Friday, February 8, 2013

Tenacious G and the Facade Underneath

Not all facades are on the outside, as anyone visiting a fancy lingerie department might attest. And such was my observation in the latest adventure with my 86-year-old mother, aka, Tenacious G, as we explored the seamy world of flamboyant undergarments.

It all began when I stopped by for my usual Sunday visit and Mom announced that she needed to buy some new bras; her current ones were tattered. Could I take her to "The Store?"

I escorted her to my trusty 2001 Saturn sedan and we drove to the mecca of everything underwear—the local mall. We struck parking-lot gold with a coveted space relatively close to the front entrance. It was a cold day, and I held her arm as we made our way to the front sliding-doors.

Once inside, we passed through the beady, sparkly jewelry department and made straight for the den of iniquity—the undies section. The lingerie department was very colorful, lacy and a tad risqué. It was forested with vertical racks, blooming with undergarments of every size and style, from modest white cotton to the most decadent G-strings and taunting underwire bras.

Mom grimaced and picked distastefully at the offerings, lamenting that the underpants were too short and she wasn't interested in "those type of bras"—she preferred something basic, thank you. It was an odd sight watching a gray-haired octogenarian clad in a practical woolen coat pitted against the racy unmentionables that surrounded her.

I asked her if she knew her size and she didn't. No matter. Her way of solving the problem was to ask me my size and assume that she was a size or two up from that. The overabundance of choices was a bit much for her, so I found some racks that offered no-underwire bras in sensible colors like white or tan. I grabbed several for her to try on.

In her lumbering gait, Mom made her way to the dressing room to determine what would fit. I stood outside the door and listened to the quiet rustling as she tried them on. The first items we chose were too big, so I went out to get the same styles a size smaller, which fortunately, was a more common size. As fate would have it, the style that fit her best was the only brand not on sale. She wanted eight, so I gathered a bouquet of them and headed straight for the register while she was still in the dressing room. I knew there would be trouble if my mother thought she was paying full price for these undergarments. She would make a scene. But I wanted her to have some quality underwear so they would last a little longer than the previous unraveling bunch.

I explained to the woman at the register that I needed to pay for the eight undergarments before my mother emerged from the dressing room because the price would upset her. She smiled knowingly, told me she had a coupon that could be used if I had a store credit card and she reassured me that she would try to speed up the transaction. I think she instinctively knew that this was in her best interest as well as mine.

The sale took a while longer than usual because I didn't have my store credit card with me—the only way to get the discount—so she had to look it up on the company database. She found it, but wasn't sure how to enter the coupon, so had to flag down a passing supervisor. All the while, I could picture my mother slowly reassembling her clothing, getting everything just so, picking up her sensible purse, leaving the dressing room and slowly plodding up to the register to claim her purchase.

The supervisor quickly entered the coupon and my mother received a substantial amount off. Even with the discount, the final cost would be more than she typically paid for underwear.

Just then, I saw Mom leaving the dressing room and heading up toward the register. I signed the credit card screen and pushed the green button to approve the amount. It all seemed to transpire in slow motion like a scene from Reservoir Dogs except without the cool sunglasses. Mom was halfway there. The register made a prolonged noise as it processed the transaction. Just as Mom reached the counter, the lingerie clerk tore the receipt off the register and handed it to me. I turned to Mom and passed her the bag of bras, while deftly stuffing the receipt into my purse.

It was well-timed. Mom was satisfied. The lingerie clerk was spared a public lecture about overpriced, shoddy merchandise. And I returned my mother to the comfort of her assisted living facility for dinner following a thankfully uneventful shopping trip.

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