By Vanessa Rodriguez
I- “We could have just e-mailed”
I skim through the latest issue of ELLE on my bus ride to the city, preparing my list of “Must Go To” stores. My cousin has invited me to help her shoe shop. I jot down all of ELLE’s suggestions or at least the versions we can afford. I walk into her bedroom with the most important passages in my fashion bible bookmarked.
The wet clothing hanging on a line over her bed doesn’t allow me to see her, but I can hear her talking on the phone with what sounds like a customer service representative.
“I was just wondering when your site will be ready again,” she says. “It’s been under construction for a day.” A moment later, she cheerfully thanks the representative and hangs up.
I push a soaking red sweater aside to find her sitting in front of her computer in leopard Victoria Secret pajamas eating Cup O’ Noodle soup.
“Liz, I thought you said you would be ready when I got here.”
She spins her wobbly chair around and almost falls off it. She slurps her noodles and nods.
“I am ready,” she says, indicating a seemingly endless collection of shoes lined up along the walls of her cramped bedroom. She has every color, style and pattern that the fashion world tells you are a must that season. She notices my consternation.
“Girl,” she says with a laugh. “I buy all my shoes online. You know that. I just needed your opinion, but I could have just e-mailed them to you. It’s the lazy man’s way – get with it or get lost.”
Shopping with my family members is a lot more than trying on numerous items and getting their approval. It’s how we catch up. It’s how we gossip. It’s our stress reliever. When my cousin started shopping online, we went out less, we spoke less,we lost touch.
As I stare at the piles of clothes and shoes lying around the room, she drags a picture of brown suede ankle boots to the WISH LIST folder on the desktop. She has her favorites pulled up – one folder labeled COUPONS, another, SHOES, and still another, FASHION BLOGS. She also has the Web pages of four stores open. They match the stores on my list.
After two hours she finally finds a pair of black leather booties with a wedge heel on the Urban Outfitters site.
“These are gonna be so comfortable, and booties are it this season. I have to get them,” she says.
“How do you know they’re going to be comfortable? You can’t even try them on.”
“Because it got four out of five stars and one girl wrote ‘definitely comfy.'”
She repeatedly tries to add the pair to her shopping cart, but only gets a “Your cart is empty” message. After ten minutes of refreshing the page and no luck, she is still reluctant to give up. My frustration gets the best of me. I snatch the mouse and close the page.
“We could have avoided this headache if we had gone to a store where a representative rings you up at a register. I assure you, your shopping cart would not be empty.”
She disagrees. “We would’ve spent money on Metro cards, wasted time waiting for the train, been pushed around for half an hour, then the representative at the store would have given us a nasty attitude the minute we ask for her assistance and then she would have made us wait ten minutes before telling us that they can’t find the other shoe.
I’ll take the minor technical issue over all those headaches anytime, Vanessa. That is why online shopping is the answer to all my prayers.”
II-“Five to seven days”
It was the first week of September and my younger cousins were getting ready to school shop. This year they asked for the Pastry sneakers. According to my cousins, these are the sneakers fashionable seventh graders wear.
After a week of searching, I started to lose hope. I stopped by Liz’s house. Johanna, my best friend, was there.
“You went to a store?” she asks, stunned. “They have a Web site, Pastrykicks.com.”
“No, seriously,” Liz laughs. “Vanessa is the only person who still does that. It amazes me that she hasn’t given in.”
“You know,” I say. “I remember a time when school shopping took place over a weekend with your parents! You went from store to store until you found something that your mom thought was appropriate and you thought was cool enough for your friends to see you in and that was it! Now you sit in front a computer and click through Web sites until you find something that looks like it would work, wait a week, and God forbid it doesn’t fit! Then you have to prepare a return label, make a line at the post office, and then wait another week until you get the correct size. By that time the semester will be over!”
“Yeah, Vanessa, but these sneakers are impossible to find right now. The easiest way is to order them online, pay for the super fast shipping and everyone is stress free.”
In the middle of our argument, my little cousin pokes her head into the room.
“Hey, V,” she says, “I found them online. Mami gave me her credit card, so I ordered them. They’re going to be here in five to seven days.”
