Sales & Marriage

When Mike gets the mail, he carefully tears open the envelope, using two fingers to widen it so that he may peer inside without removing the actual bill. Craning his neck and squinting his eyes, while carefully poking at the still folded contents, he is able to locate the accounting total in the dark abyss of the legal sized stationary. From what I can surmise, it’s a coping mechanism — if the paper is never removed from its source, he’s never really seen it. But from the outside, it’s the kind of careful hesitation that someone might heed if they were bracing themselves for a crime scene. Then he leaves the bill for me, the official family bookeeper, so that I may take it to the office for payment, removing himself emotionally from the final assault of the burst pipe that resulted in our lovely plumber’s latest correspondence.

Yet, the credit card bill that arrives during sale season is an altogether different affair. I probably keep ten percent of what arrives, so as far as I’m concerned, the initial number is just a rough estimate — like overpaying your taxes, knowing that you will get a lot of it back at the end. But while I whittle down my purchases significantly, there’s a lot happening on that pre-returns bill. So I prefer to intercept it, hold onto it for a few days, and then nonchalantly stick a random post-it on Mike’s desk with a non-descript total. This way, everyone is on the same overall marital page about where our household expenses are going. Sometimes I’ll jot a little asterix with some diversionary highlights - *Dentist. *School Supplies. *Lola’s health insurance (i.e. that dog really needs to get a job). I then try to discreetly slip out of his office and back into mine hoping the post-it gets lost amongst the paper recycling plant that doubles as his office.

You see, I treat sale season like someone would a side hustle, working the night shift into the wee hours, stalking the internet for the shoes and jackets that at full retail seemed like irresponsible purchases. During these few times of year, my porch looks like a shipping and receiving dock and I’m constantly worried that Lola is going to give herself a heart attack from the anxiety of the UPS and FedEx drivers that she can see making their daily rounds down my driveway from her living room perch. She has literally spent the last two weeks barking at the constant clanging of the trucks’ metal doors rolling up to reveal my concealed garment bags stacked within.

In the throes of my sale season compulsion, I truly believe that I am saving us money when making these purchases. Plus, when I end up returning something and the funds are credited back to my card, there is a fairly large piece of me that feels justified in the conviction that I am actually making money. I do realize that this sounds like a fashion Ponzi scheme.

For Mike, there is no question about what is going on here. We share office space and he is fully aware that my company’s business shipping is done from there. This is personal and, as he side steps over the cartons that are often stacked in the foyer, he knows exactly what’s happening.

The other night, knocking on the door of my closet, which is just a tiny room filled with cheap rolling racks, Mike peaked his head in and jokingly asked, “What do you do in here?” 

“I try on clothes,” I responded. 

Again, very direct. I was surrounded by boxes, tissue paper, plastic hanger bags, return labels and a box cutter, which I keep in my costume jewelry drawer for slicing through packages with ease. Having one on hand is a habit I picked up as an editor wrangling in product for photo shoots, so keeping one in an accessory drawer seems not only appropriate, but also professional. In full disclosure, I also store a tape gun in there for proficient returns.

Yet, when it comes to the credit card post-it, before I make it to the door I inevitably hear a stunned, “Nic…what was on this bill?” 

“You know, life stuff,” I usually respond. To deflect further questioning I might even throw in, “Do you know how much the co-pay is for the boys’ pediatrician? It’s insane!”

“Can I look at it?,” he’ll call out to me without the accusatory tones I surely deserve.

The man knows to the penny what the cable bill will be every single month and yet he won’t make eye contact with it, but this of all financial reckonings he wants to see? Why did he not grasp the full implications of this operation when the postman was using a dolley?

Yet, every four months, we do the same dance. I go back to my office in our shared suite, returning with the paper and acting excessively nonchalant, which by definition is not at all nonchalant. I’d normally insist that if he wants to see something, he needs to walk to my office, but tactically I prefer that he is sitting down. Mike leans back in his chair and, clearly practicing great restraint, calmly scans the bill.

My husband will then rub his temples to settle himself, look up at me and, without irony, ask…                                                                        

“What did you buy at Trader Joe’s?” 

