*One Pay at a Time

I recently let my head go and bought a brand-new book entitled Spent: Memoirs of a Shopping Addict by the spectacularly named Avis Cardella. I was drawn to this work because if there’s one thing I enjoy, it’s a meaty tale about a woman spending like a loon, and ending up surrounded by snowdrifts of bills that are not only unpaid but are in envelopes that she has been too terrified even to open. The excellent Christina Schwarz novel All is Vanity, about two females ruining their lives through misplaced ambition and excessive spending respectively, I’ve turned to often in order to give myself a lift of the spirits, in the way that others might turn to the Bible. Imagine my excitement then, when I spied Spent, a true-life account of this spellbinding predicament. My excitement did, though, leave me with no choice but to go against my every usual instinct and pay the full retail price for what is a rather slender volume.

I cracked through Spent, partly, of course, because of its abovementioned willowiness and partly because it is a straightforward tale. Cardella herself was raised in a family of straitened means, much like Charlie Sheen in the original Wall Street, and, as she came to womanhood, bought vast quantities of clothes, got herself into vast quantities of debt, and eventually got herself out of trouble through the revolutionary approach of actually paying her bills. While I frankly would have preferred less analysis of Cardella’s psychology and more accounts of calls from collection agencies, the only thing about Spent that really gave me grief was the author’s addiction to fancying up her life story with what sound to me like highly inexact similes. She describes herself as ‘dropping down on one knee like a knight’ to open a shoebox, when I’m willing to bet she was dropping down on one knee in the manner of any normal human being in the nineteen seventies. Similarly, she claims she lifted out a shoe ‘as if it were a small, delicate bird’, when, no doubt, she actually lifted it out as though it were the footwear it was. By the time Cardella tucks a shoplifted shirt to her chest ‘as if it were a precious, delicate kitten’ and arrives at a back porch ‘like a stray dog’, I was starting to worry I had in fact squandered my hard-earned notes on a repackaged All Creatures Great and Small.

Despite her florid chestbeating, Cardella should, in my opinion, be wholeheartedly congratulating herself on the fact that at least old-time stars such as Joan Crawford would approve of her rigorous standards of dress and grooming, something that I could never claim for myself. As I sit around the house in elastic-waisted pants, a hoodie and in footwear that calls itself ‘Hoodies For Your Feet’, I often quail at the thought of what Joan would have to say about it all, given that she was, of course, a noted perfectionist when it came to matters of personal appearance and her work as a dramatic actress. While all this burning commitment didn’t necessarily pay off in terms of the work, I frankly admire the discipline involved in Crawford’s ‘always wear makeup even to the market’ ethos, although I’m sure she, rightly, wouldn’t have been caught dead in any market. I’ve never forgotten the sight of Joan in the great film When Ladies Meet doing the gardening in a gingham pinafore with matching hat and gloves, a vision made still more enchanting by the knowledge that this was probably exactly how she dressed at home. Joan would only have worn anything resembling a jogging suit were she actually jogging, and probably jogging at three in the morning, no less. I was startled when watching the ‘Hollywood Royalty’ DVD edition of Mommie Dearest to see that the outfit that Faye Dunaway wears when depicting Joan Crawford hard at work examining her maids’ cleaning (leading her to exclaim, ‘Helga, when you polish the floor, you have to move the tree!’) is a thousand times more ‘smart’ than anything you’d see me wearing even to an interview for my dream job.

Similarly, if the Frank Sinatra of 1960 had been able to ride in a time machine (which would, no doubt, have been plentifully stocked with booze and amenable ‘broads’) and see the world as it is in 2010, I can’t imagine he would be too pleased at the sight of modern-day man wearing big shorts and little wool hats, not to mention sporting scruffy backpacks. Mind you, I feel strongly that, fashion-wise, everyone got a free ride from 1960 to 1965. I’m not just talking about superstars like Dusty Springfield (who would go on to ruin herself with frizzy hair and glittering pantsuits), whose later apparel showed how sartorially babysat they were simply by having been adults in the first half of the sixties, I’m talking about even the humblest audience member at The Cavern. It seems that, with the possible exception of Ena Sharples, every person alive in those five years looked better than I ever will.

So, while in my time I’ve had addictions to everything from chocolate Space Food Sticks to Class of ’74, shopping addiction has so far eluded me. Lord knows, it isn’t that I’m poorly dressed and ill groomed because I have more important things to think about; I do not. It’s more that I can’t bear all that’s involved: the dashing between department stores (which I patronise instead of boutiques in order to ensure minimal human interaction) while chugging down a smoothie with a stupid name like ‘Very, Very Berry Mega Super Dooper Booster’, which is both embarrassing to order and, I know, will resemble a liquefied Smurf; and, once I’ve reached my destination, sweatily trying on clothes that, if they are sedate, make me look like the unloved younger sister in Picnic, screaming ‘Madge is the pretty one!’, or, if they are more flamboyant, make me look like a prostitute servicing the First Fleet in The Timeless Land. Grooming-wise, I go about with locks that need cutting and eyelashes that need tinting because I dread being at the hairdressers and bumping into things, through being as confused as a cat by the mirrored walls; or lying on my back at the beauty salon and again having to sit through the speech about how much time I’ll save because I’ve been relieved of the crushing burden of applying mascara. While I’m sure that this particular observation is made with the best of intentions, what do these people really think I’m going to be accomplishing in this much-vaunted time, which would equate to about ten seconds a day?

So, the reality is that I’m just too slothful and ill tempered to have anything like the Princess Diana variety of shopping addiction. This is a shame, as it would have been one of the more attractive addictions I could have struggled with, in the same way that while it may not exactly be desirable to be addicted to cocaine, at least it’s a drug that seems to lead to productivity and is associated with one’s life being on the upswing. If I’d been a Cardella-type of stylish shopaholic, not only would I now have a wardrobe of clothes of a later vintage than the period in time when The Block was the talk of the nation, my shelf would not be groaning with ‘bargain’ buys such as The Essential Boom Crash Opera and the, deservedly uncelebrated, Jeremy Piven pre-Entourage and Sherilyn Fenn post Twin Peaks flick, Just Write.

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