Category Archives: Writers

The Saddest Sweetgum in New York

Proceeding along Braddock Avenue in the Bellerose neighborhood of Queens, high winds gusting all around, we went about the business of pruning street trees. I saw dozens of American sweetgums. Liquidambar is the poetic scientific name for the species, and it refers to the honeyed sap that flows beneath the bark if you cut into it. I love these trees, most especially for their fruits, prickly brown seed-filled “gumballs” that litter the ground in winter.

seed pod.JPG

They hold on tenaciously, coexisting with the waxy pinkish flowers about to unfurl in spring as though they just can’t say goodbye to mommy and drop away.

sweetgum tree.JPG

They remind me of the coal carriers in  Hayao Miyazaki’s inspired movie Spirited Away.

Spirited11.jpg

One tree I came across was well past its prime, weathered and half dead, its limbs truncated where Con Ed had cut them free of the power line that ran through its crown. Any branch that enters the “box” around the line, my pruner told me, is unceremoniously lopped off.

saddest.JPG

It was about the saddest sweetgum I’d seen, the old girl. She had a shape like the Winged Victory of Samothrace, but she was not treasured and adored but left to linger in her too-small tree pit with razor wire for a neighbor.

winged victory.jpg

She brought to mind Shel Silverstein’s disturbing fable The Giving Tree, in which an apple tree gives itself unceasingly to a boy, until all that is left of it is a trunk. The thing about a book, though, that allows children to not die from the horror of this story, is that you can go back to the beginning again and again, seeing the tree whole and gracious. Yes, the tree suffers an awful decline, but it springs to life everytime we open the book’s cover. We have a chance for a do-over. That is the power of art.

enhanced-buzz-28999-1411683287-3.jpg

I am writing this now as the trimmed branches from another tree rain down around me, the crew’s work almost done for the day. I’m standing fifteen blocks from the saddest sweetgum in New York, too far to pay a call before I get in my car and leave for home.

I don’t know if I want to see her again anyway. She’s old and homely, her spiky fruits long fallen. She has nothing to give, unlike the presents of the giving tree. She is all that has already been taken, in this harsh city, and nothing, no careful pruning, no perfect cut, will bring her back.

2 Comments

Filed under Arborist, Culture, Fiction, Home, Jean Zimmerman, Nature, New York City, Trees, Writers, Writing

Cutting Loose

We were in the Washington Heights neighborhood of upper Manhattan, me and a pruning crew. It was frigid on this second day of spring, and you could see all the charcoal shadows stretching out in front of the big apartment buildings before the sun saw fit to rise fully. Going from tree to tree, all of them honeylocusts with threatening looking bristle-burrs on the branches, I noticed how people had appropriated the “furniture” of the sidewalk – the trees. In the branches I saw, to name just a few things,  strings of Christmas lights, green garlands, icicle streamers, a Lean Cuisine mini pizza box and a sign that read “MOVE 100 dollars 24 hours.”

The rice and beans are tasty in this lively neighborhood but there is a pervasive sadness, with trash blowing down the streets and many empty storefronts. I saw a dozen beggars, some of them deranged, most of them asking for 50 cents.

The head pruner on the job, who was also the head of the landscaping company, graced us with his chainsawing skills. And he was good. He transformed more than one ugly duckling tangle of trunk and branches into a cinderella honeylocust. He joked that his next career was going to be as a hair stylist.

We went up and down Broadway nipping and tucking overgrown trees. The street was set for new asphalt and the milling machine had to have room to move along without getting hung up on branches. The son was there too, an awkward guy in his mid twenties, having been doing this job, said his father, “since he was two.” I wasn’t sure what piece of the job he did when he was two. Standing with me, he admired his father’s handiwork as he stood up in the bucket with his saw roaring. “So hard to do an elevated cut without lion’s tailing,” he commented, and I nodded sagely.

slurpee.JPG

A banner across the front of a school caught my eye: “None of us is as strong as all of us.” The limbs of the trees rose from the trunks like a chorus of spring.

