Four years ago during Spring Break for our local schools, I was having lunch with my father, my husband, and our three children at Ruby Foo’s in Times Square. That big round table near the back. Back towards the ladies’ room with the attendant. You know the one. She always turns on the water for you and hands you a towel. And you always feel guilty if you don’t leave her a tip. Just before the entrees arrived, my cell phone rang. It was the mother of one of my eldest daughter’s lacrosse teammates calling to see if we had practice that week. When I told her we were in New York City for the week, she began to regale me with what great bargains she found in purses down on Canal Street.
The first thought that crossed my mind was, “I’m there.” In New York I always feel nickel-and-dimed to death, as with the restroom attendants and every other person who opens the door for you, hails you a cab or takes you on the tourist-trap carriage ride through Central Park. The flip side is the plethora of stores. Macy’s, Bloomingdale’s, Saks, Barney's, Bergdorf Goodman, not to mention the stand-alone designer stores in mid-town and up Madison Avenue. Having perused the wares at several retail stores, I was interested in finding a bargain. But alas, I never made it to Canal Street at all that trip.
The following Christmas I went with my husband to a post-holiday open house at one of his colleague’s. I just happened to plop down in a chair near another woman from the office and her husband. I told them about our trip to New York, the shows that we had seen and the shopping that I hadn’t gotten to but wanted to. You would have thought I’d announced that Osama bin Laden was my godfather! I was told, in no uncertain terms, that the merchandise that is hawked by the vendors along Canal Street is all fake. (That, I knew.) That it is basically stealing from the authentic brands. (That, I knew but didn’t focus on too much.) That buying the fake merchandise from the vendors along Canal Street not only promotes illegal activities but can also go to funding racketeering and even terrorist organizations. (Okay. That bothered me.) I decided then and there that, no matter how much I coveted the latest Gucci or Louis Vuitton handbag, I should wait until I could (if ever) afford to buy it. And then only from the Gucci store or a department store that carries Gucci bags. No supporting terrorists or black marketers, thank you very much.
On subsequent trips to New York, my husband and I drove down Canal Street to Broadway. I looked at the cute purses hanging along the storefront windows and laid out on blankets on the sidewalk. But that picture of Canal Street was from several feet away, and from a moving vehicle. It wasn’t until I took my Girl Scout troop to New York three summers ago that I ever encountered Canal Street up close and personal. I lead twelve fourth-, fifth-, and sixth-grade girls out of a subway stop and right into the middle of chaos. Street vendors were trying to sell videos of movies that hadn’t even opened in the theatres yet. There were my darling Gucci handbags. And Chanel sunglasses. And Rolex watches. But we weren’t there to shop. I was trying to get to Little Italy for a midday gelato-and-pastry snack. And coming up from the subway on an overcast day, I couldn’t tell which way was north to save my life.
So I asked one of the street vendors, “Excuse me, which way is Mulberry Street?”
“Sorry, don’t know,” was the response. Hmm, you’re selling your goods on Canal Street and you don’t even know which way Mulberry Street is?
I asked another, “Which way is Mulberry Street?”
By this time, I was beginning to get a little anxious. Perhaps looking somewhat desperate with all those little girls huddled around me looking desperate too must have melted at least one of the street vendors’ hearts. At least enough for him to whistle at me and nod his head to the left. As I walked past him, I thanked him. Perhaps that was the most genuine thing that I saw on Canal Street that day.
So imagine my surprise when I logged onto my computer the other day. When my front-page website had loaded, I hopped over to MSN and scanned the “Today's Picks”. “Top 10 Cities for Shopaholics” was one of the offerings. Just my thing to read while I took a break with my cup of tea.
“1. Bangkok”, in my dreams. My husband and I are looking at three college tuitions fast approaching. I can’t be blowing money on a shopping spree on the other side of the world.
Two through Five weren’t any more reasonable for me either. Let’s move on to page two and see if there’s anything in the U.S.
“6. Los Angeles,” but it’s on the other side of the country. Might as well go back to Number Five, London.
Aha! “8. New York.” I can take the train for the day, albeit a long day. Let’s see if there’s anything I haven’t heard about.
There, in the first sentence, is Canal Street. Sure, the paragraph mentions other neighborhoods and a wide range of stores. But it actually said the goods along Canal Street were knock-offs. Doesn’t MSN know that those street vendors are skirting the law? Doesn’t MSN care that they are basically advertising an illegal activity? Isn’t MSN the same company as Microsoft? What would Microsoft do if the latest version of their software was laid out on a blanket on Canal Street ready to be gathered up at the corners whenever any possible federal agents walked by? How should I teach my children about what’s right and wrong if one of the largest corporations doesn’t see the harm that they do with a few words in one single sentence?
I suppose I’ll teach my children about drug cartels and terrorist groups. And hope that they’ll buy me a real Gucci handbag someday. Maybe on my way to Bangkok. Well, I can always dream, can’t I?