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  Ellen Davignon: Lives of Quiet Desperation

Getting It Together in the Altogether

March 15, 2004

Ok, everybody, I want a show of hands.

How many of you mended your underwear before you dressed this morning?† Iím talking needle and thread, here, not safety pin, string or twist of haywire.† How many of you mended underwear this week? So far this year?† How many of you have never mended underwear in your life?† A-hah!† Maybe they were right, those nice folks who wrote the article I just read, about the market for disposable undergarments.

They said that some people never wear the same pair of underdrawers more than once; that many discard theirs after only a few wearings (and launderings, I would hope, although the article did not make that clear;) that most jettison their unmentionables at the first sign of a pulled thread or worn elastic.† My mouth dropped open when I read that.† When the elastic starts to get a little slack?† To me, thatís when the old gotch just start getting good.

I stitched up a pair of panties on the sewing machine this morning, sitting in my altogether on a cold wooden chair, puffing little clouds of vapour into the coolth of the storeroom, which doubles, or triples, or moreples, as a sewing-ironing-potting room and gift-wrap area.† I felt virtuous.† Alright, I felt pretty damned chilly and for a† moment I considered pulling the ratty old velour housecoat over my voluptuous gellidity.† Nah, I thought, Iím so good at this it will only take me a few minutes.† And it did just take a few minutes to run up the seam on the side of the awful, ancient Antron step-ins.† But when I was finished, I remembered that my favourite old bra, the 18-hour miracle of modern engineering with its Spandex power net and the whippy wire coils, also needed a little help and I had to do a number on it, as well.†

Friends, you have to know that it was just a tad nippy-tucky in the hypothermia department before I was decently covered and ready for my day.

Iíve just got to sit down and order some new nethergarments.

Not that my outerwear is all that wonderful, either.† After putting on my much-mended pants and bra, I dressed in what I like to call my Grace Metalius mode: old blue Reebok sweatshirt with the lacey cuffs, stretched-out neck and multi-mends, and a pair of bleached out jeans that are frayed to mid-calf and held together with zig-zag stitches and prayer.† I once saw a picture of Grace on the back of a paperback. She was wearing a sweatshirt and jeans and sat hunched over her smoke-filled typewriter, probably contemplating her next rape scene.† The picture struck a responsive chord and I always thought that since I, too, wore jeans and grubbies when I wrote, then someday, well, you know, that just maybe that one of my Desperate Lives might well turn into a Peyton Place sort of thing.† After all, I had the uniform.† Turns out I didnít have the imagination. Too bad.

But I digress.

I guess what Iím trying to say is that fashion never struck me more than a glancing blow.† Oh, I can recognize whatís in and what isnít, and I can appreciate the finer points of apparel: the excellent fabrics, the sleek lines, the accessories, the whole theater, if you will, of haute couture.† I just donít let it get in the way of getting dressed in the morning.

But I want you to understand, itís not that Iím cheap or one step away from being over the hill to the poorhouse.† Itís that I simply donít care.† If it fits, I wear it.† After itís been mended, of course.

On the other hand, there are some little things I am fanatical about, thereby revealing a narrow streak of quality in my makeup.† My wardrobe may look like it came from the nice people at Goodwill but I donít own a pair of shoes that cost under a hundred dollars.† I would not carry a plastic purse or briefcase.† My gloves set me back fifty-four dollars nearly ten years ago.† And when I needed to get reading glasses, the only ones I really liked were at least twice as expensive as my second choice.

Funny about those glasses.

I have always enjoyed wonderful eyesight and Iím confident that I always will.† The world, however, is rapidly going pot all around me.† Printsetters, for instance, are getting sloppy, their work blurry and imprecise.† Where once a 60-Watt bulb would do, now I find it must be replaced with a 100W or even 150W to provide the same amount of illumination.† And we wonít even begin to discuss how the thread manufacturers have prevailed upon the needle-makers to reduce the size of the holes, thereby enabling them (the THREAD companies, arenít you paying attention?!) to make and sell finer thread which, in turn, costs more than the coarser varieties.† Small objects in my own home tend to find new and better places to be without so much as a change of address card and supermarkets quite regularly change their shelving arrangements without a thought to continuity or their customers.† To hell in a handbasket, I swear!

Getting back to the glassesÖTo cope with a rapidly deteriorating quality control, I resigned myself, a while ago, to getting spectacles.† They are neat little half-glasses that sit on the end of my nose and make a semi-humourous statement; that cost almost twice as much as my fall wardrobe; and that I can never find when I need them, anyway.

ďWhy donít you get a chain for the damn things?Ē my son grumbles after spending half a morning helping me look.

I recoiled in horror.† ďWhat,Ē I exclaimed. ďand become like Sophia on the Golden Girls?Ē

Shortly after that exchange, I realized that I had, instead, become my mother, going around patting the top of the microwave, behind the TV, inquiring plaintively if anyone had seen my glassesÖĒI had them just a moment ago and now theyíre goneÖĒ and offering increasingly extravagant rewards for their successful return to the end of my nose.

So now I go around with my half-glasses dangling by a classy leather cord that cost nearly as much as the new bra that Iíll be ordering one of these days when I get around to it (or when that last line of zigzags holding the old one together finally gives up the ghost and spills my bounty forth into the bemused view of God and everyone else, whichever comes first.)†† The glasses are nearly always right close to hand now and serve another purpose as well.† Hanging there by their stems, they also serve as a mini-bib, keeping my shirt tidy and catching morsels of food destined otherwise for my lap.† Of course, now they are perpetually in dire need of cleaning.† And mending, because they are forever being crushed between my bosom and whatever it comes in contact with in the course of a day.† And the good Lord knows, some days it would appear that I lead with it.† Them.† Whatever.

But I can handle that, the cleaning and the mending.† Often, itís finding the Kleenex and the Crazy Glue that defeats me.

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