Later, on a break, the father bent my ear about clients who want him simply to top a tree to reduce its size. “I would never do anything to harm a tree,” he emphasized. “I can justify every cut I make.”

I like the idea of justifying the cuts you make. The first cut is the deepest, as the song goes. Are the lyrics actually about pruning a tree?

The son had just told me something critical about another arborist who works for the company: “Every cut he makes is perfect, but he is just too slow.” Of course I’d rather be slow but perfect, but I didn’t say anything. The young guy is fast-fast-fast, in his twenties after all.

After the job was over I picked up my car at a garage, standing next to a ruddy faced young man in a yarmulke holding a gigantic bouquet of red roses. We were shifting our feet impatiently as the garage took its time bringing our cars out to us. He spoke to me. “I’m getting engaged tonight,” he said. His name was Dan. On the assumption that his girlfriend would say yes, he had arranged an engagement party for the evening, with friends, music, food, dancing. I asked if he was pretty sure she was going to say yes. “We’re Jewish,” he said, “We talk a lot about these things in advance.” He didn’t have a ring yet, he told me. There would be time for that. Now he had to go home and change his shoes, if they would ever produce his car.

I hope Dan and his betrothed make many perfect cuts together. Not too fast, either.

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Arborist, Culture, Home, Jean Zimmerman, Nature, New York City, Trees, Writers, Writing

“I Like Trees, but…”

“Cut ’em all down, babe, cut ’em all down!” The man called out to me from his bicycle as I stood by a tree in my orange vest, taking notes on my clipboard about a giant white oak standing between the sidewalk and the street. Not the first time I’d heard this sentiment expressed, but always disappointing.

“It’s too high and too many mosquitos come into my room,” one woman complained about the specimen outside her window.

Three guys stood around a driveway on a mild March afternoon, shooting the shit. “Little things come off the trees and make a mess,” said the man with the pushbroom, clearing the gutter of maple twigs that had fallen in the recent rain.

“Can’t the city get us some little trees instead of these big ones?” asked his friend.

tree brnches.JPG

Sometimes, rolling up on a big old black locust, the kind that casts its welcome shade all summer, the resident of the house behind it runs out: “Are you taking the tree down?” Not aghast at the prospect but delighted and hopeful that “their” tree would disappear. “The sap drops all over the tops of our cars,” I’ve heard.

Two times recently, in Queens and in the Bronx, I saw maples that had been girdled. Someone had stripped a wide circle of bark from around the trunk’s base — a technique for killing a tree.

girdled tree.JPG

But why? Trees protect from the sun, they pour out oxygen to breathe, and on top of it all they’re beautiful to look at. Wouldn’t you like to have a statuesque linden in from of your house? But, but… trees are messy, with their litter of acorns dropping on the roof,  the pom pom london plane seed balls scattered across the sidewalks. If you walk barefoot when the sweet gum seeds come down the prickly pods would cut your feet!

sweetgum.JPG

Ouch! But who walks barefoot in New York City?

Someone has to rake up the perfect leaves of the pin oak. What a pain.

I’m sorry, but if you can’t manage it I will.

Leave a comment

Filed under Arborist, History, Home, Jean Zimmerman, Nature, New York City, Trees, Writers, Writing

Pruning the Urban Forest

Going out to nurture the trees of New York City has given me plenty of surprises, not the least of which is the number of species to be found alongside the urban curbs. I was out in the snow recently to help put together a site survey, and I was blown away by the patterns and textures of the trunks we encountered — grey and furrowed, yes, but also yellow or red, with scruffy bark or horizontal lenticels that were dramatic gashes. When I used to think of trees it was mainly their leaves that appealed to me, green and elegant or the colors of a sunset. Now, having entered the urban forest to count specimens and prune them, I’m especially in awe of their stature, their trunks and branches naked, undisguised by the leafy canopy that usually cloaks them.

