Caitlin O’Toole writes the Miss Jobless Chronicles for MediaBistro.
When you’re under- or un-employed for a long time, like me, you begin to dwell on all the material things you don’t have. The catalogs that land in your mailbox seem to be sent by cruel merchants, insensitive to your plight.
In self-defense, I sometimes engage in what I call “shopping bulimia”, which is the act of buying something—or a lot of things—that I can’t afford, only to return everything the next day. That way, you psychologically experience the ‘gain’, but without the ‘pain.’
Occasionally, I dabble in “retail begging.”
Recently, I went to J. Crew to admire a chambray shirt.
I take it up to the most sensitive-looking saleswoman and bat my long lashes.
“Can I have this?”
“Can you ‘have’ it? You mean, like, can you buy it?”
“No, can I have it.”
“Oh, OK. Thank you.”
Score: J. Crew– 1; Me–Zip.
Sometimes, I’m a bit more aggressive. Like the day I hit up Lucky Brand Jeans on 22nd and 5th Ave. The manager, Muriel, was there. My bulimic strut had been fairly successful with her.
“Hi,” I say, fondling a Triumph motorcycle t-shirt. “Can I have this?”
“What do you mean ‘have it’? For free?”
“Yes. Can I have this.”
“No, you can’t have it.”
“Seriously,” I say. “Is my ‘having’ this one thing going to propel Lucky Brand into bankruptcy? We can barter. I’m a writer. I can write signs for you or something.”
“I’m sorry,” Muriel fakes a sympathetic look. “We’re not in the business of giving away our clothes or bartering.”
At OMG Jeans on 7th Ave, I try a different approach.
“Hi,” I tell the manager, clutching a pair of white 501s. “I’m unemployed and I need a nice pair of pants for business casual interviews. Can I have these?”
“No, but I’ll tell you what! We’re having a sale on jeans today — two for $79.95.”
“Yes, but I don’t even have $9.95. Can’t I just have them?” I try the eyelash trick.
“Well, what I can do is offer you my employee discount—if you keep it under your hat.”
(I pray that doesn’t really mean ‘if you sleep with me.’)
I’m so excited that I whip out my “only for emergencies” credit card and buy three pairs of jeans—a white pair, a shrink-to-fit pair, and a skinny black pair that I had absolutely no business buying (muffin top).
I smile at my semi-achievement and leave the store, having binged on jeans. Halfway home, I head back and purge: I return everything. Score: OMG Jeans—3; Me—0. But in a good way.