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Babe in Toyland
By Olson, Eugenie Seifer
Avon BooksISBN: 0060570563
"What do you think of this?" Kerrin says suddenly, turning away from the counter to face me. Her face is a patchwork quilt of overpriced cosmetics, with stripes of green and blue on her eyelids and blotchy pinks on her cheeks.
"Hmm?" I look up dewy eyed from my reverie. I've strayed from the circus of colors at the makeup counter to the bath and body products, where I've been fingering the beautiful bottles and inhaling the citrusy smells of the lotion of the moment. My obsession with bath products borders on the perverse, and my bathroom, a clutter of austere packaging and empty marketing promises, proves it.
We are in John Wanamaker's in Center City, with its hushed department-store atmosphere, high vaulted ceilings, and delicate railings. Wanamaker's has taken quite a hit in recent years, with Philadelphians instead preferring to go to the colorless local malls in the suburban spread. The sales help stands listlessly on the floors, seemingly unaware of the few patrons who still shop here. I do not own many elegant things, but I have a breathtaking box of lace hankies given to me by my great-grandmother when I was about four years old. They were purchased here, and I like to imagine the hustle and bustle of the place back then, before people felt it was their divine right to shop in flip-flops and torn sweatpants. To this day, the hankies sit in their signature Wanamaker's box in my bureau drawer, a reminder of a time when shopping was glamorous.
It's nearing the end of our lunch break -- or Kerrin's lunch break, to be more accurate. As a result of a new touchy-feely employee program at the toy company where I work, we've been given half-days on Fridays during the summer months. With as much excitement as the CEO could muster, he told us the new policy would allow us to have summertime fun and develop outside interests. So far, it has afforded me more time to pursue lofty and mind-broadening goals, such as renting movies that feature the vapid beauty of Keanu Reeves, and conducting a personal taste test of Philadelphia's best cheesesteaks with my roommate Michael. If today's makeup shopping goes well for Kerrin, I will add this to my list of potential Friday afternoon outings. Kerrin, on the other hand, must get back to work by one-thirty, to her windowless, suffocating office at University of Pennsylvania Hospital.
"Well?" asks the saleswoman, arching her overplucked eyebrows at Kerrin. Her lab coat and discreet enamel pin on its collar contrast vividly with her red talons, heavy foundation, and shimmery lipstick. "This new summer collection seems perfectly suited to your needs," she says with conviction, and I make a mental note to ask Kerrin exactly what are the cosmetics needs of a person who writes grants for cancer research.
"Ummm . . . that one," Kerrin says, jabbing a fingertip at an eyeliner pencil. She juts her chin out and tilts her head to one side, Kerrin-speak for "I've made up my mind." For just a moment, a hint of stress breaks through the makeup mask of the saleswoman. "Are you sure that's all you'll be needing? Maybe you'd like me to show you how to blend the eyeshadow colors again?"
She is playing a losing game. Kerrin hasn't come here to abuse her or waste her time; she genuinely wants to sample everything but won't be strong-armed into buying anything more than she needs. Try to swindle Kerrin, and you'll wish you had stayed home exfoliating today, I silently say to the hapless saleswoman.
"Can you believe that, Toby?" Kerrin says moments later as we walk toward her car on 12th Street. She takes a long drag on her cigarette and lets the smoke out through clenched teeth. "Thinking I'm going to buy all that crap. I told her I only needed one thing."
"Yes, but it's her job to try and get you to buy more stuff. Plus, you looked like you were really going for it, letting her keep putting different colors on you. You looked like Ziggy Stardust or something," I say, tightly clutching my bag of matching orange-scented bath gel and shampoo in my left hand.
"What did you buy?" she asks, rooting in her bag for her keys. I've always been amazed at friends who can walk and hunt for things in their purses at the same time. My one such experiment ended up with my checkbook falling down an open manhole, and I've been fearful ever since.
"Oh, just some orange bath gel and shampoo. I really can't even afford it, I don't know what I was thinking," I rationalize.
"You're weird with that stuff. You need some sensuality in your life. Remember pleasures of the flesh, Toby?" she grins. "It's going to be a long, hot summer. I think you should have some fun. And not the kind of fun that comes from" -- she yanks the bag from my hand and squints at the label on the shampoo -- "some cosmetic company on Long Island. I'll call you this weekend."
And with that, she gets into her car and lurches into traffic, nearly colliding with a temporary barrier routing cars around City Hall. How like Kerrin to fight City Hall on her lunch hour.
"Hello?" I call out as I open the front door. "Michael, are you here?"
I plop down on the sofa, thoroughly deflated from the bus ride from Center City. Surely that's not what the CEO of Toyland had in mind when he told us to enjoy our Friday afternoons, I had been thinking only five minutes earlier while watching the bus driver argue with a passenger about the live eel he was attempting to transport in a flimsy supermarket shopping bag ...Continues...
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