Here is an item I wrote for The New York Times Metropolitan Diary column which was published today.

Met Diary Jean Zimmerman.jpeg

Leave a comment

Filed under Arborist, Jean Zimmerman, Nature, New York City, Trees, Writers, Writing

Goodbye to All That Merchandise

Today was my last shift at The Somewhat Fancy Ladies’ Clothing Store. No, I was not fired. My tenure as seasonal sales associate concluded in the same way it always does, at the end of winter, with the bright smocks and palazzos of spring entering the shop in dozens of boxes, and fewer and more pennypinching customers visiting to plump up their wardrobes. I am now extraneous.

So goodbye to fringed wool jackets, lace-edged tops and “girlfriend jeans”. Goodbye to daily sales goals and meeting the weekly plan. So long, Swiffer lint and the glint of bobby pins in the rug. Adios, the mask of makeup. Certain customers, I’m glad to see the back of you. You know who you are. On the other hand there is the man yesterday with wavy grey hair, kind eyes and a nose on him, who, passing by, saw the striped blouse in the window and knew it would look great on his wife. It would be a surprise. Husbands do the darndest things, I learned at the store. (Mine recently baked me a welcome-home cake, so there.)

I bought too many clothes with the seductive employee discount. Didn’t need any of them. The store was itself seductive, an explosion of color and texture that sometimes felt like a riotous dream. I felt trapped there sometimes, bored out of my skull, and at other times deeply fascinated by the intricacies of selling that dream to women and the rhythms of commerce. I think I learned more about modern American reality (something I usually do my best to avoid in my writerly life) from working there than any other experience I’ve had.

Today I left with one purchase, deeply discounted. A pair of earrings.

acorn earrings.JPG

Why do I like them so much? Well, what do they resemble? Nothing so much as glitzy acorns. A pair of earrings, a minimum wage souvenir, a transition, a talisman.

I’m going to prune trees in Queens tomorrow, the start of another season. Lipstick will not be mandatory.

6 Comments

Filed under Arborist, Clothing, Culture, Fashion, Home, Jean Zimmerman, Nature, New York City, Trees, Writers, Writing

The Best Vacation

I came back from Arizona to find that The Orphanmaster had appeared on a Top Holiday Reads 2016 shortlist on line by Co-operative Travel in the UK. The 18 authors included were asked to describe their favorite vacation in 140 characters. What’s funny is I had been spending mine, along with hiking and sunbathing,

Dead Mans Pass.JPG

reading historical fiction, which I cite as the finest kind of holiday in my quote. You can find all the books and writers here.

4 Comments

Filed under Culture, Fiction, Jean Zimmerman, Nature, The Orphanmaster, Writers, Writing

A Conversation in Snow

You should see how I look in summer, he told me. Not from the beach. Dark just from being up in the branches.

Bob.JPG

Today there were driving snow showers in Queens. The tree pruner and the arborist hid from the cold for a while in the cab of the landscaping truck. He chainsmoked Newports, I warmed my fingers in the blasts of warm air from the windshield vents. He smokes up in the bucket too, wielding his saw at the same time.

When you prune a tree, you write your name across it, he told me. You have to be able to stand by that name. Out the window we could see those crazy old maples, the ones whose bark glints chartreuse with moss in the sun, now outlined in fresh snow. He had trimmed trees in much worse conditions, he said.

Sitting there, we listened to a radio show that scolded about climate change. The tree pruner never studied his art, he said, he learned by observation. Was I a Republican or a Democrat, he asked. He thought the two were basically identical, that the system was rigged. Was I a 9/11 truther, he asked. He was.

I was bundled like an Eskimo. He wore a windbreaker. He knew all the trees by their bark alone. He called london plane trees l.p.’s. After 25 years in the business, he had no pension to retire with.

