I decided to go back to Marshall’s today to do battle with a pair of jeans that denied me a couple of months ago. Back then I had eyed them up, and a sharp, good eye I have in these bargain stores, and I had thought, “Yes, I think I can do this. Imma gonna try ‘em on.” I felt sure that my visual perception was RIGHT ON, and that the jeans would not give me a minute of trouble. So I trot back into the fitting room, shut the door, take off my current jeans, and start to put on these new ones. OH. UH. UM. OOF. They made it as far as the hips, and then no amount of re-positioning, tugging, sucking in, or pushing pockets down would get that bastard zipper to close. I was more upset that my unerring fit eye let me down than that I would not be buying the jeans. Irritated, I got dressed and handed them back to the smiling teenaged fitting room girl and spent a few minutes pouting my fail.

Down some pounds since, I went to find the jeans this morning. There they were. Clearly, others had been denied as well. I held them up, eyed them again with a burning relentless truth, and I decided YES, and put them in my blue shopping cart with a messed-up wheel. I found a pair of black shorts, a pair of plaid shorts, a couple of shirts, a black dress and headed to the fitting room. Now or never.

I went straight down an aisle full of purses, dead on course for the fitting rooms. In my peripheral vision, as I got closer to the destination I made out a still, lumpish figure in black, immobile even as I moved closer. I parked my cart, grabbed my clothes to try on, and lifted my face up to meet the figure in black, today’s fitting room girl.


As I take in her countenance, I stifle a gasp, although I am sure my eyes widened on instinct. Sometimes you just don’t expect to see what you do. I glance at her nametag. “NONNA.”

Her hair was NONE MORE BLACK, the Blackest Black that Miss Clairol could make, rough-textured and reflecting no light. She had styled it in a long straight fashion, mightily teased at the crown, making her at least four inches taller. A rhinestone clip highlighted the beehive area. She must’ve weighed a good 270 pounds or more, in black stretch pants and a black poly shirt with long, see-though arms. She looked at me, dead-eyed, unsmiling, with an expression similar to one, I imagine, who has recently smelled something so offensive that it remains in the olfactory memory forever; sour, grim, hateful, deeply offended. The best combination that I can come up for you in picturing Nonna is the drag queen Divine + Gladys Presley + Priscilla Presley at her wedding if you took a garden hose and filled her so full of water that she became bloated nearly beyond recognition.

It is Nonna’s makeup in particular that I stare at, trying to take in the vast detail that she has painted for the world upon the canvas of her porcine pink face. The eyes are beladen with coat after coat of thick black eyeliner, swooping up into a cat’s eye/Cleopatra look, with crooked fat black false eyelashes that look like jittery spiders. Great powdery white layers of foundation sat upon her skin, with huge swaths of bright pink blush jammed on her puffy cheeks, clearly with great force. The lips were, in a sea of impressive facial feature competition, the stand-out. Great glops of ham-pink lipstick clung to her slug-like pout, outlined in a thick deep red, well past any realistic border of where her lips actually ended, with the pencil veering into a clown-like upturn. I was transfixed, jarred out of my reverie only by Nonna’s pudgy hands jabbing my clothes back to me, with a tag that read “6.” She sneered at me, and said not a word.

As I went back, I heard her speak to another Marshall’s colleague in Russian. This is what I imagined she said:

“Ludmilla, that plain American woman will never fit into those jeans. She is a fool, and furthermore needs more eyeliner. I spit on her grave.”

I take off my skirt, take the jeans off the hanger. They pull on sweet and smooth. Zip. Button. OH YES. OHHHHH YESSSSSSSSS.

Jeans, yes. Black Shorts, yes. Plaid Shorts, unflattering hips, no. Shirt 1, yes, Shirt 2, too tight, no. Black dress hits oddly at the bustline, no. 3 yes, 3 no, extra bonus points for the jeans triumph. I pull my skirt back on, slip on my sandals, and head back to Nonna. She does not move from her heavy leaning position on the wall, and simply points dismissively over to a clothes rack. I hang up the three fail garments, hand Nonna my “6” card, and grab one more glance at her, thrilled.

Good day.