by Rima Magee
When I was a little girl living in Manhattan my mother took me shopping. Her goal? To get to Macy's basement ahead of the crowd.
If you lived in New York in the 1930s and 40s, then you knew about Macy's basement sales. Mile upon mile (seemingly) of counters piled high with the odds and ends and detritus of the floors upstairs. All marked down of course to ridiculous prices. If an item upstairs cost five dollars, it was fifty cents in the basement. And there were millions of pieces of things in that category, from intimate wear to gowns you wouldn't be caught dead in.
By the time we arrived early at the store, it seemed the whole female population of Manhattan was already there plus a large contingent from Brooklyn, The Bronx and Queens. And for some ungodly reason, most of them were, shall we say, queen-sized.
I was about four feet tall at the time. The top of my head didn't even reach the top railing of the counter. Where I usually found myself was with my back pressed again the pedestal of the counter and my nose pressed against the stomach of a sweaty queen-sizer who was screaming above me and jerking at some garment that another woman, sometimes my mother, also was trying to grasp.
It turned me off shopping for all time. My mother thought it was loads of fun to be able to pick up such bargains. She planned to go there the next Saturday while I hoped I would develop some loathsome disease that would force her to stay home. It never happened. What did happen was that I grew older and was allowed to stay at home alone while mother cavorted off to Macy's basement.
Last time I was in New York, about 17 years ago, I decided to go to Macy's on a nostalgic trip. The famous basement outlet store had turned into a series of upscale boutiques and cute little gourmet restaurants. The good old days were definitely gone. If I needed a substitute, I would go to a garage sale. I have to admit I sometimes go to those, especially when they are being held in our mobile home park. After all, you have to help out your neighbors, don't you?
I still hate to "Go Shopping." And I don't. When I run out of something like milk or paper products, I go to the neighborhood supermarket and buy just that. Sometimes, if I'm out of everything, I will troll the aisles to make sure I canvas over all those items that have run out. Invariably, I forget something because I am also not a list maker. I may not be a classic shopper, but I circulate a large share of my income through the economy in my own maverick way. Easiest way to shop now is through mail order catalogs and online.
I have friends who, young or old, consider the joys of shopping as the be-all and end-all of existence. Because now we have The Mall a place where you may really circulate your hard-earned cash and keep the tax base up.
The Mall whatever its name usually has a big name retailer at each end and in the middle, and many smaller retailers in between. The more acreage it covers, the more of everything it houses. They compete with each other to see who can offer the biggest clearance sale to get people to come in. (I wonder sometimes what a "regular" price is.) It is especially fraught with horror on the day after Thanksgiving and the day after Christmas when stores open as early as 6 a.m. to get people there! I ask you! Am I with them? Never!
Saturdays in Macy's Basement was a traumatic experience from which I've never recovered.
Rima was a writer, it seems, all of her life first getting paid for her work when employed as a newspaper reporter in Rome, NY and Houston, TX. Freelancing after the war, she met David Westheimer when he was editor of the Houston Post Sunday Magazine and who bought several of Rima's stories. Her subsequent experience was as editor/writer of a couple of house organs and then as an ad agency copywriter in Houston and Hollywood.
Rima had an active pilot's license at the time of her death. Flying, a musical play inspired by Rima's poetry, is to presented at the Huntington Beach Playhouse in November, 2007