Sometimes he looks back on his tree climbing days, he said. He was hired to scale mammoths, reporting back on infestations of Asian Longhorn Beetles, in Crocheron Park in Bayside, Queens. Sometimes he misses going up with the other guys, way high up, above it all, where they would play cards in the branches and drink soda and joke around, hitting each other with things.

He hopped out of the cab. A woman had come from her house in the snow to get his attention. He spoke to her briefly then hopped back in. She told me she was ninety-two years old, he said. That’s a life, said the pruner.

Leave a comment

Filed under Arborist, Clothing, Culture, History, Home, Jean Zimmerman, Nature, New York City, Trees, Writers

A Snow Day for Books

Looking out from my desk over the sleeping swamp, the filagree of snow on reeds, globs of it hanging off the magnolia tree.

snow window.JPG

I’m off of both jobs today and have the luxury of nothing to do but laundry and cooking and dishes. Oh yes, and writing book reviews. NPR Books is the loveliest employer because it lets me self assign and my editor is no slouch. I have a stack of seven books awaiting me on the coffee table, lined up for spring. I’ve gotten a kick out of the Clothing Store and I love being out on the streets with the trees, but literature is my heart.

Leave a comment

Filed under Arborist, Culture, Fiction, Home, Jean Zimmerman, Nature, Publishing, Trees, Writers, Writing

Scutwork

Working in The Somewhat Fancy Ladies’ Clothing Store can be tedious. I fold sweaters. Process returns, a mental challenge that is only getting slightly easier. Size the merchandise, meaning make sure the clothes go in the proper order on the rack. Take outfits off mannequins. Put outfits on mannequins. Wait for customers. Where are the customers? The mall is dead today. Adults are absent, home shovelling. The teenagers are all here, of course, haunting American Apparel and tussling. They would never come in to our store, which sells to ladies of a certain age. Mature. Silverhaired. Tasteful. Kind of like me.

mannequins.JPG

The glass doors shut at night and I become the low woman on the totem pole. The manager closes out the books. Someone has to clean the store. That someone is moi. 9:00 at night, my toes pinch me, I’m swiffering the length of the floorboards. It’s not surprising the amount of lint to be picked up, but somehow I’m surprised that the job falls to Jean Zimmerman.

I always think of the portrait Barbara Ehrenreich drew of her experience with a cleaning company, examining the minute and disgusting structure of dust castles under the furniture. When I was sixteen I farmed myself out as a housekeeper one day a week to neighbors, but ran in horror when I realized I had to clean their toilet bowls.

Now here I am. Me, the successful writer, whose fingers usually only touch a keyboard or a Uniball pen, wiping up the dust kicked up by customers. I write books, does anybody know that?! Of course I swiffer in my own home, but there is something different about cleaning up after strangers at the store. Now comes the vacuuming of the dressing rooms, crouching to pick up the detritus women leave behind – hair pins, clothing tags, bits of paper. Shoppers can bomb a dressing room in 10 minutes flat, explode the clothing inside out and every which way, after which I have to restore order.

This is honest work, I tell myself. Someone has to do it. Someone has to empty the garbage pails. My old feet hurt. Putting in new plastic trash bags. Can I go home now? My television and beer await me. My youngish manager counts the cash and calmly takes a look over at silverhaired, stooping me. Her menial days are past. Mine have just begun.

I wanted this job. I wanted a brainless break from writing, to make a buck or two, before tree season kicks in. I didn’t count on making the classy, intellectual person I thought I was into a maid.

7 Comments

Filed under Arborist, Clothing, Culture, Fashion, Home, Jean Zimmerman, Nature, Publishing, Trees, Writers, Writing

Skipping History

A girl I knew in college used to tell me she had a crush on the subject of Anthropology, in which she had taken so many wonderful courses. She like to say she was having an affair with Anthro, until she came to her senses and settled down with Economics as her major.

