Number 2: DownTime Miss | Miscellany | Chicago Reader

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Number 2: DownTime Miss

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Dr. Madlow is under the impression that I have been using the cloister complex as a means of controlling my environment and that I could stand to exercise more of an effort to share myself with the outside world if there is to be any real headway. Cloister complex my ass. Madlow is perfectly one-sided on this and continues to instigate one battle of wills after another. Why must he fight me? To prove he is wrong I hold a garage sale. A sidewalk sale, really, as I have no garage. If I did I wouldn't show it to anyone.

Generally I'm a private person. I don't talk about myself, only others. I don't invite people into my home. I am not a hostess. Some people have that flair and I applaud them. But in few ways do I find it rewarding to have people, if you want to call them guests, milling about in my private affairs. What bathroom products do I use? What if any shampoo? Breck or Halo? What of this is anyone's business? The stacks of newspaper in the hall are my own and not to be used as chairs for company. If and when I choose to use a stack as an ottoman or lamp table, that is my affair. As are the foods, if any, I choose to eat or how many cats I keep as pets and whether or not these pets are actually cats. I don't answer questions about what cities I've lived in or questions about my family. Whose business is it my sister's fourth husband will be in prison until 2009? Nobody's. Whose business is it that my brother runs a day-care center out of his home? Not mine. These are private matters. And what matters more than privacy? Very little.

I clean out my closets and under the bed and put what I find there on a card table out front. Everything is marked to go. Hair nets. A wiglet. A set of Lee Press-ons, unused. A Chore Boy, slightly used. A TV Guide. A bar stool. It's interesting what's under the bed once you take a second look. This dish is perfectly usable. Never mind the crusty residue, the price is right. And what matters more than price? Very little. Some would argue quality, but quality comes from the essence of a thing, not something as fleeting as dried pesto. A few of my customers could not appreciate this fact. They pick through trays of hair rollers and bobby pins as though this were not a sacrifice of my own private me, as though fragments of a personal history were not attached to each clip.

I feel like an open tabloid. One young woman cannot get enough. She rifles through my collection of DownTime Miss loungewear, which I've carefully displayed on the chain-link fence that separates my catwalk from the real estate office next door. I think she's come out of there. I don't like the way she's judging me. I tell her, "I am not a grab bag." She doesn't seem to grasp the significance, and I try spelling it out for her but this little prissy is of that picayune class of consumer incapable of looking beyond what some call style. Style has nothing to do with it. I am sharing myself with the outside world at a very fair price.

The modern appetite is out of control. It expects too much and doesn't like what it gets. I've hogtied myself into the corner with these prices here as it is: $11.95 for an entire collection of eight DownTime Miss lounge- and sleepwear pieces is perfectly reasonable given today's flagrant glorification of the unrestrained. I think you know what I mean. Dr. Madlow pretends not to understand the connection but he himself subscribes to that freewheeling "cut loose" school of thought I so despise, so his resistance to my own theories of social exchange does not surprise me.

The woman inspects a zip-front house gown as though there were Darvon sewn into the hem. "A dollar for this one," she says. Look at her. You think I don't know a squeeze tart when I see one? Oh what's the use. I explain that the blue felcro gown she is holding, with the nylon lining and silver trim, could be worn night or day for months at a stretch without any threat of that lived-in look. I tell her it's perfect over a bathing suit for shopping in the warm spring months. I show her the DownTime Miss label, the mark of satisfaction.

If it weren't for my own strict code of conduct, Dr. Madlow would have had his hands all over me years ago. I see the way he looks at me. We have made sparing progress these last few years and this is due largely to his inability to see me as little more than a big juicy turkey leg sitting in his chair. I am what they call in certain circles a meal ticket. This half-baked process of his is going nowhere and it's paying for his daughter's student loan. He continues to block my gestalt. I am trapped. Would call the whole thing quits but I see how hopelessly in love with me he is, in that fatherly sort of way, and I don't know if I trust him not to do something rash if I were to suddenly break away.

I tell the woman that a dollar would not buy a ferry ticket to hell and that we could not separate the gown from the entire collection, eight gold-star pieces for $11.95. I tell her DownTime Miss is one of the few things I could trust anymore and that I must be out of my mind to let it go at this price. In sales they call it a hook. She says no. But we've all heard in various training seminars that no really means yes. I assume the sale. After some haggling she agrees that the collection is a steal, but unfortunately for her I'm not around all afternoon for her to finish her "errands." The door, as they say, is closed. Anyway, she doesn't have the shape for them.

Other encounters are less involved. I do spend nearly 20 minutes, however, explaining to one of the little hillbilly girls from up the street that this is not a sale per se, but rather an invitation to participate in the dynamic process of community intercourse. I ask her if she knows what that word means. A brooding child, she says nothing. Her thin yellow hair is pulled up tight into a lifeless ponytail at the top of her head. It's the same hairstyle her mother and all of her four sisters wear day in, day out. God, I think, if this were my little girl I'd give her a new hairstyle for every hour of the day. She crawls her hand across the top of my display table. Sometimes it's so difficult to know what goes on in the mind of a child. "Do you think your mommy loves you?" If there's one thing I've learned from Madlow it's discrimination. Choose your words carefully and all else follows. The girl says yes her mommy loves her, but I sense that chronic melancholia so common in children of this age. I wonder if her daddy beats her. Honestly, if there is one thing I'm blessed with, despite Madlow's haranguing, it's the sleeping memory of my own childhood. I don't remember a thing. And from what I can tell, that fleeting, thank god, time of one's life is the most unbearable.

The girl picks up the wiglet I'd thought was one of Ruby's second litter until I pulled it out from under the bed this morning. She tries it on all wrong, with the bob hanging down over her eyes. Lost lamb. I'd hate to see her ruin the thing so I steer her to a little pig figurine. "This would make a nice gift for your mommy," I tell her, "or a special little friend to keep for yourself."

I don't know how but she comes up with the five and a quarter to get it. Maybe there is hope.

Dr. Madlow will eat quail if it's the last thing I do.

Next month: "I'm With the Band."

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration/Dan Grzeca.

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