The Nightgown

Jeremy Irons once said, “We all have our time machines. Some take us back, they’re called memories. Some take us forward, they’re called dreams.”

It’s the time of year when we go through our stuff and decide what to discard and what to keep. We are all sure to encounter a memory or a dream while sifting. I have long known that it is not the ‘stuff’ that is the real problem, but the memories that are attached to it.

Recently, as I was sorting the stuff from my lingerie drawer that had seen its day, I came across a memory that had once been a hope. The item is now tattered and sort of gray… where once it had been snowy white.  I threw it away, but I guess I am preserving it by writing about it.

I had been admiring the nightgown for weeks. It was a Grecian, sexy and romantic beauty for only $29.00 (obviously a long time back).

The white nightgown had a gold Roman key design running across the bodice and down the side of a daringly high slit. It was a voluminous number with lots of sheer layers, and was to be worn off the shoulder on one side.

I was married then, and our anniversary was coming up. I planned a romantic evening with wine chilling and candles everywhere. The gown had been purchased with every bit of the spare change I had been hoarding. When the long anticipated night arrived, I went into the master bath to prepare myself. The object of my affection waited in the bedroom, sipping the champagne which he had stepped out of character to buy.

It was quite a while before I could navigate myself through the many layers. Finally, I thought I had it! Oops… my head began to emerge from the armhole. I slipped it off and tried again and that time my arm came out of the head hole.

Meanwhile, my partner was becoming impatient, “What is taking so long?” he snarled in an impatient voice. He kept complaining louder and louder, so I responded in kind. It seemed we were never on the same page, and so, frequently butted heads.

On my next try, my head and arm came together out of one hole. It was then I realized how stuck I really was.

I called to my husband for help.  He demanded I come out and stop all this silly fooling around. That was too humiliating, so I screamed, “NEVER MIND!”

Suddenly I heard it… that tearing sound… a rip.

I dissolved on the floor in tears, stuck in the creation.

I had imagined myself a goddess, a Cleopatra, a sexy dark-haired temptress. I was a klutz, that’s all I was.

In the meantime, the husband fell asleep and was snoring heavily, the champagne bottle beside him.

Making one last try, it all fell together.  I glanced in my full-length mirror and liked what I saw, but it was too late. Carefully folding the tear-stained gauze, I retired it in a drawer, together with my dreams. Grabbing my old fuzzy pink shorty nightgown and the leftover champagne, I went downstairs.

An hour later my doorbell rang. It was my brother Ray. He helped me finish the wine, told me I was beautiful, and wiped away my tears.

I think that was the night I began to know my marriage was finished, and I knew I wouldn’t be wearing that little number again any time soon.

I got rid of the man, but kept the nightgown, which became a hope, and, by the way, I wore it again.

Years later, I went to the movies with a friend. The film was “A New Leaf” with Walter Matthau. His wife was wearing my nightgown on their wedding night. I watched as she tried to get into it…. soon she was as entangled as I once was, getting the neck and armholes all mixed up.

I fell off my seat laughing.  My friend was horrified at my uncontrollable madness, and I was having trouble not wetting my pants.

After a while, I began to calm down. On the screen, Walter was patiently adjusting his wife’s gown. They kissed. He told her she looked beautiful. It was a happy ending.

Memories, hopes, stuff.  What we all really want is for our dreams to one day come true. Mine did. May yours, too.

The Chamber of Horrors

Summer is ending and the parks have closed their swimming pools. Even more sadly… my garden is starting to wane. I am very depressed except for just one thing that I have all winter to change. It’s my annual pilgrimage of terror, horror and humiliation to buy a bathing suit. It’s when a store dressing room becomes a chamber of horrors for me… Here’s this years account.

Generally I wait until after the Fourth of July just to ensure that I have exercised and fasted my way into a smaller size. Being the eternal optimist is one of my nobler qualities. The fact I have worn the same size for more than five years tends to escape my attention. I am not a detail person.

