|When I was 26, in 1977, Fred the Furrier at Alexander’s had been opened for a year. This was before PETA, and the animal rights movement.
My then best friend Shelby had a raccoon coat from Fred’s. Because Shelby had bought a raccoon coat most of our other girlfriends bought one also.
I wanted something more luxe, something signifying that I had arrived and was no longer a hippie — though at night I was a post- glam-rock-punk girl which did entail much black, lurex, and makeup. I had a watch made out of huge sterling safety pins, and wore it everywhere.
One day my dad and I met at Fred’s so that he could buy me my birthday present. I was 26 and half way to 27. This was not only expected but accepted in our family that after 25 we would get much more lavish presents such as a trip to Europe, or in this case, a fur coat. I wanted Sable but would accept Mink.
We began looking at coats. It took us less than two minutes to realize that neither of us knew anything about fur.
“So, do you like that one?” (Any conversation with my parents involved many “so’s.” For a long time I thought that it was really a Yiddish word and the only one my parents would use in conversation with us.)
“Yick, it’s too fluffy, and I don’t know, there’s something…let’s look at the minks.”
We began looking at the minks. My father started asking the sales people questions. He had an amazing shtick that always worked: (this was pre PC days, too.)
My dad did what he always did when he was confused: he would run to me or my mom. Since I was confused also, he went to the nearest pay phone and called my mom.
“So she wants a mink…”
“So is it full skin?”
“Uh, what’s full skin…”
“Wait right there. I’m coming in,” she told him. She was on Long Island.
Of course we couldn’t wait there while she drove to the train station, took the next train, then a cab because it was a special occasion, and went up the slowest escalator in the world to Fred the Furriers at Alexander’s. Yes even the elevators and escalators were slow at Alexander’s.
So we went to a restaurant next door in Bloomingdale’s to wait. My father had an unnatural love for department store food. He insisted that the food was better, fresher and that there were less calories.I was always meeting him for lunch in one department store or another.
Orbach’s on 34th Street was his personal favorite. It was even less classy than Alexander’s, didn’t have as good stuff, but did have better lines. All the waitresses knew him by name:
Actually a walk through many department stores with my dad was an incredible experience. Wherever we went, the sales people knew him by name and would rush from their customers to greet him.
My dad was a successful CPA with an office at home, and one in the city. I could never figure out where he had the time to meet so many sales people, in every store from the old Barney’s to Bergdorf’s.
“Well, Pia, in life you should always take the time to meet as many people as possible.” Then he would make a facial expression that was somewhere in between a grimace and a grin. “Look, most of them don’t make much money, and people treat them so rudely….”
“Oh, Max, you just love the attention they give you.” I never called him “dad” or “daddy” in public, as he insisted that my sister and I call him Max.
By the time we finished lunch at Bloomingdale’s, my mom was waiting for us at Fred’s. We spotted her deep in conversation with Fred himself!
“So where did you eat lunch?” she asked (translation: “I told you to wait for me here.”) My mom was nothing if not sweet and blunt. She held the patent on sweet and blunt; I have somewhat mastered it but could never be like Marian.