July 16, 2006

Shopping had been a good experience.

Sitting at my desk, staring at a blank computer screen, I was interrupted by a delightful sound: the ringing phone. There's nothing better than receiving a call in the midst of being unproductive: it's an excuse to take a break.

It was Liza. "Do you want to shop?" she asked. "There's a sale at Bergdorf Goodman - 60% off all shoes." My first inclination was to pass. Shopping for me is a chore. But then again, I needed to get out; the grind of not working was exhausting. So, impulsively, I said: "Sure." Liza couldn't believe it. "You'll come?" She sounded so stunned, you'd think I'd agreed to go skydiving.

Bergdorf Goodman, on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, is like a five-star hotel - as soon as you get through the revolving door, you feel like you're spending money by simply breathing. The air is colder, the linen crisper; everyone is thin and rich with immaculate hair. Liza and I stood there sweating from the humidity outside. If someone had taken a snapshot of that moment, the caption would have read: "What's out of place in this picture?"

We got in the lift with a woman wearing a hat and sunglasses. The brim on her hat was so wide, we barely managed to squeeze in beside her. _Her perfume was like a gas fume - I had to hold my breath to stave off a migraine. Then she pointed her manicured fingernail at the button, saying: "Three, right?" She knew. We had "sale" written all over us.

Whereas the lobby had the atmosphere of a symphony hall, the third floor had the energy of a Madonna concert. Women were in a frenzy trying on designer shoes - the kind of elegant frenzy where $2,000 Herm├ęs bags and all the riches inside them are left unattended so that a Jimmy Choo mule can be tested out.

Having never before tried on a pair of Manolo Blahnik heels, I decided to see what all the fuss was about. I found a pair in my size, sexy black leather stilettos - and they were amazing.

I walked around on the plush carpet and commented to Liza that I couldn't get over how comfortable they were.

"I could wear them all day," I said. But where would I wear them to? My life doesn't live up to the shoes. It's not like I wear sexy stilettos so often I need a really comfortable pair. But as soon as I saw the sticker on the bottom, the decision was made for me: $600 was 60% off? For that price, they should come with a boyfriend and a house on Fifth Avenue. I looked around: women were purchasing boxes of Blahniks as if they were biscuits.

There are certain moments in life where you witness an event or a scene so transformative, you know it will haunt you for ever. This was one of those moments. It was like going to the Antarctic and seeing the effects of global warming first-hand. Face to face with something you don't want to think about. Now, no matter where I am or what I am doing, I'll remember that on the third floor in the Bergdorf Goodman shoe department, there will be frantic women dropping thousands on shoes.

Before leaving, we hit the basement for free samples of an expensive face cream I'll never use. Shopping had been a good experience. I realised that I live with the meaninglessness of life all the time; I just never know how much money I'm saving.