Shop Worn


This whole thing thing started with a rotten pair of panty hose. I mean this in the most literal sense. It progressed to a broken shoe, revisiting a broken heart and spun out of control at 30,000 feet into full-fledged melancholy about turning 59. Yep, I said it, secret’s out.

So, today’s my birthday. Happy Birthday to me. I’m glad I was born. But recent days have been fraught with menacing little jabs, reminding me that officially starting today, I have one more year to get r’ done. I have 365 days left in my self-proclaimed Decade of Literary Arrival and the baby is overdue.

But, back to the panty hose. I had a cute, little tan skirt and blue sweater I wanted to wear last week.  I knew I had a pair of navy hose somewhere to go with the navy pumps I pulled out from the back of the closet. Hadn’t worn them in a while. They were dusty and covered in dog hair, like most things in my house.

Found the hose, laid out my clothes, took a shower, make-up, hair, the normal routine. I pulled the unworn stockings out of the Hanes cellophane wrapper, sat on the side of the bed and begrudgingly submitted to their confines one leg at a time. But when I shimmied them the rest of the way up, the elastic waistband disintegrated. It fell apart, becoming a kind of loose ruffle around my waist. I’m not that fat. They’re just that old. It was 7:36, I had to be at my client’s office by 8:00. I figured the waistband of my skirt would hold up the stockings, much like an Elly May Clampett’s rope around her waist.

I get to my corporate consulting gig and I’m all stressed out. I’m riding up in the elevator, envisioning my hose coming down, before I reach the 11th floor, forcing me to waddle into the office, my stockings around my ankles. Instead, I step off the elevator and my heel crumbles. Yep, the plastic cap that goes inside the heel of a square-heeled pump (now back in fashion) disintegrated as well. More precisely half of it did, leaving bits of black, crumbled hard plastic in the elevator, in the hallway and half of a jagged heel cap still stuck in my shoe, which caught on the rug, which I tripped on, leading to a near-fatal pratfall, shortly before I opened the frosted, corporate glass doors. Way to make an entrance, dude.

This reminds me of the Fair Western Wear Store in Albuquerque. It was within walking distance of my house back in the 70s, when blue chambray shirts were the rage and they had a whole window display full of them. My mom and I stopped in one day to buy one, seeing how I was a big hippie and I needed a blue chambray shirt to go with my moccasins. The only one they had in my size was in the window. The nice sales clerk went to fetch it. She climbed down from the display and unwrapped the shirt from the cardboard. It had been faded by the sun at every fold. Shop worn. God only knows how long that shirt had been sitting in the window. The Fair Western Wear Store was obviously not getting enough foot traffic.

Fast forward 35 years and in a scene from  No Country for Old Men, Josh Brolin walks into that very same store, (I am telling you, nothing has changed) in his cowboy boots and his butt hanging out of the back of a hospital gown, similar to the way I felt stepping off the elevator with my panty hose falling down.

So, last night I am ruminating about all of this seemingly unrelated, tattered and expired ridiculousness on a flight back from Dallas, after having driven by Cavendar’s Boot City, where I resisted the temptation to stop and pick up a new pair of Lucchese boots, since I just spent $300 on new corporate attire. This makes me grouchy. Combine that with a brutally long consulting day, a couple of drinks at 30,000 feet, a text from my most recent ex-boyfriend, on top of being the eve of my 59th birthday, and well, I was leaning my head against the window, looking at the rapidly fading sunset and it was all beginning to feel like this ain’t no country for old women either.

Do you ever feel that way? Like you’ve gone past your “sell-by” date? When you get down to bare-bones honesty, do you ever feel find yourself saying, “who in the hell am I fooling? I will never accomplish these dreams, I’m just a damn fool.” That’s where I landed last night.

Jean Whatley - BabyThen, today, a prescient gift from my grandfather, Booker, surfaces 59 years to the day since it was first delivered. He had no idea of the shelf life. On the day I was born, Booker came to see his brand-new granddaughter at St. Francis Memorial Hospital in San Francisco. He looked at me through the glass window of the newborn nursery before he went to see my mother, who was still groggy from the overdose of laughing gas that had knocked her clean out when she was giving birth. That’s how they did it back then. She hadn’t even seen me yet. Her father filed the first report.

“She looks just like Archie Moore, Bub.” He called her “Bub.” My mother started crying.

It wasn’t until I wrote Off the Leash that I researched this cute, family folktale and learned that Archie Moore is still considered one of the greatest light-heavyweight champions of all time. He scored 140 knockouts in a career that spanned 27 years. In 228 recorded bouts, Archie Moore was stopped only seven times and he never lost  his crown in the ring. His nickname was the “Ageless Warrior.”

So, in a week where I’m feeling a bit vulnerable, a bit knocked down by decrepit clothes, yammering day job deadlines, a reunion with a former fella, a birthday looming large and literary goals yet to achieve, I defer to the wisdom of my late brother Garrett, who in his profound and cockeyed view of life, once remarked, “You come to a point in your life where you realize you’re never gonna be a rock star, or an astronaut, or a professional athlete, but everything else is still possible.”

Still possible. Think about that for just one minute.
It’s still possible.

I step back into the ring. Today and every day. I step back into the ring, an ageless warrior.

About Jean Ellen Whatley

Writer. Dreamer. Sometimes schemer. Journalist/memoirist/observer and sometimes constructive irritant. Prisoner of demon muses. Mother to four humans and two dogs. In my spare time, I delete phone numbers of former boyfriends.

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  1. Jean–If you haven’t ever gone skydiving, I think you should. It would be a perfect birthday present to yourself. There is an indescribable freedom as you look up AND down—and all you see is sky. (And you’re facing death and thumbing your nose at it. ;)

    Happy birthday. You’re a classic.

    • I’ve already faced death and thumbed my nose at it. He was a toothless process server,in a John Deere baseball cap, with a “deputy” sheriff’s badge around his neck with a summons to appear in court for a past due Capital One account. I didn’t show.

  2. Oh, I forgot to say: You can do a tandem jump, where you’re hooked onto a jump instructor. It might be a cute guy!

  3. Sue Brown says:

    Might just be the best one yet! Loved it. Sue

  4. Looooooved this !

  5. Garrett was one smart dude. I am a few years behind you but just as aware of the ticking clock. Screw the clock. Our dreams are stll possible.