And while this pattern repeats itself, I am almost always shocked by the purposeful evasion of the actual matter at hand. 

The way the breakdown of designer dot coms reads, most rational people would assume their wife’s credit card was stolen. And yet my husband projects his astonishment and distress on the supermarket, which we both know carries life necessities. Food for our children, for example. It’s a ridiculous charade. 

But instead of playing along with the grocery game and appreciating Mike’s impulse to protect our marriage from the issues that have plagued so many couples before us, I react as though I am being accused. Which, in fairness, I am - but under the guise of buying too much food to feed our sons. 

So while I want to say, “What the f do you think I bought there?,” but should in solidarity say, “Those boys just plow through snacks,” and then get myself the hell out of there, I instead sarcastically respond with, “You know, a Chanel bag. They are nineteen cents like the bananas, so I bought a ton.”

“Nic, you don’t have to get defensive,” Mike always responds reasonably. “I’m just asking because I can’t understand what you do with all of this money at the supermarket. I mean, what happened at Whole Foods?” 

“Well, I know the Whole Foods charge seems a little high, but they had the Marni sandals I’ve been searching for,” I quipped the last time. Is he kidding? If he ever went to the supermarket, he’d know how much organic lettuce runs these days.

Of course I’m defensive. We have two children and a 120-year-old house that is falling to the ground and I’ve got a warehouse of designer shoes being unloaded in the driveway. I am a maniac. Feeling victimized is my only option. And if anyplace can make a wife a martyr, it’s the supermarket.

In truth, we have always had a democratic marriage when it comes to money and everything else. As adult partners that share the responsibility of two children and a household, there is simply the unwritten understanding that we have priorities, but we trust each other to make individual decisions about the personal purchases we make. 

The issue with this arrangement is that I know in my heart it is completely imbalanced. Mike doesn’t even buy underwear and wears the same “vacation shirt” on every trip that we have taken since I bought it for his first visit to St. Maarten with my grandparents almost twenty years ago. Every fall he has the boots resoled that I got for him at the Barneys Warehouse sale before we moved to California. We lived in Los Angeles for nine years and we have been back for three, so you do the math. Last Father’s Day, my boys asked if we could get him a new bathing suit because, “Daddy always wears the same one.” If only they knew that he was wearing those trunks when we were counselors at sleepaway camp decades ago. It would not surprise me if his name and bunk are written in them. 

He’s no buddhist, but my husband is a person who truly wants for nothing. At least beyond his wife and childrens’ happiness. So, while I would have never married someone who didn’t feel that I was free to make my own financial decisions without oversight, I do realize that my material values may be called into question in comparison to someone who doesn’t wear underwear because it seems like a waste. 

Mike simply wants to enjoy his home and the world’s many experiences with his family. I do too, but sometimes momma wants to do it in a new pair of shoes. I may be defensive about this twice (ok, thrice) yearly compulsion, but I have enough self-awareness in hindsight to admit my shortcomings. And Mike, to his credit doesn’t judge me.  More often than not, when I have buyer’s remorse, he urges me to keep the pants. “They look cute,” he said to me the other night as I was hemming and hawing over a new arrival, smiling at me like he used to when we were teenagers. Everytime he does that he reminds me that I have all that I need, so those pants will likely go back. Maybe it’s a tactic. 

Reflecting a little, I can see why Mike's reaction touches me. My  grandfather adored my grandmother Leona, always wanting her to have beautiful clothes, taking true pleasure in seeing her enjoyment in getting dressed. When "Loni" recently passed, we found stacks of photos that he had taken of her often standing at the top of their stairs, modeling her outfit before a night out. But they grew up during the depression and my grandfather’s desire was born of a need to give his love the life she had only dreamed of in hopes of erasing those memories of never having enough. And yet, for her, from the time she was in high school with a wardrobe that could fit neatly in a grocery bag, he was already her everything. 

