Picture it. Spring, 2008. The euro was trouncing the dollar. The Democratic party was in turmoil, split between the experienced vanguard and the young upstart. I had just survived the fourth round of layoffs at my job. And I was sitting on a $40 Bloomingdales gift card that a family member had given me the previous Christmas. All I needed was a whimsical but chic Marc Jacobs top at 60 percent off and the world would be right.
At the time, I actually lived near the uptown Bloomingdales store. I’d stop in frequently with the gift card, quickly realizing the only floor I could afford was the second and that the only time to go was Monday evenings right before close, after the Eurotrash had moved on from their shopping to the 8pm shows in Times Square. But being just $40, the gift card made buying anything a challenge. As a rule, I do not spend more than $10 on any cosmetic or undergarment, nor do I believe in paying for fragrance — it’s all around you. A Marc Jacobs top was never more than 20 percent off: out of my price league. Those G-darn Euros and their socialist spending, maintaining New York retail prices!
So I had nothing to buy. Sniffle.
Then one warm day my coworker pal Stephanie said she needed to find a dress. Would I accompany her to Bloomingdales after work? Sure. Stephanie tried on many things on the second floor while I listlessly fumbled through the winter clearance racks, full of fug unwanted fashion. Then I saw it: a lovely gray v-neck lightweight cashmere sweater. Long, but with shape. There was no price tag. It had to be around $40, I figured. I tried it on. It was warm but breathed. It hung well, enough to cover a Chipotle-filled stomach but still shapely enough to hint at a feminine body.
Stephanie and I approached the register. I started to reach for the gift card. “How much is this?” I asked the sales person. I set the gift card on the counter.
She looked at the tag and entered in some numbers. A slow smile emerged on her face. “You won’t need that.” Then she gently petted the cashmere and her benign amusement turned into painful restraint.
“This is only a penny.”
“It’s a penny. I swear.”
“Um. Uh. What?”
Stephanie interjected. “WHY?”
Stephanie’s jaw dropped. Expletives were uttered. High-fives happened. I dropped the shiny copper coin on the counter and fled the store, fearful that God would strike me dead. I wore it well into summer, even though I sweltered, never failing to gracefully mention in conversation how little I’d paid for it. It was hand-washed in the sink with Woolite. People who know me still ask: Is that the penny sweater? I nod smugly.
Before I moved to Brooklyn last year, I often roamed the crowded racks between Lexington and Third looking for lightening to strike twice. It hasn’t. But oh, look: the euro is still resilient. There’s always the Soho store.