,” I pondered. “Maybe a knit isn’t for me. It clings so.”
“Tell you what,” she said, “if you want to save two dollars, just block it yourself by stretching it over a chair for a couple of days … or a sofa depending on how loose you want it.”
“How much to shorten it?”
“Four dollars,” she said, “but it’ll be worth it. This dress will look like it’s been made for you. Here, let me help you with the zipper.”
“How much for helping me with my zipper,” I chided.
“I’ll throw it in,” she said. “I feel sorry for you.”
I knew when I got a pair of “at home” pajamas for Christmas, I could never wear them “at home.” They were definitely not apparel to unclog a sink, paper-train a dog, or make pizza in.
They were pajamas to sit on the sofa and cough in. Or descend a stairway with a brandy snifter in your hand. Or pose for a magazine ad which read, “Erma Bombeck could afford any oven she wanted, but she chose a Kenmore.”
That’s why I took them out of town for a trial run to get the bugs out before bringing them into my living room.
The place was a reception in Boston. I shook them out of the suitcase, belted them, and took off.
In my own mind, I envisioned my entrance as having the same impact as you would have seeing Elizabeth Taylor jog. I imagined conversation coming to a hush, glasses
paralyzed in mid-air, jealous hearts taking the caps off their suicide rings and a voice booming, “You and your sexy pajamas! You have our hearts, you she-devil; must you have our souls too!”
My entrance produced as much excitement as a paperclip display in the lobby of the bunny club.
“You’re late, luv,” said one of my friends putting her arm around my waist. “Good Lord, what’s that?” she asked, her fingers touching a lump around my waist.
“It’s my slip,” I said.
“Doesn’t it bother you?”
“Only when I walk. Do you like my outfit?”
“You look like someone I saw in a movie a while back.”
“Bette Davis? Katharine Ross?”
“No, Dustin Hoffman. There’s something wrong with your cleavage.”
“That’s what I mean. You’re wearing your darts backwards. You know something? I think you’ve got this thing on backwards. Hey gang, come look at this. Would you say the zipper goes in front? Maybe if you wore a bathrobe over it.…”
I think the pajamas need a little work before I bring them into my home town for their big opening.
I was walking along a center aisle of a department store the other day when a representative of a cosmetics firm smiled and beckoned me over to the counter.
“You mean me?” I giggled.
She nodded. Then she leaned over, sized me up and whispered, “I can help.”
I was overwhelmed with the way she looked and the
way she smelled. There sure wasn’t any peanut butter growing under her fingernails.
“First, dear,” she said, “I want you to walk for me.”
I felt like a fool. Stiffly, I swaggered out to handbags and back again. “Are you carrying your money in a knotted handkerchief tied to your knees?”
“Why? Am I walking funny?”
“A bit self-conscious perhaps,” she said. “We’ll work on that later. Now, we are going to create a new you. First, your shape. You can do all kinds of artificial things to change it. Don’t turn your back on me, dear.”
“I’m not,” I said miserably.
“Oh. Well, all that can be fixed with padding. As for your hips and waist, there are cinchers to wear. Now, for the important parts. Do you do anything to your hair?”
“I put three rollers each morning on the side I slept on the night before.”
“Perhaps a wig,” she mused. “We’ll just slip this one on for effect. Now, what about eyelashes?”
“Those fake ones make me drowsy.”
“You weren’t putting them on properly,” she said authoritatively. “Now, we’ll accent your cheek bones with a dark make-up making your face look thinner. You are rather sallow. We’ll add this rouge to make you look vibrant and healthy. There now. Have you always worn glasses?”
“Only since college when I went steady with a parking meter my junior and senior years.”
“I would suggest contacts. They really give the eyes a new dimension. And your nose. Are you happy with it?”
“It works O.K.”
“I meant the shape of it. You know cosmetic surgery is very commonplace nowadays. You should have it bobbed and give your face a better profile. Of course you were planning to have your teeth capped.”