I know what she meant. I feel as though I fell in love with history early in my writing career, that it was exciting and wild and soulful, everything I wanted in a subject. (It never disrupted my marriage, however.) As I continued to write, I got deeper into history – I never jumped to economics! – with forays into different periods, especially colonial New York and Gilded Age Manhattan. I was thinking about how the lure of the past grabbed me when I re-shelved some of my research books the other day. I came across a thick, illustrated book about the world of historic textiles, then a compilation of maps dating back to when New York wasn’t yet New York. And I felt a thrill about being connected to all the lives led in the past and being able to access meaning through calico and vellum… yes, and pot shards and iron nails and beaver pelts and all the material goods you get to commune with as a historian.

Now, however, I am discovering the sometimes jarring beauty of something else – How We Live Now (a literary reference, to Anthony Trollope’s most famous novel). Working as a seasonal sales associate in The Somewhat Fancy Ladies’ Clothing Store in the mall has brought me up close to retail, and retail is unremittingly of the present. Especially the glimpse of the fluorescent, perfumed corridors in the moments after the stores close, when each storefront is a goldfish bowl that shows the private lives of the people who work there. When the doors are locked, I walk past the Godiva store, where two young men dunk strawberries for themselves into the milk chocolate goo that is usually reserved for the paying customers. I’m fatigued, my feet are sore from pacing the floor and rehanging merchandise, but I can’t help but be struck by relationships between these and other sales associates, like me, with the imagined David Mamet flavor of their interactions. At Ann Taylor, a shoplady sullenly pushes her swiffer around the linoleum. Behind the Apple façade, kids in red logo’d polos bob like maraschino cherries around the Ipads and watches, laughing and loose after their hours serving patrons. I feel wide awake, taking it all in.

apple.JPG

But in the morning, before the stores open, I also get an infusion of non-historic pleasure. Of course we have mall walkers, a sizable number of them, in pairs and threes and fours, deep in conversation as they motor past my store before it opens. I am constantly amused, though, by the gaggle of about a dozen young mothers with strollers, exaggeratingly skipping as they push their babies, all in a line. This, my friends, is today, when legging-attired women drive themselves to be their best first thing in the morning, burning calories as they go, only to consume those same calories with their venti soy lattes at the Starbucks around the corner, the one that is just getting ready to open its doors. You don’t need a history book to appreciate that scenario.

1 Comment

Filed under Clothing, Culture, Fashion, History, Jean Zimmerman, New York City, Publishing, Writers, Writing

You’re Not Doing Great. Really.

“You’re doing great,” said the customer, her three big bags of returns flopped open on the counter between us.

Snarl, snarl, I said. Inwardly.

“Really,” she said.

“Why, you are too,” I beamed sarcastically, as I knew I shouldn’t.

She called out to her friend, who was waiting for her. “I can’t believe my husband got me these things,” she said. Her friend called back, “Isn’t this top the ugliest thing you’ve ever seen?”

Chicos_Volunteer_Day_Giving_Day_006-600x450

I feel defensive about The Somewhat Fancy Ladies’ Clothing Store, now that I’ve been here four weeks. My sister-in-law came in and I tried to sell her on a sweater. And I’m good at helping women buy outfits. But there are things I’m bad at.

Ringing up returns, for example, at which I am fumble fingered and slow, peering at the various icons on the terminal screen like the foreign language that they are. Don’t get me started on store coupons.

I’m also lame at “putbacks,” dealing with the mountain of merchandise that has to be returned to the proper racks. I’ll walk around the store three times to find where a given pair of black pants lives. There are at least ten nearly identical kinds of black pants in the store, and I have no idea where to stash one in a timely manner.

Then there’s clearing out the dressing rooms, something you’re supposed to hop to as soon as a customer vacates the premises. Well, I have already moved on to something when they leave (struggling with returns at the register, for example) and the explosive mess of garments left behind falls to a more responsible sales associate to clean up.

