So many of you told me that the story of my beleaguered ex-husband resonated with your own marital mishaps, that I will recount more examples of ways I tortured Alec in our twenty-four year union.
When we moved to Charlotte from Connecticut, I was a smelly fish out of water. One of the things I loved most about Connecticut was the casual attire everyone wore. A measure of your wealth and status was the shabbiness of your clothing. Since I was a stay-at-home mom then, I looked like I had just crawled out of bed most of the time, so people probably thought I was an heiress.
Alec worked for a department store chain owned by May Company, a giant chain, which was celebrating its successful year. All the management wives were shopping for fabulous gowns and shoes to outdo each other at the party at the Plaza Hotel in NYC. The company president’s wife outdid everyone in the room. She was the daughter of the CEO of May Company as well as wife of the store president. And she wore a madras wrap skirt and a polo shirt to the ball.
The idea was to outdo each other not by wearing expensive designer clothes, but by showing you didn’t need to impress anyone. My good friend Lisa wore a tweed blazer one day when we were having coffee. She asked me what I thought of the blazer, and I told her that I thought it was lovely. “But does it look too new?” she demanded.
“Maybe you could scuff up the elbows a little before you wear it in public,” I suggested, not totally understanding her, but wanting to be supportive. As I am basically a mess, I fit in well in that climate. The holes in my sweaters made me look unpretentious.
Charlotte was a totally different story. Everyone dressed to the nines at all times, wore clothes they could barely afford, and drove only luxury cars. Early on I was invited to join a garden club and showed up at the meeting wearing gardening clothes. Wrong!! Everyone else was dressed in conservative suits, silk blouses with bows at the neck, and pantyhose, even though the temperature outside was in the nineties with lots of humidity. I was blackballed from the club.
Alec invited me one day to join him for lunch in the store’s restaurant. I wore a madras wrap skirt and a polo shirt that were at least clean. Wrong!! Alec told me that if I didn’t have anything nicer to wear, I shouldn’t show my face in the store. He even offered to release the lock and key he had on the credit card so I could go shopping and buy some “appropriate clothes.”
Eventually I managed to find a few outfits that helped me to blend in better, but I still noticed that when I shopped in the nicer shops in Myers Park, a salesgirl would follow me around. Once I was at Alec’s store in Southpark Mall and asked to see something that was in a showcase, and the snooty salesgirl said, “I can show this only to someone who could afford to pay for it.” I did get her reprimanded on the spot.
Similarly, the principal at Country Day once told me that I needed to change my appearance. “If families visit and see you with that hair and those Birkenstocks, they won’t want their children to enroll here.”
I thought he was joking and so I responded, “But if they see you in that emerald green polyester blazer you wear, they will head straight for Charlotte Latin.” He wasn’t kidding and he wasn’t amused.
But it wasn’t just my clothing that was a problem in Charlotte. I seemed to constantly put my foot in my mouth. Was it because I was a plain-speaker from New England or was I just tactless? Probably the latter. We were invited to the home of the company CEO to have dinner and to admire the newly redecorated home. As you know, I have definite ideas about what I like, and I must say, I didn’t like their taste at all. This was the eighties and people were using a lot of chintz and plaids, and this decorator took that look to a new level. I am not good about lying so I just kept my thoughts to myself. Finally we were taken into the library, and I loved the bookcases built on every wall, filled with old books. I looked admiringly at the books and took one of my favorite titles from the shelf. “Have you read this one?” I asked the hostess. “I love this book!”
“Of course not!” she responded. “The decorator selected these books because the match the pattern on the sofa. We haven’t read any of them!”
“Oh my God!” I snapped thoughtlessly, “That’s a travesty!”
She was pretty mad, and the next day, Alec was given notice that his job had been terminated. He insists that the timing was a coincidence because the company had been bought out, but I’m not so sure.