Essay: A Profligate Shopper's Christmas 'Carol' | Essay | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Essay: A Profligate Shopper's Christmas 'Carol'


Published December 4, 2019 at 10:00 a.m.

  • Sarah Cronin

Hello, old friend. It's been a long time since you groped around in my corner of the winter clothes crate. I know you were hoping I might be your favorite pair of running gloves, but — surprise! — it's me, the tam-o'-shanter with whom you had a brief but torrid dalliance three years ago.

Before you cast me into the Goodwill donation bag and go back to pretending that we never happened, I'd like to say a few words as a public service to you and all future tam-o'-shanters that might fall victim to your promiscuous ways.

It's that festive time again, the season of bedecking your archways with boughs of holly, and of abandoning the pursuit of consequential truths — for instance, "Is it morally defensible to reproduce in the face of ecological collapse?" — in favor of more manageable ones, such as "Does this tam-o'-shanter make me look like Rooney Mara in Carol?"

I know that you blame our relationship on the 2015 Todd Haynes movie that contained algorithmically perfect proportions of holiday cheer, Cate Blanchett in gloves and a plaid, pom-pom-garnished hat of mysterious genus. After the first of the three — three! — times you saw Carol, you feverishly googled "rooney mara hat carol," which led you to discover the glorious word "tam-o'-shanter," which then bounced around in your brain like a gnome on a pogo stick.

Maybe, just maybe, if I could only find the right tam, you thought, a stunning older woman will float into my life on a cloud of Hermès and buy me martinis. (You weren't alone in this line of thinking; globally, the number of tam-o'-shanters purchased by lesbians surged after the film's release.)

We met around this time of year at the Madewell in Hanover, where nut-milk-adjacent women between the ages of 21 and 34 adorn themselves in boxy crop tops and jeans high-waisted enough to double as corsets. Your girlfriend trailed you at a ceremonial distance, wearing the pained expression of someone watching a YouTube video of a house cat being mauled by a feral hog.

For a moment, you pawed at a cashmere turtleneck you already knew you wouldn't buy for your mom, you cheap bitch. Then you spotted me on top of one of those creepy faceless head mannequins. You turned to your girlfriend and uttered the words I ached to hear: "Look! It's my favorite shade of ocher!"

You should probably be condemned to some special circle of hell for saying that, along with people who go to "Budapest" and come back from "Budapesht." The truth is that you have a very complex relationship with ocher: It began in your sophomore year of college with a girl we'll call Anna, who volunteered at the organic garden on campus and occasionally wore Carhartt overalls to class. You couldn't figure out whether you wanted to be her or make out with her, but, in any case, that particular shade of Carhartt baby-shit brown suddenly took on an ethereal quality.

(Tragically, it took three more years for you to realize that you had, indeed, wanted to make out with her. But that was no longer actionable, because you had graduated and moved to Philadelphia.)

Anyway, because I am the precise shade of your unfulfilled yearning and vaguely reminiscent of the tam-o'-shanter Rooney Mara wore in Carol, you picked me up and tried me on. Your hair was good that day, and when you looked in the full-length mirror you saw someone with poise, someone who could blithely slap a muffin-shaped object on her head and saunter out the door like, "Why, yes, looking whimsically out of touch is my personal brand."

"I will not be seen with you in that," your girlfriend informed you.

"Yeah, OK," you scoffed, recalling — but not bringing up, because you're not an asshole! — the time she mocked you for spending an exorbitant amount of money on a pair of heeled combat boots. Which she then proceeded to borrow so many times that you suggested she sublease them. Which caused a minor row.

You bought me for the nonrefundable sale price of $40, which seemed a reasonable sum for the fleeting gratification of your most implacable desires. And then, as soon as you inserted your card into the chip reader, an ugly, sinking feeling took hold and you almost blurted out to the cashier, "No! I take it back!" But that would have been inconsistent with your new vibey-hat persona, so you stood there and smiled while the receipt printed and the ticker tape inside your skull flashed: "¡Yikes!"

That's the problem with buying things: They become yours, divested of their infinite aspirational potential and reduced to a number on a slip of paper. A number that corresponds to a certain number of minutes or hours of your labor, raised to the power of the more consequential things to which you might have applied that capital, multiplied by the human and environmental toll of producing that item.

For the cost of a tank of gas, or your share of the weekly grocery budget, or one-fifth of your monthly student-loan bill, or the unquantifiable value of having more as opposed to less money in your checking account, you got an ocher tam-o'-shanter. Wow.

Partly out of self-flagellation, partly because you were still curious about how this thing between us would play in real life, you wore me for the rest of the afternoon. Everything was sort of fine until you went into the bathroom and saw yourself in the mirror and thought, Oh God, I'm wearing a fucking tam-o'-shanter.

Also, no one had remarked on the fact that you were wearing a tam-o'-shanter, which you interpreted to mean that either you were someone who would obviously wear a tam-o'-shanter or someone who looked terrible in a tam-o'-shanter, and you weren't sure which was worse. By the end of the day, when you still hadn't gotten a text from Cate Blanchett, you decided that we were done.

I'd like to note that this behavior is part of an obviously toxic pattern: All year long, you make judicious financial decisions, and then "White Christmas" comes on the radio and rewires your mental circuitry into wanton acquisition mode. This makes you feel guilty, and then sulk into the New Year with a long list of things you'd like to improve about yourself, which really makes you insufferable.

In December 2016, the ankle-length black suede skirt with that weird chevron waistband seemed like a cute enough reason to blow $50 at a thrift shop, until you wore it a couple times and realized that you looked like the treasurer of a coven. A year later, you found a vintage black faux-fur coat that seemed cheerfully Edward Gorey in the dressing room, then became disturbingly Edward Gorey when you wore it later to the grocery store. You haven't been able to look at it since.

This holiday season, you've so far managed to avoid channeling your deranged alter egos in the form of impulsive clothing purchases, but I'd like to point out that, last week, you spent $4.99, plus tax, on essential-oil-infused pine cones from Trader Joe's. Then you realized that you didn't have a seasonally appropriate vessel in which to display them, so you went to Target and bought a wicker basket for $19.99. In total, you spent approximately $27, plus an eighth of a tank of gas, plus your monthly quota of self-respect, just to have scented pine cones in your apartment.

Then you ordered a bunch of beeswax food-storage wrap on Amazon as a present for your girlfriend, and now you think you're basically Greta Thunberg. I'm ashamed to admit that I ever allowed myself to have a crush on you.

Really, you're the worst. But also, call me?

The original print version of this article was headlined "The Hat's Rebuke | A profligate holiday shopper's Christmas Carol"