I am bad at things. I have never done them before. Don’t hate me because I am ignorant. That I am at midlife somehow makes it worse. I know my accomplishments in the fields of writing and research — but retail is another universe.

This has been an instructive experience. When I go into Starbucks and the service lags, I’m not the one tapping on my watch and frowning. Mellow out, let the sales clerks make their grande flat whites at their own pace. It’s only their due with the money they make.

And maybe it’ll come back to me as a karmic blessing behind the cash register.

 

1 Comment

Filed under Clothing, Culture, Fashion, Home, Jean Zimmerman, Writers, Writing

Belly Fat and All

Come in here, come in, you’ll see…

I crack the dressing room door and poke my head in.

You see this? She grabs a handful of belly fat. That’s why I can’t wear this, I can’t wear certain things. I’ve always had it…

We’ll find you something, I say. I’ve only worked here a month, but I feel I was in some ways born to do this. I want to succour these shoppers, to give them something they want so badly.

I should have had it cut out years ago, but I was sick, and everything was so difficult.

It’s okay, I say, we’ll find you something.

chicos_onelrg-600x430

It’s a conversation I’ve had many times since I began as a seasonal shopgirl at The Somewhat Fancy Ladies’ Clothing Store. Often it’s the belly of an older woman we’re deliberating over (the store caters to seniors with years of that bothersome belly fat), sometimes its her thighs (the pants are all just too clinging, too tight!). The other day a woman of my mother’s age and her gravitas wanted a shirt with a high collar that would hide her terrible collarbones.

Everyone wants to be transformed. To be beautiful. I Feel Bad About My Neck, as Nora Ephron titled her book of essays. We all feel bad about something. Women come to me hoping to be transfigured, for a party, for work, just to make themselves new. To be Cinderella employing a Fairy Godmother credit card.

What makes a woman try on a basic tank and decide she must purchase it in seven colors? It will solve my problem of what to wear to the office, she announces. Same with turtlenecks. Some shoppers collect piles of them, one in every color. The snazzier jackets or tunics or fur-collared vests cause palpitations, sometimes. I love it! I hear all the time. A shopper says to her friend, Don’t you love it? Says the friend, It’s fantastic. I echo, It’s fantastic, it really is.

The fabric seduces, the line of the garment flows. I bring armloads of clothing like bright bouquets to the dressing rooms, dream upon dream of a new you. Especially if the garment disguises that avoirdupois.

3 Comments

Filed under Culture, Fashion, Home, Jean Zimmerman, Writers, Writing

I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud

Yesterday, the first day of winter, I bought jonquils, the hoity toity term for daffodils. I had taken my fill of soup dumplings and braised seaweed in Flushing, NY’s Chinatown and was rolling out to the car. Could that really be daffodils they were advertising in the shop window — cut flowers, an unexpected bouquet?

daffodils window

Turns out they were not cut flowers but bulbs. I have another bulb working at home, an ethereal amaryllis, given to me by a botanically inclined friend, someone who knows how to grow everything. I had been lamenting the death of a fine cactus inadvertently left on a remote windowsill. Having something come to life in my house was very welcome.

amaryllis

Daffodils in winter. The trees don’t show their green now, but the flowers will flaunt their yellow before long. In China they believe that forcing daffodils in the new year will bring good luck. I’ll put them in dishes on a nest of gravel from my driveway and hope they bloom, hope I have the luck to get good luck.

bulbs

These are some of the strangest looking bulbs I’ve ever seen. They will be mega-daffodils I’m sure. It’s hard not to think of Wordsworth writing in 1804 on the flower:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
   In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
   Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

A touch of the arbor in my living room as 2016 comes on.