Always reminding me, “You don’t love things, you love people," for my grandfather it was never about the clothes, but rather the wish to see someone you love enjoy a little uncomplicated delight in an uncertain world. I can draw no comparisons to the bread lines that my grandfather was too pained to speak of, but I did grow up wanting to emulate my grandparents’ relationship — one where I would wake up everyday appreciating feeling treasured. It may sound trite, but that’s how I feel when Mike smiles at me lovingly and tells me to keep the pants. It reminds me of my grandparents. If I close my eyes, I can vividly picture my grandfather grinning at Loni and telling her the same.

“Ok,” Mike will finally say about the bill. “I think if we can both make a concerted effort not to waste, we’ll reign in the supermarket runs and be back on budget.” 

Having come to my senses I always answer, “I totally agree,” both of us knowing that nothing will change but the seasons.

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A few months ago, friends requested that I share some of my finds during my frenetic nights of sale season. Some of my best gets sold out, two of them because of me, but here are three handfuls of items that have either made their way to my door or I have my eyes on.

P.S. If those Marni sandals pop up in a 7 (they run big!), be a friend and message me! Happy Sale Shopping. xoxo

1. TOP 2. PANTS 3. SLIDES 4. BLOUSE 5. JEANS 6. LOAFERS

 

1. TOP 2. PANTS 3. SANDALS 4. T-SHIRT 5. CULOTTES 6. SANDALS

 

Ask and You Shall Not Receive

From the archives

“If you do not love it, I do not listen to a word you say,” Mike said triumphantly.

My husband holds the title of “Worst Gift-Giver” and I, in turn, have learned to manage my expectations. I’ve received a travel coffee mug for Valentine’s Day, one of his favorite movies for Chanukah, and a pair of gorgeous sunglasses when we were in college that I later found out The Outlaw had actually chosen for me and wrapped…without him.

But this gift was hyped. And he just seemed so proud. He was even boasting his listening skills, which I know that he does not have.

I frantically dug through the pizza-sized Mrs. Field’s cookie that soon arrived at my front door, looking for the real treat baked within. When I found nothing more than chocolate chips, I am only a little ashamed to admit I cried.

Looking back, I’m not sure what’s funnier…the note that read, “For you and your dad. Enjoy the lard” (I inherited his sweet tooth) or that when Mike is actually listening – truly hearing me – what monumentally stands out to him is “cookies.” And no, I don’t see the irony that “cookie” was my first word, Mom.

Through the years, we have learned that if there is a little bauble or something sparkly and sentimental that I happen to have my eyes set on, I am to send him an email with a picture and very specific instructions referencing how one might purchase such an item, so that he may file it for future gift ideas. He currently has a vintage 1940’s Men’s Rolex and a toolbox with complimenting hand drill in his inbox.

Yet, he never ceases to amaze me.

As I approached my 26th birthday, I was also eagerly anticipating Mike’s marriage proposal. After all, we had been together for seven-and-a-half years and Mom Squared had already begun planning the wedding.

So, on the morning of that birthday, when Mike told me to stay in bed while he ran out to get me birthday coffee, you can imagine my excitement. I snuggled in bed, my stomach overcome with butterflies and an expectant smile plastered across my face, waiting for Mike to return from his last-minute preparations and romantically present his big reveal.

And then I heard the door unlock. I thought I’d faint from the excitement. Who would have known when we were eleven and twelve-year-old kids at sleep away camp that we would one day be engaged? This was our moment!

Mike walked into our bedroom, put his hand over the cell phone he was speaking into, handed me my coffee and threw a rolled up newspaper onto the bed.

“Happy Birthday, Nic,” he said, and walked out of the room to finish his conversation about the upcoming Giants football game.

“Huh,” I thought to myself, registering no disappointment, assuming that these were just decoys – all part of his master plan.

I unrolled the paper to see that it was the Sunday edition of The New York Times.

I stared at it for a minute, puzzled by this odd turn of events. And then it hit me! Holy matrimony! I tore through that newspaper towards my holy grail,”Sunday Styles,” discarding “Business” and “Classifieds” like yesterday’s news. I found my section and began manically searching the wedding announcements for the words I now knew I would one day be showing our grandchildren, realizing that Mike must have orchestrated his marriage proposal within those happy black and white pages…

“Why else would a newspaper be my birthday gift?,” I reasoned.

