I've come to Andriana Furs on the Magnificent Mile to pay homage to Martin Luther King on his birthday.
The receptionist (long shiny hair and bright red lips) buzzes me in. Her phone is ringing like crazy. She sounds like the one who answered the phone when I called to find out about the fabulous Martin Luther King's birthday fur sale. I'd seen a commercial for it with a tall model looking back over her shoulder at the camera and dropping her fur just enough to reveal her bare back.
"We're selling all our fur coats at three-quarters off in honor of Martin Luther King," the voice on the telephone explained.
"Why?" I asked.
"Did Martin Luther King wear a lot of furs or something? Was he a trapper?"
"I don't know, sir. I don't write the advertising. I'm just the receptionist."
So when I arrive the receptionist tells me I'm free to look around until a salesperson can get to me. Fine with me. I don't know enough fur lingo to fake like I'm really here to buy something. I've never been in a furrier's before. I just want to float around, eavesdrop, observe how they commemorate slain civil rights leaders on the Mag Mile.
I find a nice, furry, womblike corner from which I hope I can spy undisturbed. But then I hear, "May I help you, sir?"
"Just looking right now, thanks."
Usually that's good enough to get rid of a salesperson at Sears. You don't have to spell it out for them. But I guess when you enter a furrier's you mate for life, or at least until you leave the store. As I wander, this guy is never more than a few paces away. And every few minutes or so he asks me if he can help me yet.
Back in the corner, there's a middle-aged woman with a chalky white complexion and a look of emotional conflict on her face. The black fur she's trying on makes her look like a black-and-white video. She looks in the mirror and says, "No, see? I look sicker! It makes me look like I'm sick!"
There's a coat back here called a full-skinned fitch, marked down to $13,995. My car cost less than that. The salesman asks if he can help me again, so I try to buy some time.
"Can I see a nutria?"
I remember when I was in New Orleans they had a joke about big dumb Yankees. They said Yankee furriers sell these coats called nutria, and all it is is the fur of a bayou swamp rat.
This guy's got nutria, all right. I ask him what it is. He says it's a beaver. I get off the hook by saying I'm allergic to beaver.
There's a man sitting in a chair, discussing in some foreign tongue the fur his wife is clad in. Their salesman recognizes the tongue as Farsi. The man sits proud and majestic, almost shahlike, in his chair.
There are earmuffs on sale, too, genuine platinum fox, in honor of Martin Luther King. Red sheared-mink earmuffs, only $110.
The phone rings like crazy. Dr. King would be so proud. "Full-length coyote?" the receptionist says. "Yes we do."
And now I'm starting to wonder if my salesman is so devoted to me because he's really store security. Maybe they've got me pegged as a shoplifter. Or maybe he's ready to pounce the moment I pull out a bucket of red paint.
The Iranian fellow has decided to pay tribute to Dr. King by buying his wife a fur. You can tell by the way she cuddles inside it in front of the mirror. He looks at the paper on which his salesman has jotted figures. "That's what you did?" he says. "Try another thousand!" and he shoos him away.
The woman with the white complexion looks even more distressed as she looks in the mirror. "It's so long! People will stare at me if I wear a coat this long!"
Her exasperated female companion puts a hand on each of her shoulders and looks her in the eye, the way you might steady a hysterical person as a last resort before slapping them. "You'll have to get over this!" she says firmly.
The woman is resigned. "I suppose I can get used to it."
She shall overcome.