When I worked at the boutique, there was one regular customer whom I adored. Well, we all did; it was hard not to. Her name was Lucie; she was French-Canadian and spoke with a distinct, lilting accent. She was the sunniest person I've ever met, bubbling over with energy and friendliness. She also had a lot of style: she always wore high-waisted trousers, which she then cropped to her ankle and wore with Repetto ballet flats. Although she was short, somehow this looked marvelous on her. She also had a casual disregard for size, and would routinely and refreshingly buy things much too big and then make them look perfectly casual and chic. Often she'd wave and smile to us as she rode past on her bicycle - sometimes with, I swear, a baguette or a bunch of radishes or some tulips in the basket. She was an architect. She loved to cook for friends on Sunday afternoons. We'd all laugh and speculate about how magical her life must be and sometimes we'd all say we wished we were living it. We didn't really want to be her, though - we just wanted her to be her, and to sometimes come in and bring a little sunshine and fantasy with her.
I remember, distinctly, deciding that she would be a role model for me. Not stylistically - I don't think anyone else could have pulled off her look - but in the way she treated people, in the way she brightened our lives with her genuine interest and small acts of consideration and the way that, as a result, she had an aesthetic of living that was tangible and appealing.
I don't know why I'm talking about her like she's dead or something when I'm sure she's very well and probably right now wearing cropped trousers and Repettos and, whatever the facts of her life, being a positive influence on those who don't really know her. I hope to run into her some time, and deliver a strange, intense speech of gratitude. I thought of her today, for the first time in a long time, simply because my pants were hemmed a little shorter than I wanted. Now, I'm not even sorry they were. I wore them out with vintage Ferragamo flats and a tee shirt and a sweater jacket and actually felt pretty sharp.
So: I've been trying like the dickens lately to be mindful and not get caught up in thoughts and generally fight the Black Dog in various vague ways (because it's boring and I hate to be bored) but one thing is getting in my way. (Two, if you count the mouse holocaust I've been responsible for this week. There's one left. Like Vito Corleone, I've murdered his entire family and now he's on the run, alone. Probably plotting my death. I can hardly blame him. Revenge, as we know, is a dish best served cold - possibly colder than a mouse's lifespan will allow for.) Anyway: I have been very depressed about my birthday, which is a week from today. What a cliche, I know! And irrational, too. And yet, I feel cold dread whenever I think of it. The idea of making anyone assemble for my benefit mortifies me. But doing nothing is a little sad, too. When I was 25, a bunch of friends and I went to the National in Brighton Beach and it was fantastic - but now I blush at my audacity in asking them to do that.
So, here is what we do. I am taking the precautionary measure of ordering myself, as a birthday gift, a box of pralines - my favorite treat. I am also going to order myself flowers. Knowing these are on the way takes a great deal of the pressure off, somehow - as if I can check the box that says "birthday." I asked my parents to get me a new pair of slippers, and I have a sneaking suspicion I will be getting them. Anyway, as my grandfather says, a few generations ago, people didn't even have birthdays. Or, as he put it, "in the Old Country, who knew from birthdays?"
For my part, I've taken of late to sending my loved ones birthday boxes of candy from a southern abbey I read about online. I'd heard that the candy was delicious and liked the idea that the industry helped the abbey stay self-supporting. But I've never, personally, received any, and maybe it's a good general rule to do some sort of test run with these things. I had my first suspicions when I sent a box, via the website, to my dearest friend El. in Baltimore. She emailed me that the caramels I'd sent were yummy and the "accompanying booklet, fantastic." Hmm. Then, my godmother sent me her thank-you note: "The caramels are delicious, as is the insert of the joyous nuns, working away in their twee little aprons - so unique, and so you." Anything being "me" generally means, "odd," and I was becoming distinctly alarmed at the thought that I'd already dispatched a box to Slim's mother in California. He happens to be out there for work and so I asked for a report on the candy. He wrote: "The accompanying booklet includes such gems as "my heart and flesh cry out for the living God, happy are that who dwell in [his] house" with a picture of a nun in an apron laying out caramels."
Happy birthday, indeed!