4 Comments

Filed under Arborist, Culture, Home, Jean Zimmerman, Nature, New York City, Poetry, Trees, Writers, Writing

Storm Hardening

We live in a wooded area in the Hudson Valley where suburban tracts alternate with stone and clapboard homes tucked into areas of forest. In the middle of October, it dawned on residents along my street and others nearby that Con Edison had arrived and was systematically cutting down swaths of healthy trees along the sides of the road. Not small trees but 50 and 75 year oaks and maples were leveled – “a haircut” in the woods, as Gil said. More like a crew cut.

clear cut

The community got angry, naturally, and meetings took place with Con Ed and with town administrators, who first professed ignorance and then appeared to have give the permission to slice the town right-of-way property. It was too late. The roads are now lined with lopped off trunks and piles of sawdust.

stump

One girl told her mother,”Mom, it’s not the road I grew up on.”

Why did it happen? According to Con Ed, measures were taken to ensure that there was less risk of power outages in the event of a disaster like Superstorm Sandy. They called it “storm hardening.” And it’s true that transformers blow in this area when bad weather hits. We have lived candlelit lives for days. After my neighbors threw a collective fit, Con Ed left messages in mailboxes stating they would soon begin pruning trees rather than felling them and that their “professional foresters follow the International Society of Arboriculture guidelines.”  Not the ISA guidelines I’ve ever heard of. A friend and fellow arborist had a theory: peculation, in other words, grease. Someone gets paid a lot to take down trees.

VisittotheForestwithWoody_cover_th

Woody may look happy, but he is still a stump. When trees come down they don’t come back.

2 Comments

Filed under Arborist, Culture, History, Home, Jean Zimmerman, Nature, Trees, Writers, Writing

The Proper Way to Fold a Sweater

An arborist in winter can’t hibernate, even though it won’t be time to plant or nurture trees until the ground thaws in March. An arborist has got to make a living. And that’s how I wound up as a seasonal sales associate in a Somewhat Fancy Ladies’ Clothing Store in the local mall. I don’t think you could be farther from a grove of cedars than abiding in the canned air, holiday muzak and piles of goods for sale where I find myself day after day.

the-westchester-04

The Zen concept of “beginner’s mind” applies here. If you approach everything with the earnestness of a novice, the world opens itself to you. I’m still so excited to put aside my decades long writerly habit, profession, vocation, avocation, love, and be out in the world. I’m thrilled to learn the proper way of folding a sweater (hint: there’s a special tool for the purpose). Weirdly, I feel that my long years speaking to groups about my books has prepared me to greet customers as they come in the door, looking for a different kind of knowledge, seeking to learn how they can look the best they can. A different kind of selling. What could be closer to the bone? It’s actually an honor to be consulted as I was today by a woman around my age about whether the lavender or grape turtleneck was a better complement to her features. These are the issues of my day, so simple.

display_headless_mannequin_7

Is there shame in it, embarrassment at having descended from the lofty heights of authordom to become a shopgirl — or a shopwoman, as you must say about one of my maturity. The truth is there is no shame in any employment, since there are so many lacking jobs. Many of the women I work with have teenaged kids and no men in their lives, an interesting hardscrabble milieu. I remember when I interviewed Navy jet jocks many years ago they all talked about how valuable it was to be humbled, say by the complexity of the F-14 they flew, and they were some of the most arrogant people in the world. So I guess I’ll take a leaf from them and say that treading the boutique floor is a healthy kind of normal for me, a down to earth slap upside the head for one who has spent a lot of time with that head in the clouds.

So the mannequins and the silk and the glitter of the Somewhat Fancy Ladies’ Clothing Store are my grove of trees for now. I go home more tired than I did after eight hours as an arborist, even though I’m working half days. My mind races when I try to sleep at night, seeing corduroy jeans and good wool jackets doing do-si-dos. It’s a form of truth worth being a part of, peoples’ desire to be beautiful. The leaves and branches and bark will be there in the springtime.

hand tree

5 Comments

Filed under Arborist, Culture, Fashion, Home, Jean Zimmerman, Nature, Publishing, Trees, Writers, Writing