These were my humble requirements for 2013, fewer than $35 and making me look like I took off 25 pounds. That end result would leave me looking like a Sports Illustrated swimsuit model — sexy, but not sleazy, and hopefully with my budget intact. Do you think that was just a tad unrealistic?

I arrived at the store and picked out eleven different styles and sizes. None of them had the bras or construction that the suits of my youth possessed. I still remember those little numbers. They were engineered to pull in your waist with clever little stays on the sides and the built-in bras pushed up and filled out your endowments. Those babies when lifted towards heaven resembled pointed mountain peaks. Heavy girdle like material kept your blubber tight. They did a decent job.

Today’s stretch numbers seem to be made of thin, almost-see-through latex similar to the stuff balloons are made from. They all looked undersized; I was sure they would become transparent in the water.  I feared my nipples and belly button would show, so I picked out some other styles as well. Bikinis were out, but a two-piece was added to my stack. I briefly considered a maternity suit.

I headed towards the dressing room and a frowning attendant counted out six suits — informing me that was all that was allowed at one time.  “Can you bring the next six to me?” I pleaded. She looked from me to the suits and grudgingly agreed.

I couldn’t see myself walking out in one of them for replenishment with my unshaven white legs and unpainted toes. I was still in winter mode.

Pulling the curtains tight, I undressed and fought my way into the first number, squeezing my eyes tightly. When I opened them, I was horrified. The lighting in those places turns a person yellow and most people look like they are in a police lineup, minus the numbers around their necks.

I gasped — my bosom was flat and my speed bumps had moved. One was under my armpit and the other was somewhere near my rib cage. The rest of me oozed out of the top, back and sides. I was certain that the three-way mirror had to have come from a fun house.

Dressing rooms should be lit by candlelight and the full-view assessment of the mirrors rigged to create a more slender you. Why have the marketing people not gotten that yet?

I cleverly covered myself with the curtain and called for replacements. A black suit with a see-through waist looked sexy and held my roll in check, but when I turned to see the rear view, I was oozing out of the deep V-line revealing where it all had ended up. And by the way, what fool decided on the term “love handles,” anyway?

Then there was the one that looked like a handkerchief with little black pants cut so high that I would need to wax my eyebrows as well as other unmentionables.

Most of the suits were designed for 17-year-olds who have never given birth. I considered having a tattoo artist paint a swimsuit on my body so I would never have to suffer this heartache and trauma again. Humiliated, I brought all of them back to the attendant.

“Did you find anything?” I hated the smug look on her face when I muttered no to her.

There is always next year.

That’s all I have to say about that.

Writer’s Block

My name is Joani and this is my first blog.

I have written hundreds of columns, essays, magazine articles, and am no stranger to writer’s block.

But for some reason, I have been afraid of my very own blog and it’s probably because I am technically challenged.

Thanks to some VERY patient friends, here I am … up and running, sort of.

No more excuses.

I am all in favor of Walt Whitman’s advice, “I loafe at my ease…observing a blade of summer grass.”

I was laid off recently from my weekly column with The Sun-Times Suburban Sun and that’s just what I have been up to… loafing. First of all, I have long ago been vaccinated for this condition (procrastination and loafing).

Having decided  I had the deadly “Writer’s Block” yet again, I employed some of the things that have worked in the past…

I went to my muse, Chloe, and  her advice was to walk by the river but it’s pouring rain.

Next, I began waiting for something like spontaneous combustion to happen so I would know what to write about.  It’s worked in the past.

Well, it didn’t happen, so while having coffee with my next door neighbor this morning, she said, “Write about being blocked.”

My best friend Dena has suggested Crazy Glue on my chair.

They were both right. Writers try too hard sometimes, that’s when we run into problems.  Often, I will simply begin telling a story. Have you ever heard of anyone getting stuck in the middle of a story when they are telling it?

So these are a few of the things I do when I feel blocked…

I stick my butt to my chair, and thoughts usually begin to restring themselves and then sort of hang together until an idea is revealed.

