Thursday, January 1, 2015

"Stopping by Brooklyn Industries on a Lonely Evening" by Abigail Beshkin - 2014 Brooklyn Non-Fiction Prize Finalist

2014 Brooklyn Non-Fiction Prize Finalist 


Stopping by Brooklyn Industries on a Lonely Evening


Abigail Beshkin

While switching over my closet from summer to winter recently, I was pleased to bring back into wardrobe circulation a dress I’d bought exactly four years ago after a wine tasting at a bar called Brook Vin in Park Slope. Actually, it hadn’t been a tasting so much as a full-on drinking, okay, gulping, the pours getting more generous, the crowd getting rowdier and less interested in varietals and finishes as the afternoon went on. When I had finally stood up I’d been way, way drunker than I’d thought.

 It was Sunday, and dusk. I was four months post-breakup with the guy for whom I’d moved to New York, and who had left me just weeks after movers unloaded my couch and deposited my boxes in an apartment that may have been in Windsor Terrace but more likely was in Kensington, across the street from the stables. I had signed up for this wine tasting as a way to show myself and anyone who cared (which seemed like an astonishingly small group) that I was moving on. But now I felt even worse.

I stood on the corner of Ninth Street and Seventh Avenue. Ten years ago I had lived in Park Slope but it had been a different place then—less frenetic, and far less expensive. Now, back in New York, I couldn’t even come close to affording the neighborhood. I stood on the corner, surrounded by brownstones in which I imagined, was quite certain actually, that happy, loving couples were cooking dinner in bright, cozy kitchens, pouring themselves glasses of wine (not that I needed any more of that) and putting their kids to bed. Just behind those doors was the life I desperately wanted and had believed up until just a few short weeks ago, that I would have.

Drunk. Lonely. Naturally, I decided to go shopping.

 I made my way to the closest store, the Brooklyn Industries across the street. I stood for a few minutes, absentmindedly looking through piles of cardigans and sliding hangers across racks to glance at hoodies and skirts.

 A woman came up to me. She was tiny, with a bright blonde pixie cut and red lipstick. The manager. I recognized her from a previous, more sober shopping trip.

“I have a dress that would look amazing on you,” she said, and handed me a brown corduroy shirt-dress with bronze buttons and a wide belt. Something amazing on me? The way I’d been feeling I couldn’t imagine anything less plausible. I took the hanger and examined the dress skeptically. “It’s much cuter on,” she insisted. And it was. I ventured out of the dressing room to examine myself in the big mirror in the middle of the store, and also to show off the dress a bit. “I really like it,” I said, surprised, and possibly, if I remember correctly, doing a little twirl in the mirror. How drunk was I?

Next, she took down a denim jacket, cinched at the waist but with a ruffle at the bottom. “It’s such a Melinda Gordon jacket,” she said.


“Melinda Gordon. You know, from Ghost Whisperer?” I didn’t know that show, which surprised me, because since the breakup I had delved with abandon into what I thought was every terrible TV show produced in the last decade. For hours, I had watched a posse of teenagers try to figure out if they were actually from outer space, on Roswell. I had watched every gruesome plastic surgery procedure on Nip/Tuck. How had I missed Ghost Whisperer?

She proceeded to sum up the show, which starred Jennifer Love Hewitt as an antiques-shop owner who could also communicate with ghosts. We segued into talking about other guilty-pleasure TV shows, then movies, then music.

Her colleague came over and joined us. I stood there in the brown corduroy dress, which I now thought of as mine, though I hadn't paid for it, chatting away. I could hear myself slurring slightly, but I didn't care. An hour slipped away, then more, and the loneliness ebbed. Like those lucky people in their brownstones, I had people to beat back the Sunday night blues with too.

Without hesitating, I bought the dress. Sure, alcohol tends to make me shop, and tell myself things like 'Hey, at least I'm not getting drunk then binge-eating or sleeping with random guys. But also—I’d been in there all evening, and the salespeople had been so nice to me. How could I leave without buying something? I went home, Brooklyn Industries shopping bag in hand, and promptly added Ghost Whisperer to my Netflix queue.

But a couple days later, now sober, something nagged at me. Maybe the people who worked in Brooklyn Industries had just been trying to make a weekend quota, and I, the drunken customer, was an easy mark. Maybe I had become one of those people who resorted to babbling to a captive retail audience. To the lonely, a $75 dress was a small price to pay for someone to talk to on a Sunday evening. For weeks, I avoided the dress, afraid I’d put it on and see I’d made a colossal mistake, my shame compounded by the fact that I could only return it for store credit.

I was relieved when I tried it on sober, and found it actually looked good. If that was true, then maybe it was also true that I hadn’t made a total idiot of myself at Brooklyn Industries. And if that were the case, maybe I would make it through this and make a life for myself--maybe different than the brownstone one, but a good life, nonetheless--in Brooklyn. I was further reassured by a longtime New Yorker I know who put it this way: “In New York, the relationships you make with the people you see all the time—like in restaurants and stores, are some of the most important you’ll have in the city.”

 Over the next few months I learned this is indeed true. Out running errands in the neighborhood, I would stop into Brooklyn Industries and the manager would seem as happy to see me as I had been to see her that Sunday. She thanked me for recommending Friday Night Lights. I learned that her husband owned a coffee shop in the neighborhood and that she was from Alabama. I explained how I’d come to be marooned in New York. Mostly we talked TV, movies, music. On at least one weekend, shopping at Brooklyn Industries was the most social thing I did, and on Monday, when someone at work asked how my weekend was, I answered, “Oh, fine just hung out with a friend. You know.” I made a couple more visits, bought a few more outfits. Then slowly I got my act together enough, made new friends to do things with, reconnected with some old ones, and stopped going on drunken shopping trips.

 One time I stopped in to Brooklyn Industries, and my friend told me she’d taken another job and would be managing a different store, this one in Manhattan. I congratulated her, of course, but was deeply disappointed. We traded emails but didn’t stay in touch, and I gradually found myself shopping more at other stores in the neighborhood. Since she left I’ve bought a couple things at Brooklyn Industries, but I’ve had a credit there for more than three years and every time I go in to spend it—I don’t know. I never really find anything. Nothing really speaks to me.

No comments:

Post a Comment