Pretending to be Rich is the Only Revenge

by Deborah Johnstone

I don’t need expensive things – which makes them all the more desirable. Desire is not the only motivating factor, however. A lack of income causes me to lust after things that normally would not enter my consciousness. This cognition brings mental confusion; I can clearly see that nearly everyone else has more money than I do. That’s confusing.

I watch them roam the city in droves – shopping with an air of potent nonchalance – dropping $1,900 without as much as a teary blink on a J. Crew Collection calf hair Moto jacket. I try the jacket on. I parade in front of the mirror. I don’t even like the jacket. The security guard posted at the entrance smiles at me. I don’t know if he’s smiling because he thinks I can afford the jacket and he’s been instructed to smile at customers who obviously spend more money in one day than he makes in three months, or if he’s smiling because he thinks I’m just another idiot whose going to spend too much money on one jacket. I invest another two minutes considering whether or not the “Collection calf hair Moto jacket” will actually compliment my current GAP and Old Navy wardrobe and I decide it won’t. I return the coat to its hanger. The security guard is still smiling at me. I have just enough money for a coffee. I lust after one day of unfettered financial freedom. I’ll bet the security guard does too.

One can pine this way until oblivion pummels the Gates of Hell because New York is all about lusting; this is its mark, its oeuvre – its raison d'être. Folly surveys the poor – those who didn’t select the perfect set of parents who broker and provide and introduce and sustain. Continents stand between you and water-cooler associates who securely segue their entry into upper balcony tiers and galas. Not to worry, many trod in your worn out soles and smile their approval while guzzling a Bud Light... There are lots of smiles to go around, just don’t ask someone to smile. That will end badly.

            You’re broke, you lose a job, you’re destitute and you pine for things - luxury items to be exact and to be granular, a pair of Frye boots. For me, the boots would be a luxury of a lifetime – particularly this lifetime. I’d like to have them before I die – but only of course, since I can’t afford them. I smile to myself.

            A plan, a plan, my boots for a plan… I eliminate my three-cup a week habit of Starbucks Grande Latte – despite the fact this serves as my lunch – for three months – and I save exactly $144. Two hundred and thirty-two dollars short of the cost of the Frye boots. Hale and Hearty offers me a “soup card”. Considering that I have to spend $72.80 to get one free soup, this has become an expensive soup habit. If I combined what I would save by eliminating soup and coffee from my diet, I am still short $160. There is only one thing left to do; try the boots on.

Monday, August 1, 2011. Frye opens a flagship store in Soho. I don’t immediately go. I wait. I relish glossy Frye ads in the subway. I let weeks slip by. The smartly leathered and carpeted enclave beckons to me. I savor the anticipation. Oh, bold harness. Oh, bits of brass and supple redwood leather. Oh, finely crafted American heritage made in Mexico. Ah, the promise of branding my boot, like a cow: “Boots can be tattooed—or hot stamped—with your initials while you wait in the lounge,” so states the press release. There is a lounge. I want to wait there.

Monday, September 10, 2011. I stroll into the Frye flagship store with an air of potent nonchalance. Chocolate leather sofas, area rugs, and urges to smell everything I touch assail me. It’s so dark I must squint to see.

How exciting.

I stumble through the carefully crafted mise-en-scène and attempt to locate the boots. Suddenly, there they are – Jane 14L – huddled beneath the glow of a dim decorative bulb. I crush the sample Jane 14L boot to my palpitating heart and wait. Surely someone will notice my exhilaration and rush to ask if I need help. Twelve minutes elapse. Apparently it’s so dark no one can see me.

Finally I accost a member of the harried sales staff who literally groans her disdain for my ardent pursuit of a pair of boots in size 9. Her eyes roll to the back of her head and I consider that this look is an improvement. Since her zombie like gesture was the only sign of acknowledgement to my request, I assume she has run off to procure my boots. Indeed, a full ten minutes later, a crisp white Frye boot box is dropped brusquely at my feet.

Many things could have happened at this point. A poor person, who is adept at creating a façade of smiley, nonchalant wealth, just might try on several pairs of boots and pretend they planned to purchase all of them. This same person might calculate how many pairs it takes to rack up $1000 dollars in sales – the limit on one’s last solvent charge card. As it turns out, it only requires three pairs of Frye boots to reach the target goal of $1000.