Another approach comes from daydreaming about a word or a phrase that has sparked the original idea.  Sometimes I see only a little piece of the elephant and have to go away for awhile and when returning… the elephant begins to show itself, miraculously creating a title, a beginning and now, “The End.”

All of my experiences are and have been “Grist for the Mill” in my writing life.

True Beauty Doesn’t Come From a Brush

I needed makeup. I had scraped the container until every last remnant was used up. Going though my drawer yielded some really old stuff that I must have used when I was a woman of color. I can’t remember that time, but it clearly had been used. Then there was my old clown makeup and some dried-up pancake bits and pieces from an ancient past. I don’t remember being orange either.
There is a lady that wrote a book and the title is “Don’t Go to the
Cosmetics Counter Without Me.” Where is she now? I looked her up on the Internet and she wrote a book, but it’s 720 pages long. I just don’t have the time for that kind of research. The reason for my panic is that if the past is any indication of the present, a trip to buy makeup generally results in a major deficit in my checking account. I MEAN a major deficit.
Now, I have tried the Walgreen’s brands that you examine through plastic to get the shade that matches your skin. The problem being, when it’s unwrapped, the color is very different. It is suitable for the bride of Frankenstein.
One time, peering in the mirror after choosing my own colors, I realized I had achieved the gothic look that a lot of teenagers sport. All I needed was to dye my hair black and hang a few chains around my already black-makes-you-thinner clothes.
No, I needed help, so off I went with my friend Dena to the M-A-Cosmetics store in Oak Brook. All of the salesgirls are dressed alike and have tool belts on. They look like carpenters in black only there are no hammers on their belts. Their tools are brushes, all shapes and sizes.
I guarantee each brush costs $30 or more and you need each one, really need each one for all the different parts of your face. You see, fingers are simply and unequivocally out. Brushes are in. The girls were all young and beautiful and perfect for selling the fantasy and illusion Dena and I were looking for.
My friend and I fell under the spell of it all immediately and began to play with all the jars and tubes and tints. We were looking for our lost youth. We are both on the downward slope on the mountain of life. We thought we might find a miracle in a jar and avoid the painful surgery that a lot of woman our age choose.
Enter Georgie with her peaches and cream complexion and eyelashes that I could certainly have by purchasing THEIR mascara. Secretly, we both want what she has. She offers to do a free makeover on me and I succumb to the word, “Free.”
After a through cleansing (you have to start with good skin care, she
explains), there is a special moisturizer for my eyes and one for my face. It seems the skin around my eyes knows the difference, even if I don’t. The peanut oil I have been using will clog my pores. A rough washcloth will not do as an exfoliate.
Georgie is writing all this down so I can know what to buy to achieve the dramatic results. The next step is a silicone base to even out my skin tones. She encourages me to feel my face; Dena feels it too. “It feels like plastic,” she says and steps back to survey me critically.
“We are only setting the stage,” the salesgirl says. Next is the foundation, which is applied with a special brush. We all agreed I looked too white, but not plastic anymore. I needed some blush. Applied with a blush brush of course. Next is a special base for my eyelids and again I am layered; you see it is all about layers. Georgie continued to rave about my beautiful eye color and how to enhance it further with two different shades of shadow and liner. (More brushes.)
One hour and a half later, Dena, Georgie and I were standing outside with a mirror admiring the results in the harsh light of day. Dena said jokingly that she almost wanted to kiss me, my lips looked so good. I moved back. Next, I was walking out with a nifty little bag holding $200 worth of hope.
We went to a coffee shop afterward and there was an elderly woman
sitting across the room gazing out the window. I think she was in her 80s and there were lines softly etched in her face that was framed by silver hair. While Dena went to get us coffee I studied the beauty reflected from her serene composure. She was stunning. She wore no makeup and looked so content.
I looked down at my little bag and knew that I would never spend the time it took to apply all that stuff and one by one I would eliminate all those steps to gorgeousness as I am mostly too busy in the act of living.
Whatever that woman had, she never got it from a jar or a brush or a
moisturizer and I want what she has.
I recognize true beauty.