Well, here we are. A fresh new year. And I have some really major stuff on my to-do list today.
Take down the Christmas stuff.
Change the batteries in the smoke detectors.
Buy a new bra.
Yeah, that last one is a killer. I hate buying bras. I really really hate it. I will go for months running around in some sad, sagging piece of nylon whose expiration date is four years gone just so I don’t have to go to on the annual Over Shoulder Boulder Holder Hunt.
Because this is what always happens: First, I hit the Blue Martini bar in the ground floor of Galleria Mall for fortification. Then I trudge up to Macy’s lingerie department. (Victoria’s Secret? Please.) I pause at the perimeter guarded by the purple thongs, muttering to myself like some crazed bag lady while the saleswoman eyes me warily. (She just knows I’m wearing a sports bra from Target and she can probably smell my appletini breath.)
Finally, I screw up my courage and dive into the racks looking for something for my, ah, rack. It’s a thicket of nude, white and black. I break out in a sweat. The choices are mindboggling. Seamless or underwire? Push-up or padded? Front closure or convertible? Do I opt for the comfort of the white Spanx Bralelujah? Or do I throw caution to the wind and go for an animal print Le Mystere’s Dream Trisha Low Cut?
I haven’t had to put this much thought into a purchase since I bought my first car, a blue TR6 convertible, which you would think would make me a prime candidate for the Le Mystere.
But no. Pat Nixon had her Republican cloth coat. I have my white Olga underwire. You can’t change human nature.
After an hour of mammary overload, I grab three bras and head for the fitting room. Hope springs eternal in the hanging breast. The first one is too small and makes my bra goo bulge. (Bra goo is that flap of skin that creeps out of your arm pit.) The second one is too big and my cup runneth under. The third one hangs on my chest like a deflated parachute. That CeCe Winans song is looping in my brain: "Lord lift us up where we belong." I need a Xanax.
I slink out, defeated and deflated. I am back in the martini bar before I remember I left my sports bra on the floor of the fitting room. Maybe they’ll give it a fitting Viking’s funeral.
How did I get to this point? I am a grown-up, une femme d’age certaine, as the French so nicely put it. I have style. I once ran a whole newspaper department, I’ve had ten books published. Why, when confronted with lingerie, do I become a boob?
Like everything, this problem has its roots in childhood trauma. I was a late bloomer. When all the other girls were getting their training bra straps snapped by the boys, I was saving my babysitting sheckels for the Mark Eden Bust Developer.
Don’t worry, I never bought one. Even at twelve, I knew desperation when I smelled it. Finally, I worked up my courage and went to talk to my dad. It was after the divorce and he had custody of three girls. (He was a saint. Someday we’ll talk about the day I got my period and he went out in a snowstorm to buy the female stuff). Anyway, I stammered that I needed three dollars and sort of pointed to my chest. Clutching the money, I trudged into Kresge’s and crept along the bra aisle, mortified at what awaited me.
Okay, I exaggerate. But not by much. I had the classic fried egg physique. Gym class was torture because everyone else, including my best friend Sue Birkenshaw, was stacked.
Plus, popular culture, as they now call it, did its job on me. One of my juicier aunts used to get the Frederick’s of Hollywood catalog (History pause: Mr. Frederick Mellinger invented the pushup bra AND the thong. Men come from all over the world to worship at his grave.) Whenever we visited Aunt Flo, I’d sneak the catalog into the bathroom. What kind of women wore these clothes, these skin-tight toreador pants, these crotchless panties, these Gina Lollabrigida wigs? What kind of creatures had boobs that thrust into the atmosphere with the wonder of the Alps? Then, one day, I saw this ad:
Then there was Janet Leigh. That woman did more to wreck my self esteem than Sue Birkenshaw. Janet’s boobs were aerodynamic, and her bras came to forever define for me the divide between Good Girls and Bad Girls.
Check out this poster for "Psycho." It was no accident that every poster showed Janet in her bra. Hitchcock was pushing the envelope back in 1960 when he shot her in her bra and slip rolling around in bed with John Gavin. But did you notice something about her bras? Good Marion starts out wearing WHITE bras but after she steals the forty grand and becomes Bad Marion, she switches to BLACK bras! Of course, she died horribly, was stuffed into the trunk of a Buick and was sucked down into the swamp.
I was fourteen before I took another a shower. I was well into my twenties before I bought a black bra. Like I said, you can’t change human nature.
But then, things changed. I discovered the Maidenform ads. You older ladies will remember these. A series of gorgeous women in various stages of dishabille, ecstatic of expression, with the copy proclaiming: "I dreamed I (fill in the blank) in my Maidenform bra."
The blanks were, from 1947 when the ad campaign started, up through the 1960s when I was listening: a fireman, cellist, jury member, world traveler, toreador, pool shark, etc., etc. Too many to mention. These stunning women were out there in the world DOING STUFF! They were opening the World Series, covering the Paris collections, running offices, barging down the Nile. And my absolute favorite: "I dreamed I won the election in my Maidenform bra." (Insert favorite Palin joke here). True, even when I was thirteen, I DID think it was weird that these women did all this while running around in their bras, but I kind of understood it when Madonna came along. Still, something in those ads struck a chord in my nascent feminist, ah, chest.
Was it possible that a woman could be sexy and successful at the same time? Could she have perky breasts AND an operating brain? Could she be black and white? And did the kind of bra she wore have something to do with all this?
As you can see, I have issues.
But I still don’t have a new bra. Still, tomorrow is a new day, a new year. After I am finished stowing the Christmas crap, after I am done changing the batteries in the smoke detectors, I will go back to Macy’s and try again.
Tonight? Well, tonight, I will make a nice Hendrick’s martini. And then I will dream. I will dream about running an office. (Which I did.) I will dream about playing the cello. (I play the piano a little.) I will dream about going to Paris. (Which I am going to do next year for my sixtieth birthday.) And I will dream that I bought a leopard print bra.
PJ Parrish is the New York Times bestselling author of the Louis Kincaid series. Her new book, THE LITTLE DEATH, will be published February 2010. She is hard at work on a stand-alone thriller.