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Sara B. is losing her cool.
Not just in the momentary-meltdown kind of way?though there's that, too. At the helm of must-read Snap magazine, veteran style guru Sara B. has had the job?and joy?for the past fifteen years of eviscerating the city's fashion victims in her legendary DOs and DON'Ts photo spread.
But now on the unhip edge of forty, with ambitious hipster kids reinventing the style world, Sara's being...
Sara B. is losing her cool.
Not just in the momentary-meltdown kind of way—though there's that, too. At the helm of must-read Snap magazine, veteran style guru Sara B. has had the job—and joy—for the past fifteen years of eviscerating the city's fashion victims in her legendary DOs and DON'Ts photo spread.
But now on the unhip edge of forty, with ambitious hipster kids reinventing the style world, Sara's being spit out like an old Polaroid picture: blurry, undeveloped and obsolete.
Fueled by alcohol, nicotine and self-loathing, Sara launches into a cringeworthy but often comic series of blowups—personal, professional and private—that culminate in an epiphany. That she, the arbiter of taste, has made her living by cutting people down…and somehow she's got to make amends.
I hate the girl with the parrot on her shoulder. I don't want to but I do. She's nineteen, maybe twenty, smoking as she waits in line at the restaurant. There's always a line now for Sunday brunch and I know it's my fault. Sometimes I shouldjust keep these things to myself. But the Parrot Girl. She's wearing shiny blue short-shorts with white piping, soccer socks with the stripey tops pulled up to her knees. I can tell her cowboy boots have been scuffed and distressed on purpose, the leather warped and discolored by water, they're scratched and dirty—she probably dragged them behind a car through an unpaved alleyway then invited her friends to stomp on them with their filthiest shoes. I know all the tricks. Still, the boots are too stiff. She wears a short gold satin jacket that the parrot keeps snagging with its claws every time it readjusts itself on her shoulder. From where I'm sitting I can't see what's underneath the jacket and the way the sun is reflecting off the satin, I can't get a clear view of her face. Plus, the parrot is in the way. Ted has a better view and assures me her face is good, so I polish off my third champagne cocktail and grab my camera bag from under the table.
Up close I see Parrot Girl has a tiny diamond stud in her nose. Her makeup is perfect: smudgy kohl eyes and sticky mascara, smeared lips, classic morning-after face. But her hair is too clean and smells like apples, her face freshly moisturized. I wonder how long she spent getting ready this morning, if she had a fitful sleep editing all the possible combinations of outfits in her head.
"Excuse me." I tap Parrot Girl on the shoulder. "My name is Sara B. and I was wonderingif I could take your picture?"
Parrot Girl turns to look at me. Her friends titter behind her. She lights another cigarette and I notice her hands are shaking slightly. She knows who I am, I'm sure of it. She takes a deep drag and shrugs. "Yeah, okay, that's cool."
I lead her away from the line and ask her to face my camera. The satin is tricky in the sun and the parrot won't look at me. I think for a moment that the parrot is smarter than either of us—it knows how ridiculous this all is, and doesn't want any part of it. I get the shot and Parrot Girl signs the release allowing the magazine to use the photos however we see fit. She doesn't ask the obvious—it never occurs to the ones who try so hard to be a DO that they could possibly be a DON'T.
I push my way back through the line and to our table by the window, which is open onto the busy street. A couple of people call my name and wave. I have no idea who they are, but smile and wave back anyway. One of them yells, "Sara B.! Take my picture!" I smile again and sit down.
Genevieve is breast-feeding the baby in the washroom. She won't do it at the table anymore after last week when a woman in bad camouflage pockety pants that emphasized her puffy abdomen berated her for drinking one champagne cocktail, then feeding the baby an hour later. According to Genevieve,
this was typical. The situation was made worse when the Bad Camo Woman broke from her rant and narrowed her eyes at Genevieve. "You!" She pointed a finger in Genevieve's face. "You! You're that singer! Gen-Gen! You had that song— what was it called? 'J'taime, J'taime something…'"
"'J'taime My Baby Tonight,'" Ted spoke up. Genevieve glared at her husband.
Bad Camo Woman snapped her fingers. "That's it! Wow! I used to listen to that song over and over when I was a teenager! You're Gen-Gen! Andrew, look, it's Gen-Gen!" Andrew, who had been hanging sheepishly in the back, nodded a quick hello. He, too, was wearing bad camouflage pockety pants. "So do you think I could get your autograph? Here." She shoved a crinkled receipt in front of Genevieve and produced a pen from her fake Louis Vuitton bag. "Sign this."