Garland Collection CAMP necklace featured in  The New York Times

Garland Collection CAMP necklace featured in The New York Times

“The bride is a lawyer and graduated from Harvard, the groom evaluates risk for a hedge fund,” “The bride was an extra on “Law and Order,” the groom plays the bongos in a kids’ band,” “Bride is keeping her name professionally,” “Groom’s maternal great uncle was a neighbor of someone that once ran for Congress.”

I scanned and scanned those announcements looking for the words, “We met at camp when we were kids and I have loved her ever since.  Nicole, you complete me. Will you marry me?” Or something to that effect. And when I couldn’t find them, I searched again.

“Mike, can you please come in here?,” I finally called out, covered in newsprint and trying to mask my confusion.

“Do you love your gift?,” Mike asked as he rounded the corner, clearly pleased with himself.

“I’m sure that I love it,” I gently replied. “But I am just having a little trouble finding it.”

“What do you mean?,” Mike asked.

“What do you mean,” I interrogated, smiling sweetly through gritted teeth. I’ve feigned excitement over some doozies through the years, but this really took the cookie cake.

“You love reading Sunday’s Times in bed with a cup of coffee. Since we just moved to LA, I thought you would miss me getting it from a bodega for you every weekend, so I got you a subscription to make you feel at home,” he cheerfully explained.

It’s true. “Styles,” then “Travel,” then “Book Review” with a coffee by my side is my lifelong guilty pleasure.

Once I got over responding to everyone who asked, “What did Mike get you for your birthday?” with a simple, “The newspaper,” I ultimately realized that while it wasn’t what I expected, it represented exactly what I wanted. A loving gesture from someone who truly knows me. (It did take a few days.)

And that newspaper? It has literally been the gift that keeps on giving. Eight years later, when we are in LA, I can count on that Sunday New York Times being at my door, just as I can count on my now husband for always being by my side. Good things come to those who wait.

Be my baby

A month after we moved to Los Angeles, Mike decided that we should meet his college buddies in Vegas for Halloween.  While hanging out with a bunch of dudes in a casino may not be appealing to most women, it frankly seemed exciting that our new life on the west coast meant that weekend jaunts like these were simply an impetuous drive away.

I spent the week prior busy on my first editorial assignment covering California fashion and, while I do love a good costume, I was too focused on proving myself as an LA writer to think about putting together the elaborate getup that Mike assured me was required for Halloween nightlife in Sin City.

Luckily, we moved to LA for Mike to pursue his dream of acting, so he suddenly found himself with a lot of free time and enthusiastically volunteered to pick up costumes for the both of us.

“Don’t get me anything slutty,” I told him. “I want to be a little sexy…but also cool.”

“You got it,” he said.

“Like a pirate,” I added. “I want to be a pirate. Aaaarrghh.” Sex appeal has always alluded me.

“Don’t worry about it. I can handle Halloween costumes,” Mike assured me.

I still remember getting out of the car as he dropped me off at an event I was covering and as I swung my legs out of the door I yelled, “Just an eye patch will work!”

Quietly, I had recently purchased a very chic, leather Armani vest at a sample sale and I could picture zipping it up with nothing more than a pushup underneath. I would show just enough cleavage to be revealing, as my boobs had yet to succumb to motherhood, but paired with cutoffs the Armani would keep things classy. A prude pirate I would be!

We drove to Vegas the following weekend and headed to the room to prepare for the all-night escapades. I was laying out my cutoffs and vest, wishing that I had asked Mike to pick up a sword to complete my look, when Mike excitedly said, “I got us the best costumes you have ever seen!”

“What do you mean?” I asked foolishly, with no anticipation of the humiliation that was to come, despite the sense of shame that I am aware Mike innately lacks. “Didn’t you pick up an eye patch?

“An eye patch? No way! I got something for us to be together,” he said with a genuine and heartfelt smile.

I can vividly picture myself standing in the hotel room thinking – that’s just so sweet. His moronic friends are mammogram machines (classy and tasteful) and, with no care of what they would think of him, Mike continues to show his commitment as my partner, even on Halloween.

