Thursday, July 16, 2009

Blood on the Floor at the Bargain Basement

Those of us who shop from time to time on have been getting email from them since the beginning of the week telling of an amazing sale due to open at eleven o'clock eastern time this morning. Many designers, deep discounts, incredible values, it was to make the mouth water.

I personally was poised over the keyboard at ten fifty-nine, because the thing about RueLaLa is that even on an ordinary day you have to jump on the merchandise really fast or someone else out there in cyberspace will get it before you do. Even if you drag your designer item off to the shopping bag, unless you check it out and pay for it at once, there's another shopper in your size (or nearly) who will snatch it from your grip.

So, how did it go, you ask. Well, they were right, the designers were famous, the brands were wonderful, and at first I could actually see what size the dresses came in (not mine, alas), but as soon I had finished browsing among the Frye boots (fantastic bargains), things began to slow down. Freeze, even. I clicked in vain on the lovely M. Missoni knitted thing, but I never could get it to pass me on to the page where I could see the sizes it came in, and maybe order one. Frozen out. And then I realized: A million other women had gotten ahead of me.

I did manage to snag a Badgley Mischka silk dress in a lovely soft print of blue-green flowers, more or less age-appropriate, deeply discounted, suitable to wear to somebody else's wedding (in case I ever get asked). But as I swiftly checked it out I could almost feel the grasp of unseen fingers on the thing. By then it was barely ten after eleven. All over the country women were piling onto the site, digging at each other with electronic elbows.

And then, as I tried to get back into the fray and have a look at the remaining goodies (selling out fast), it came to me. This was the modern equivalent of the bargain basement rush. We used to see it in the movies, fat people pulling each other's hair, hitting each other with purses and umbrellas, dragging the merchandise out of one another's hands. The difference was, we couldn't see each other. We could only get in each other's way. And of course the merchandise wasn't getting all shopworn.

No clerks were trampled in the melee. But at twelve noon, when all the adminstrative assistants on the east coast were free to leave their labors and pursue their personal interests, so many signed on to view the offered bargains that the whole store collapsed. It was two-thirty before RueLaLa could get up and running again.

You'll be happy to know that I jumped right on as soon as they reopened and secured another bargain. After trolling through page after page of size six fashion creations (much easier to do now that everyone had gone away), I found a pink linen jacket in my size (I think) marked down from $1,200.00 to $119. Crowing in triumph, I siezed it and checked it out. I've never had a twelve hundred dollar jacket on my back in my life.

Of course, there may be something wrong with it. You know what Groucho Marx said: "I wouldn't join a club that would have me as a member." Maybe a jacket discounted that far isn't something I would actually want to wear. Maybe I wouldn't be caught dead in it. But, hey, I have it. You don't.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Witch Thing

Spectral Evidence, my story in the MWA anthology edited by Linda Fairstein, THE PROSECUTION RESTS, is beginning to attract some attention. I find myself thinking about the Salem witch trials again.
The question is, how could a panel of the best educated and most respected men in the Massachusetts Bay Colony have been so gullible as to fall for the lies and histrionics of a crowd of vicious little girls? How could they condemn twenty-five innocent people to a shameful death?
And you say, well, these people weren't like us. It was the olden days, after all. Or it was actually the work of the Devil.
My theory is that the crimes of the judges resulted from a sort of category fault. That is to say, they were viewing what they were seeing from entirely the wrong angle. It happens all the time, usually with consequences far less lethal. For example, at St. Andrews we run a flea market every month to raise money for our struggling church. People come and buy things that other people have donated. Some customers will say, what, only a dollar for that? Here's five, keep the change. They are entering into the spirit of supporting the church, and as a result they walk away feeling good about themselves. Others say, what, a dollar? I'll give you fifty cents. When we let them have the item for seventy-five cents, they feel that they have won the game of bargaining, they are wise and thrifty, and they, too, walk away feeling good about themselves. But they have actually lost, because they are playing by the rules of the wrong game.
Another instance. There comes a time in HUCKLEBERRY FINN when Huck feels that he must turn in his friend Jim for being a runaway slave. After a struggle with his better nature, Huck gives in to his sinful side and protects his friend. He feels bad about himself. By society's rules, which he well understands, he has failed in his duty. But these, too, are the rules of the wrong game.
The judges of the witch trials worked out of rule books prepared by the fathers of the Puritan church, Cotton Mather and his colleagues. The rules were very clear, and based on their actual experiences with people afflicted by witches. Surely a judge who would not follow these rules, through inappropriate tenderness of heart or unseemly regard for the standing in the community of an accused witch, would be derelict in his duty, no?