Genevieve obliged, scrawling Best Wishes, Gen-Gen across the crumpled paper.
"Wow, thanks. I can't wait to call my friend Angela. She was my best friend in school and she loved you, too. We're not that close now—she lives in Vancouver—but we try to keep in touch, you know. It's hard, though, with our kids and our jobs and—"
"How would you feel about me taking a picture of you two?" I interrupted. I couldn't take it anymore.
"Of us?" Bad Camo Woman brought her hand to her chest.
"Sure. But let's do it outside. There's not enough room in here," I said as I ushered the Bad Camo Couple to the door.
"Check it out." Jack nods toward the table behind ours. We're silent, we listen. They have the magazine open to the DOs and DON'Ts fashion page and I can see my shot of the Bad Camo Couple staring out as the man holds it up to take a closer look. They are the featured DON'T, the biggest DON'T of the week, more DON'T than the unitard juggler or any of the three other DON'Ts on the page. "Could be a good look for us," the man jokes.
"Ugh. Put that thing away." The woman snatches it out of his hands. "It's so mean."
Jack leans into me and whispers, "I like it when you're mean." Then he kisses me on the neck. I order another drink and he does the same. Ted asks for the check.
"What? No more champagne, Ted? Oh, yeah. I guess you've got that long drive ahead of you," I say. I'm tipsy and when I'm tipsy I can't help needling Ted about having moved to the suburbs.
"It's not that bad, Sara. You should come out sometime. You might even like it."
"We'll see about that," I say. I've refused on principle to visit Ted and Genevieve's new house. Jack says I'm being stubborn and immature but Jack's young and doesn't get it.
As soon as Genevieve and baby Olivier arrive back at the table, Ted announces it's time to go. He has to mow the lawn. Genevieve's parents are coming for a barbecue supper. She has to make potato salad. Genevieve hands Olivier to me, freeing her hands to pack the baby gear and pop open the stroller. I grip the baby firmly, but not too close. Jack tickles Olivier's nose with his finger and makes goo-goo baby-talk sounds that I hope I'll be able to block out the next time we have sex. Which won't be for three weeks, I remind myself. Jack's leaving for his home in Toronto late this afternoon.
Hugs. Kisses on both cheeks all around. Safe drive, have a great time. Give my best to your parents, Gen. Call me tomorrow. I'll see you at the office, Ted. They're gone and I slump back into my chair, knocking back the champagne cocktail that's been placed in front of me. Then Gen suddenly reappears. She's frantic. Olivier is wailing. His pacifier has disappeared. We look between plates, under napkins. Jack finds it on the floor and hands it to Gen. She gives it a quick wipe on her shirt and pushes it into Olivier's mouth before scrambling back out the door. I shudder. Doesn't it have to be sterile or something?
Jack looks at me but says nothing. His smile is crooked and his eyes are warm. "That is one cute baby," he says.
"Yup," I say, my eyes darting around, trying to find a waitress, a hostess, a bus boy, anyone who can get me a drink.
"Do you ever think about it, Sara?"
I can't look at him. I catch the eye of our waitress and point to my empty glass. She nods.
"We've never talked about this, you know." Jack is not letting up. I hate this conversation more than I hate Parrot Girl.
"I have to be honest with you, Sara. And you need to be honest with me. You're thirty-nine and you know I'm totally cool with that, but I also know that, well, your time is…"
"I guess, yeah." Jack's voice is very quiet.
I laugh. "Jack, I don't want to have a baby, if that's what you're worried about." He looks relieved. My drink arrives and I immediately suck half of it down. "I'm not one of those women."
"I know that. I just thought that we've been together for almost a year so maybe we should make sure we're on the same page with this." I am certainly not on the same page with anyone who says on the same page, but I say nothing and smile. "I mean, I love kids, my nieces and nephews are great and Olivier is adorable, but it's not for me. I've never wanted kids of my own."
"Great. That's just great, then." I raise my near-empty glass to clink Jack's, down the last of it and instruct him to order another round as I excuse myself to use the bathroom.
I squat above the toilet to pee and wrestle my cell phone out of my purse. I dial Gen's number, but click the phone shut before it has a chance to ring. I can't call her about this, about Jack not wanting to have kids and me not wanting to have kids and how great that should be but how I feel mysteriously winded and sad and I don't know why. I can't call her and we can't spend hours dissecting my feelings and his feelings and still not really know why I feel like this by the time one of our phones starts to die. I can't call her about this because she has Olivier and her parents are coming for a barbecue supper and she has potato salad to make.