Then he said, “These are going to blow your mind. They are the best costumes ever.”

Mike then reached into his suitcase and pulled out two giant onesies. One pink. One blue.

“I don’t understand,” I muttered.

“We’re enormous babies!” he cried, clearly misunderstanding what I didn’t understand, and then blissfully handed me my bonnet, pacifier and rattle.

In fairness, this would have been a humorous costume if we were anywhere else. But we were in Las Vegas, where every woman’s costume consists of nothing more than a G-string and pasties. Women in Vegas literally go as naked on Halloween. I was being discreet in my partially zipped leather pirate vest. The giant pink onesie? It was flannel and long sleeved.

“I’m not wearing that,” I told him.

“It’s hilarious” he insisted.

“People will be laughing at me, not with me,” I pleaded. “You have to get me something else.”

“Don’t worry, it has a butt flap,” was his means of reassurance.

I padded downstairs to the casino in my feetsie pajamas to wait for our group to gather and sat down against a wall, my arms wrapped around my knees like a petulant child, watching the traditional and more appropriate parade of nipple-tassels and thongs. Mike happily remembers walking toward me and seeing me in my pigtailed bonnet being taunted by some beefcake in nothing more than French cuffs and a bowtie. The clever muscleman was pointing at me and whining, “Awww…look at the baby.” Mike lovingly recalls how I, without shame or irony, dropped my rattle and flipped the guy the bird.

From there we headed to the club where his roommate assured us we were on the VIP list. Picture this: A bouncer is standing outside of the hottest night club in Las Vegas and more than twenty single dudes approach, including Cheech and Chong, Buzz Lightyear, what looks like a few of The Village People, a human condom (I can’t) and the aforementioned mammogram machine. And the only female in their midst is visibly pissed off and wearing a giant pink onesie. After an hour on that line, the bouncer finally said, “I’ll let you all in if the baby stops yelling at me.”

Once inside, I stood by the bar all fleece and resentment, taking shots of tequila and bitterly wondering how I ended up in this predicament.

“Excuse me,” said a woman clad in a leather-fringed bikini and cowboy boots.

“Yes?” I asked, adjusting my bonnet and scowling into my drink.

“I just wanted to tell you that I really admire your confidence.”

With a body that would look good in dental floss, this woman was baring more on that dance floor than I do in the shower. She admired the confidence of a grown woman in feety pajamas? And she professed this compliment with no trace of mockery. My costume was so embarrassing that this woman felt compelled to praise my character for wearing it despite the obvious indignity. She assumed that I was making a statement.

Obviously annoyed at the accusation, I stormed outside to find my twin consumed at the blackjack table. By this point, I was on a rampage of mortification and within five minutes you could find us babies in heated debate, Mike defending himself with the sentiment that gambling is for “entertainment purposes,” while I had my finger in his face, carrying on and rattling off all of the designer bags that I could have purchased with the money lost at that table. I was still wearing the bonnet.

Halloween in Las Vegas, Nevada 2004

Halloween in Las Vegas, Nevada 2004

I literally spent the whole night as a giant, angry baby. And a drunk one at that.

Yet, I have always looked back on the weekend fondly. I can remember feeling secretly touchedthat Mike always wanted me with him, with no regards for his reputation – or my dignity, for that matter.

At twenty-five years old, I had a devoted boyfriend who didn’t consider going to Vegas with his buddies without me, even though I was the kind of girlfriend that would have encouraged it. Why wouldn’t I go with him to a club where scantily clad women dance in cages suspended from the ceiling? (In hindsight, this deserved more speculation on my part.) And it didn’t occur to him to leave me out of the comedy when he chose those costumes – as far as he was concerned, the fun and the funny were more so when we were both in on the joke.

The truth is, for better or for worse, we’ve long been each other’s sidekicks. The comic foil to execute a good laugh or the partner to lean on when life seems less funny. And, even when I’m a being a big baby, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

 

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I having been wearing these Stubbs & Wootton smoking slippers in red velvet for decades. They work with jeans or with a pirate costume: 

photo courtesy of Stubbs & Wootton

photo courtesy of Stubbs & Wootton