The Stories I Tell ~ from The Word Cellar

Stories. Anecdotes. A free round of words for everyone!

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Location: Pennsylvania, United States

I love stories. I'm the one at social functions with a dozen new anecdotes. But I worry about hogging the conversation. Sometimes I tell myself that I'll be quiet and let others do the talking. But no matter how hard I try, my stories insist on bursting out! Here I can let my stories (the classics that I tell again and again, as well as new ones that unfold along the way) run free. I'm a professional writer and editor, and sole proprietor of The Word Cellar. I write for a variety of publications and clients on everything from green buildings and nuclear reactors to entrepreneurship and the arts. If you need words written, edited, or enlivened, I can help. Contact me.


The Kindness of Unwitting Strangers

I try to pull the dress up over my head, and just as I feared, I'm stuck. It's about 115 degrees in this damn dressing room, I'm sweating, and now I'm stuck in an Isaac Mizrahi dress at Target.

I knew I shouldn't have put it on. It's a shift dress, like an oversized A-line tee shirt, with no zips or buttons or clasps. It was a bit tight on my shoulders on the way down. And I thought to myself: Maybe you shouldn't do this. What if you can't get it off?

If you don't ignore your own advice, whose can you ignore?

I get the skirt of the dress up above the top of my head, but the bodice isn't budging. I feel the fear rise in my chest. I wish there was a more poetic and original way to say that, but at this moment, I am a half-naked cliché. I look toward the ceiling and gulp a breath, trying to force down the anxiety. No good. I'm suddenly sure I will die.

I yank the dress back down and the stiff cotton makes a flapping noise. I stand there for a minute and consider my options.

Cut the dress off. But I don't have scissors.

Call my husband and tell him I'm stuck in a dress and need help. But he's at work about an hour away.

I check my watch, hoping it's close enough to 6:00 to call my mom and have her come rescue me after work. It's only a bit after five. I consider sitting in the dressing room for the next hour, but decide that's not efficient.

It doesn't occur to me to just pay for the dress and wear it home. (My mom's suggestion on the phone later on.)

What does occur to me is that I need to get out of this dress now. Right now. Because the panic? Still ebbing and flowing. Mostly flowing every time I even imagine pulling the dress above my head.

I realize there is only one option left: I choose utter humiliation over sheer terror.

I take as deep a breath as the situation allows and stroll out to the front of the dressing room area. A middle-aged woman is fussing with hangers and cheap summer clothes. I'm glad to see her instead of the younger, perky girl who was there when I went in. This woman is just right: slightly hardened with a cynical edge; looks like a smoker. Clearly a woman who has seen a lot of things and isn't easily fazed.

I walk straight to the counter. There's no backing out now. "Hi," I say, giving her my most sincere I-swear-I'm-not-crazy smile. "I need your help. I'm claustrophobic, and can't get this dress off over my head. I'm about to have a full blown panic attack. Would you be able to help me pull it off? I know it's awkward, but I figure it's better than me freaking out."

I remain disturbingly chipper throughout this little monologue. The woman doesn't seem to have much reaction. It's almost like I just asked her to get me something in a different size. See? I knew she'd be unfazed.

We walk back toward the dressing room and she asks, "Where do you want to do this?"

"Um, I'm in this room, but I don't think we'll both fit. Maybe we could use the handicapped room there. It looks bigger."

She nixes that idea and suggests that I stand in the open doorway of my dressing room while she stands in the hallway. I briefly wonder if she thinks that I'm running some kind of scam whereby I lure unsuspecting discount chain store employees into dressing rooms to beat them and steal their little vests or nametags. But she has a good unspoken point: I don't want to be in such close quarters while a stranger undresses me. So although I'm not too keen on flashing any other passers-by, I've reached the point of no return.

I'm standing eye to eye with her, and she says, "Do you want to turn around?"

I give her another sincere look and say, "I'm really sorry to put you in this situation."

I turn around and pull the bottom of the dress up to my shoulders. She grabs it and pulls it the rest of the way over my head. I have just a split millisecond of panic as it gets hung up on my ears, but suddenly the dress is off. I'm standing there in my bra and gutchies, and I'm free!

As she walks away with the dress, she calls back, "Oh, did you want this?"

Um, no.


add to kirtsy | 12:57 AM


Blogger Nix Sidhe said...

Oh dear sweet lord! What a frustrating situation. Thank you for writing about it though. If i had been in the dressing room I would have been happy to help. :)

6/17/2008 6:32 AM  
Blogger Melissa B. said...

omg... that is hysterical! Been there, done that just haven't blogged about it (yet!). :-) Love the picture choice too!

6/17/2008 9:25 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Oh, did you want this?"...You should of said then, "No I wanted your vest but you did not fall for the old let us go into the handicap room trick! Darn you smart Target employees!"

6/17/2008 11:23 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very funny. Great punch line.

6/18/2008 10:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

one of my mom and i's most hysterical memories is me being trapped in some god-awful beaded frock in macy's. thank god she was there...i love that you asked the lady, i can only imagine the self-control it took not to totally lose it.

6/19/2008 2:08 AM  
Anonymous Lisa said...

This is absolutely hilarious! Only you - *you* - could tell a story like this. I am smiling and laughing and chuckling and shaking my head. Too incredibly funny, my dear. Thanks sooooo much for sharing.

I very much needed this today, as I'm guilty of taking myself and the world way to seriously these days. :-0

6/19/2008 9:51 AM  
Blogger Swirly said...

I have had to do the exact same thing! Such terror!

6/19/2008 10:15 AM  
Blogger bella said...

oh my god.
I was laughing and feeling my own panic rise just thinking about it.
What a horror of a moment.
Great writing. :)
I enjoyed this side of you, reading this slice of your life.

6/20/2008 11:59 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great story, jenn! I was locked into a dressing room at a Woolworth's when I was a teenager and my mother walked around the store shouting "Help!". I tried to commit suicide by cutting my wrists with the dress tag rather than have o be rescued by a smirking sales person, but those tags aren't as sharp as you may think! I laughed and then shuddered at your predicament- claustrophobia isn't funny- asking the sales clerk was brave-I guess I laughed because otherwise I would've cried.
Great post!

6/21/2008 8:49 PM  

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