She worked on me for over an hour. At the end of the
session, I was laden with creams, liners, rouge, powder, nutrients, fake eyelashes, wig, waist cincher, padding, and suggested doctors to cap my teeth, fix my nose, and outfit me in contact lenses.
“Thank you very much,” I stammered, “you’ve certainly been a help.”
“Just one last bit of advice, dear,” she said softly, touching my shoulder. “Be yourself!”
The beauty secrets of the stars never worked for me. I remember once Arlene Dahl suggested placing chilled cucumbers over each eye to relieve tension. My husband leaned over to kiss me hello, thought it was Daddy Warbucks and has had a twitch in his right eye ever since.
Dolores Del Rio, an older star who remains ageless, said she retained her youth by never smiling and creating laugh lines. Any mother knows it’s not the laugh lines that create valleys of facial erosion, but the crying lines.
I suppose I should never have trusted Sophia Loren when she was quoted in a magazine article as saying, “All I am I owe to spaghetti.” Just by looking at her I would never have thought that. Good posture? Maybe. A new baby? Possibly. A sixteenth-of-an-inch padding? Oh, c’mon. But spaghetti!
Spaghetti being my favorite food, her advice was easy to take. At least once a week, I would get out the big pot (not me, you fool, the other one) and begin the ritual that is called “spaghetti sauce.” Then I would toss up the salad, rich with oil, load the garlic bread with butter, reverently face Sophia’s picture on the wall and say, “This one is for you, Sophia.”
As the weeks went by, it became obvious my sand was not settling in the same proportions as Sophia. While she
was built like a cut diamond, I was taking on the shape of a pyramid. But I persevered.
“Well, Sophia,” jeered my husband, “how are you and Marcello Mastroianni making out?”
“I had it for lunch,” I said.
“It’s funny,” he said, “but I cannot remember Sophia walking around with a safety pin in her slacks.”
“A sex symbol cannot be built in a day,” I retaliated.
It wasn’t until I began to think the “before” pictures in magazines looked great, that I realized the road to beauty is not paved with spaghetti. Sophia lied to me. It was all a hoax to make the women of America look like beasts, while Sophia slithered her way through movie after movie. (Like having ugly bridesmaids so you’ll look good.)
Taking off “spaghetti,” my friends, is like taking off no other food. You can run around the block and take off an eclair. You can do a few sit ups, and dissolve lobster dipped in butter, but spaghetti hits your hips, takes roots and begins to grow again.
The other night as I sat nibbling on a piece of carrot, I watched Sophia in a movie with Cary Grant. I couldn’t help but wonder … maybe if I left off the Parmesan.
My husband’s idea of a fun vacation is sitting around watching a ranger pick his teeth with a match cover.
My idea of “roughing it” is when you have to have an extension for your electric blanket.
My husband is one of those idiots who leaves pieces of bacon out to attract bears to the camp site.
I once trapped a gnat in my bra and went to bed with a sick headache for a week.
“Face it,” I said, “we are incompatible. I want to go to New York and see some theater and shop and you want to go to Murk Lake and watch mosquitoes hatch their larva.”
He stiffened. “I am not going to New York and watch a bunch of lewdy nudies cavort around the stage.”
“And I am not going to Murk Lake and watch men shave out of double boilers.”
“I am not going to the city where I have to wear a necktie to bed,” he continued.
“And I am not going to a camp ground where life is so primitive the animals come to watch us feed.”
The point is we are incompatible on the subject of vacations.
“You don’t understand,” I said to my husband. “I don’t ask much in this world. All I want is a few weeks where I could sleep in a bed where the alarm clock is on the opposite side.
“I want to go to the bathroom, lock the door, and know that when I look through the keyhole I will not encounter another eye.
“I want the phone to ring and have it be for me. I want to walk in a room and see all the drawers closed. I want to drink a cup of coffee while it is still hot.
“Don’t you understand? I want to pick up my toothbrush and have it be dry.”