There's a girl sitting in my spot, laughing with Jack. "Hello," I say.
The girl stands. "Oh, my goodness, Sara B. I saw you over here and I didn't want to be rude or anything, I just wanted to meet you—you're, like, my idol, seriously. I want your job. What you do is amazing. I mean, you're Sara B."
"You can just call me Sara." I stick my hand out to shake hers. "And you are?"
"Eva. Eva Belanger."
"That would make you Eva B., then."
"Gosh, yes. I guess it would." Eva's face is bright red. She looks away from me and to Jack.
"Go ahead," Jack says. "She won't bite. Well, not unless you want her to."
"You're funny," I say to Jack. "So what can I do for you, Eva?"
"I just, well, I was wondering if you'd ever consider letting me tag along, shadow you for a day, see how you do it."
"It's not magic. It's just a job."
"No, no, it's important. You know, I have almost every issue of Snap. I had to get the older ones off eBay but now I'm only missing issues six and eight, when you were still only monthly."
"Nineteen ninety-three," I confirm. The first year, when it was just Ted and I and a bag of money his dad gave us. By ninety-five we were weekly and had an office. Now we have a building, six satellite offices and three retail stores. Last month, a stuffy American company paid Ted and me twenty thousand dollars to spend a day with their marketing team. Advertising agencies pay us more. We don't mention those things in the magazine. "I think I've got some of those old issues kicking around," I say to Eva. "If I can find six and eight, they're yours."
"Really? Are you serious?"
"It's not a problem," I say.
"What is a problem is that you're not sitting down," Jack says. "Another round?"
"Sure," I say. "Would you like to join us, Eva?"
"Oh, my! Yes, of course—if you really don't mind."
"We really don't mind," I say. I wouldn't mind anything that's a distraction from Jack and the baby talk and the talk about babies and not wanting one, and not knowing why I was spooked when he said he didn't want one when I don't want one, either. I definitely want this Eva girl to join us.
Eva tells Jack stories about me. She tells him about the time I got into a very public squabble with a Hollywood starlet after we published a picture of her wasted and bleary-eyed, attempting to dress in what I could only guess was her misguided interpretation of Audrey Hepburn in Funny Face. Here to shoot a film, the starlet was on the town, trying like they all do when they come to Montreal to look French. But like they all do, she got it wrong. The striped top was not black and white like Hepburn's, but too short and striped in multicolored pastels. The black leggings were shiny and too tight and made her ass look like a big balloon. Instead of ballet flats, she wore stilettos and her trashy big blond hair was nothing like Hepburn's neat-and-sleek brunette style. To top it off, the starlet had the scarf-—they always had the scarf, no matter the season—wrapped around her neck like a strangling tensor bandage. It was not French. It was sad. She was definitely a DON'T.
Eva tells Jack about how I'd started wearing shrunken kid-size T-shirts with cutesy logos and sayings when everyone else was decked out in Doc Martens and plaid. She tells Jack that when she'd read my TO DO column a couple weeks back she knew she had to meet me for real. The column was about recycling old Girl Guide and Boy Scout merit badges by sewing them onto the sleeves of the prettiest vintage beaded sweaters, and Eva said she had done the very same thing just days before the magazine came out.
I got that particular idea from Sophie, the woman who ran a thrift shop in Westmount I frequented. I didn't mention this in my column and I don't mention it now. Sophie said that the kids were coming in and rifling through a bin of old patches in search of merit badges to sew on their coats. Sewing the badges on vintage sweaters was my idea and, according to Eva, hers, too.
Posted November 27, 2009
Fifteen years ago Sara B and Ted founded Snap with no money to truly launch the magazine. However, with its Dos and Don'ts, the magazine has become one of Canada's most popular weekly. In fact if imitation is the ultimate flattery, than Snap is the top gun.
However, as Sara B closes in on her fortieth birthday, she has lost some of her edge; even she knows she is on cruise control professional and personally. Her affair with younger Jack is okay but not any euphoric incredible. Even her renowned page Dos and Don'ts has lost its luster at least in her mind. Sara B especially feels her age since she hired energetic youthful Eva, who represents what Sara B was before she realized the new forty is still forty.
This is a superb sarcastic saga of a woman not coming to grips with middle age hammering at her when she compares herself today with Eva and with herself at Eva's age. Time has moved on and she fears passed her by when she was not looking beyond the next Don'ts. Fans who relish a dark jocular acerbic tale will appreciate this strong tale as Sara B realizes she has gone from a Do to a Don't.
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