One decides to try on every boot in the store. Every. Single. Pair.

More customers enter the lounge and the sales girl begins to hop back and forth in the leathered dimly lit enclave. Beads of sweat dribble down her forehead. Her eyes are fixed and dilated.

            “Oh, and I’ll try that in a size nine too – perhaps in both colors – no, make that all four colors – and that little, shortie bootie too…I want to see all four of the caramel shades.”

Disdainful sales girl is hopping now.

“And make sure to bring the ruby color in that one...”

I smile. Every. Single. Pair.

Other customers’ eye the nineteen Frye boot boxes piled around my feet. They look at me as if I’ve sustained a concussion. Their heads start to jerk involuntarily, like agitated squirrels that have misplaced their winters supply of nuts. I watch their eyes water as more white Frye boxes appear at my feet. I recline calmly on the chocolate leather sofa and wait. The squirrels blanch and gaggle with anticipation; just how much will I buy today? How much money will I spend? I’m a reality boot-buying show.

Slowly I open the final box – the one I’ve been waiting for – Jane 14 L Red Pebbled leather, size 9. Rivers of sweat stream from the garrulous sales girl’s forehead. Her hair hangs in damp strands about her ears. She casts her eyes at the last box as I retrieve the boots from their tissue cradle.

“Oh,” she says, I think those are on sale.”

“Sale?” I repeat as my eyes start to roll back in my head.

“Those are …  yes, that color happens to be on sale this week. They’re 40% off the regular price…”

            I quickly calculate the tax on 40% off of $348. My boots are now $226.24 – with tax. I could actually charge these and not die broke. I could be buried in my boots. The beautiful pebbled redwood leather slips on my right foot like Cinderella’s slipper. Heaven and Earth move. I decide to do without soup, coffee, and other useless food staples for the next six months. I retrieve the left boot. Wait…

            Something is wrong…. How could that be? It doesn’t fit. I place the two boots side by side and discover that the box contains two right feet. The moment becomes surreal.

            My left foot is missing.

            “There seems to be two right feet in the box,” I point out.

            Garrulous sales girl grunts something imperceptible and scrutinizes the boots. The conundrum appears to be beyond her comprehension. She looks at me as though I’ve just told her the bar ran out of tequila. 

            “Oh,” is her verdict.

            With that, she disappears for another ten minutes. I assume she has gone to look for “my left foot”. A steady stream of boot traffic climbs over the white boxes that surround me. Customers sit on various leather sofas and take pictures with their cell phones. But I’m only interested in one pair of boots. The salesgirl returns and looks at me, surprised I think to find I’m still on the couch.

            “Did you want me to try and find the right foot?”

            “Actually, it’s the left foot I’m missing.”     “Oh. Well, did you want it?”

            “Yes. I want it. I want it now.”

            I understood her confusion. Here I am with 21 pairs of boots in front of me and I only want the left foot of this particular boot – the sale boot. How silly. 

            “Well, I’ll have to look for the other foot. It could take awhile. It may not be today.”

            It may not be today??

            “How about another size nine in that color?” I ask.

            “We don’t have any more nines in that boot.”         Oh, plague.

            As I prepare to leave the soft respite of the couch, a disembodied voice whispers in my ear that longing and regret serve no good purpose. Soup and Starbucks beckon, their liquid balm only minutes from my mouth. The boots were simply not destined to be mine – not even on credit – not at all. 

            “But what about the other boots – aren’t you taking any of them?” Sales girl asks. Yes, the word incredulous comes to mind.

            I take a moment and survey the sea of boxes and the other customers who wait, breathlessly to see what my final selections will be.

            “Let me think about it.”

            I stroll out of the Frye boot store and smile.


© Deborah Johnstone, 2013

Deborah cut her writing teeth performing solo shows in New York during the 1980s when people still used typewriters. She is in the midst of completing her MFA at Goddard College and in down time she seeks out apocalyptic science fiction, dystopic fantasy, and gluten-free beer. You can catch up with her at: The Deliberate Muse. 

Pretending to be Rich is the Only Revenge was read by Samantha Jane Gurewitz on 6th November 2013