She proudly heads to the kitchen to hand her mom the order confirmation e-mail she just printed.
“You see, V,” Liz laughs. “You’re all stressed out for nothing. Kids can school shop online by themselves!”
III- “I hate going downtown”
There are several occasions that always used to require a shopping trip. My mom needed my assistance to find the perfect dress for someone’s 50th birthday party or to buy the perfect wedding gift. But the last wedding was different. When she called me at college, she didn’t ask me to accompany her anywhere.
“I just got the invitation to Martha’s son’s wedding. Can you go to like wedding gift dot com or something?” she says.
“Ma,” I sigh. “What are you talking about?”
“I need to get him a gift and I don’t want to go downtown. Can you just type something into your computer about wedding gifts?”
Is my mother asking me to shop online for her? Am I about to lose the only shopping partner I have left? If I can count on anyone to still enjoy walking around New York City, it’s my 52-year-old mother, who doesn’t know how to turn on a computer!
My silence frustrates her.
“Just order it on the computer. Get something cheap and make sure it gets here before the wedding. I am going to need a dress, too. Can you write something on that thing about formal dresses for a wedding?”
“Ma, you’ve never bought anything online. Where is this coming from?”
“I was talking to Sarah and she was bragging about how her daughter buys her anything she wants and she never has to leave the house. If Liz can do it for her, why can’t you do it for me? You know how much I hate going downtown.”
My mother doesn’t want to go shopping with me! Is this the end of the long train rides full of mother-daughter conversation? There is never a better time to tell her about my problems. Doesn’t she want to share church gossip with me for 45 minutes on the A train?
“You do not hate going downtown! You enjoy those trips because it takes you away from our horrible neighborhood. You get to see something different. Walking helps your arthritis! I am coming down this weekend and we are going to get everything you need for the wedding.”
No response. I have to make this more dramatic.
“I have a dilemma! I need your advice. We need to talk this weekend.”
She quickly reminds me that I can talk to her over the phone as I shop for the gift and her dress.
It’s over. I lost Liz years ago to the online bug. Johanna has been bitten. My little cousins are at high risk. Not my mother!
I am no longer the daughter, best friend or cousin everyone wants to shop with over the weekend.
What is the world coming to? It is not fun to sit there and click through pages while you watch pop-ups tell you to look for your old classmates.
Doesn’t anyone want to spend time with another human being as opposed to the freaking monitor?
IV- “You must be a millionaire.”
It was Black Friday. I was getting ready to go shopping. I couldn’t stop thinking about how different it felt this year. I was going alone. My mom claimed she was too tired to go downtown with me. Liz no longer thought Black Friday important and Johanna was on that same page. That left me with no company.
When I arrived at Journeys in search of my UGG’s, I found nothing at their 34th Street location. Then I traveled to the 5th Avenue location; they were also sold out. Size 7 must be a popular shoe size. Silly of me to think that waking up at 6 a.m. would give me an advantage.
After Journeys, I tried H&M for a coat. No luck there either. Large sizes only. I tried to figure out where to go next. I passed by Macy’s, but quickly realized that I didn’t want to go in there on Black Friday.
There’s something about shopping alone that sucks all the energy out of you. Depression started to hit. It was only noon, but I decided to go home.
I stopped by Liz’s house just to see what she and Johanna were up to. They were on the couch watching TV, eating Cup O’Noodles. Not freezing, empty-handed or depressed like I was.
“You must be a millionaire with all the money you saved today.”
“What time you woke up V? Where all your bags at? It’s freezing outside, you must have gotten something!”
I didn’t feel like defending myself today. I walked home and decided to jump online.
And I found my UGG’s. Chestnut, size 7. No pop-ups, no ERROR messages, no EMPTY CART messages. I paid and a few minutes later I received an email confirming my purchase.
I had been waiting two months for the Black Friday specials and just like that Black Friday came and went and I ended up getting them on Ebay for $90.
Still, I wasn’t ready to acknowledge that. Maybe, there was a slight possibility, that this was more convenient. I shut my laptop.
I was forced to open it back up – after all, I still needed a coat.