by Judy Gruen
All I wanted was an elegant pair of salt and pepper shakers. The trouble was, the pair I thought I wanted was at Nieman-Marcus in Beverly Hills — a city only two miles from my home, but atmospherically it is as distant as Jupiter.
I changed into something a little more upscale to avoid the possibility of my not being allowed into Nieman-Marcus in the first place. After all, even Target shoppers have our dignity. I was unnerved to be in a store where merchandise is displayed like museum artifacts, with miles of airspace between each garment or handbag. That much excess real estate just screams “expensive.” I’m much more at home in stores where the stuff is jammed so tightly together you need a crowbar to pry the sweaters apart on the rack. I also love the proletariat pleasure of laughing at the originally marked prices on the tags, which all have red lines crossed through them. You can’t do that at Neiman-Marcus.
When I saw that the salt and pepper shakers were not a match for my china, I decided to troll the neighborhood anyway, just for a look-see. Sauntering down the street, I saw a posse of paparazzi anxiously holding their cameras aloft, all angling for a photo of some target at a restaurant across the street.
“Who are you looking at?” I asked one of the photographers.
“Phoebe Price,” he said.
“Never heard of her,” I answered, thinking that unemployment around here must be even worse than I thought if so many able-bodied guys were all hanging out in Beverly Hills to try to sell a photo of someone who isn’t even that famous.
My feeling that I was a stranger in a strange land increased as I walked past stores like Gucci, Prada, Escada, Valentino, Armani, Versace, Dior, Cartier and Tiffany. This wasn’t only because I had a sinking feeling I would not find salt and pepper shakers for under $500 when I didn’t want to spend more than $50, but I seemed to be the only woman on the streets (aside from three middle aged Asian tourists) who wasn’t a size zero, wearing skinny jeans and stiletto heels, and who wasn’t walking a dog the size of a breakfast muffin on a rhinestone-studded leash. Or were they diamonds?
I never feel this way when I’m shopping at Target, I grumbled silently. Even dressed up and donning my hippest-looking dark sunglasses, I could not overcome the distinct feeling that I was completely out of place in this zip code that boasted the highest ratio of Botox injections per capita in the nation. After striking out at the second store also, I headed back to my car, and saw that the paparazzi were still staked out at the restaurant. Now they were jumping around like a band of excited kindergarteners, snapping photos up close at that Phoebe what’s-her-name. I couldn’t believe it. I asked another of the photographers, “What is the deal with this person, anyway?”
“Her name is Paris Hilton,” he explained patiently, as if to a slow child. I wouldn’t blame him if he thought I had been dropped down from a corn field in the middle of Amish country. “She had a reality TV show,” he said, having quickly summed up her professional achievements. “Today’s her birthday, and she’s sitting over there,” he said, pointing to one of several thin, interchangeable blondes. Who could tell them apart, especially when they were sitting in the shade of the restaurant?
Even I had heard of Paris Hilton, though as far as I could tell, she was only famous for being famous and fatuous, a very common combination in Hollywood. I peered across the street at the gaggle of Cartier-carrying, Armani-armed young women, and wondered if they were all having salad for lunch, no dressing, to maintain their emaciated chic figures. I also wondered if the guy who was looking for Phoebe Price realized he was missing the big tabloid scoop.
This episode made me very happy that great fame as a writer has continued to elude me. I would hate to have people hanging around waiting to take my picture, especially at lunch. If I had a spinach salad and a bit got stuck in my teeth, it could be on the cover of People magazine! And if I ordered dessert, the media would speculate that I had let myself go, even if I still didn’t weigh enough to give blood. Although I came home still salt and pepper shaker-less, I did come home with something more satisfying, and cheaper: gratitude that I am not now nor will ever be a likely target for underemployed paparazzi in Beverly Hills.
Judy Gruen’s latest book is The Women’s Daily Irony Supplement. She is now shopping for her salt and pepper shakers online.