Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Good China

When I was seven years old, the mini-mall on the corner of Pico and Westwood Boulevards was torn down and the Westside Pavilion went up in its place. At the western end of this new retail palace was a department store my mom had never heard of before called Nordstrom. I was in need of a dress for my First Communion, so we walked the three blocks over there the day after it opened.

Everything seemed so fancy-- the marble floors, the guy in a tuxedo playing standards on a grand piano next to the escalators, the sequined gowns that hung underneath signs that said "Armani" and "St. John." Over in the kids' section, my mom pulled a pink satin dress off a rack and held it up to me. Looked like it would be a perfect fit. Before letting me try it on, however, she glanced at the price tag.

"Only $28? That can't be right," she said.

"No mommy, that says $228."

Most of the color drained from my mother's face as she immediately re-racked the dress, took my hand, and led me toward the escalator.

That 25-year old moment came back to me only a few minutes ago as I scrolled through an old friend's wedding registry. And when I say old, I mean old. I've known her since before I had to look for that First Communion dress.

I always get a little antsy and bitter when I have to buy wedding gifts, even when they are for people I genuinely care about. As much as we love each other and as long as we've been together, Pauly and I don't plan on getting married. It's not something we need to do, though sometimes we joke around about how we should just do it "for the stuff." Then again, we're not people obsessed with stuff; he especially turns anxious when confronted with how many material things he's acquired since "domesticating" in L.A.

But sometimes, the selfish side of me wonders what it would be like to have dishes and sets of towels that matched.

I didn't think people bought "good china" anymore. These days, it seems like a quaint notion straight out of an episode of Mad Men. When our friends come over for a meal, we eat on a hodgepodge of white Target and IKEA plates and I'm pretty sure no one knows the difference. My parents have "good china" that they got at their wedding more than thirty years ago, and mostly it collects dust in the dining room cabinet. I thought the good china might have been one of those old-fashioned ideas my generation declared ridiculous, like smoking indoors or abstinence before marriage. But after scrolling through my old friend's Bloomingdale's registry, I discovered one thing and remembered another.

1. I guess people still buy "good china," or at least ask for it when they get married.

2. I went to private school with rich people.

The plates are Italian-made, bone-white with a wide silver trim. A perfect blend of classy and arty, just like her. She requested ten and still needed ten. I clicked the quantity arrow to "10" and hit "add to bag."

When the next page popped up I was catapulted back to Nordstrom in 1985. Those plates weren't $90 for all ten. They were $90 each. With tax and shipping, the price tag cracked four figures. For dinner plates. The matching serving bowl is $245 if you're curious.

If I told my mother about the plates, she'd ask me why I was so surprised. "They're loaded," I can hear her saying, her New Jersey accent sliding in on the long vowels. And she's right. Ellie's parents have to be blowing six figures on this wedding. The least they can hope for is that some of their Beverly Hills douchebag friends at least hook their daughter up with some dishes.

Further down the list, I noticed Ellie had registered for the same stainless steel Cuisinart 550 coffeemaker that I use every morning to brew the warm caffeinated nectar that keeps me conscious in the morning hours. I deleted the good china from my cart and added it instead.