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Dangerous Fashions

By Ray Lesser

It’s not easy being beautiful. In fact, sometimes being on the cutting edge of fashion can be downright dangerous. For example, this news story was reported last month:

“Thirty-four people at a Texas Bank of America call center were rushed to the hospital after reporting dizziness and shortness of breath, and 110 were treated at the scene. A carbon monoxide leak was first suspected, but it turned out that a perfume sprayed in the area by a worker was to blame. Investigators offered no word on what brand to avoid in the future.”

I’m not sure that perfume buyers would want to avoid this fragrance, if they knew what it was. In fact, it may be performing exactly as advertised. “Take their breath away! Make them dizzy with Danger, the latest mystery fragrance from Fly By Night Enterprises.”

We recently had our own fashion odyssey in Paris, where Sue and I were visiting our friend Marta, who is an artist and designer. Paris is probably the most stylish city in the world and everyone there seems to have their own uniquely flattering look. The shop clerks are the best-looking clerks in the world. The bicyclists are the best-looking bicyclists. Even the bums are the best-looking bums I’ve ever seen.

For me, just watching people unload from the subway was as good as watching models walk down the runway at a designer fashion show. The styles, colors, cuts, and accessories were unlike anything I’ve ever witnessed waiting for the bus in Cleveland, where I’m usually happy to see that people still have clothes to wear, and that in most cases they cover up as much of the owners’ bodies as possible.

In Paris, on the other hand, people look like they’re on break from the set of some really hip independent movie. The sidewalk cafes are filled with such beautifully put-together people that you just want to try to sit near them all day, drinking coffee and breathing their second-hand smoke and hoping that a little bit of their cool will rub off on you.

Paris is also filled with boutiques where all the latest fashions are just hanging on the racks, waiting to try on. With Marta as guide and translator, Sue could not resist the allure of some of these shops, and wound up purchasing several new outfits. However, immediately after buying them, these new fashions caused a major problem. “Credit card declined? Why was my credit card declined?”

“I’m sorry, you’ll have to call your credit card company and ask them that,” said the very fashionable lady at the shop, just before I gave her almost all the Euros I had left in my wallet.

Sue was livid. After pushing many buttons and listening to several minutes of soothing recorded long-distance messages from the U.S. (at $2 a minute), she finally was connected to a Certified Fraud Specialist. “I’m calling to find out why you put a hold on our credit card.”

“I’m sorry, but first I need you to answer a few questions in order to identify yourself. What bank do you have your checking account with?”

“I’m not sure anymore. They keep merging and changing their name every few months. Then, didn’t I just read that their CEO was under indictment?”

“OK, that’s correct. Now, can you tell me your driver’s license number.”

“I’m not driving my car. I’m in Paris. I’m shopping! Anyway, if you’re worried that someone may have stolen my wallet, mightn’t they also have stolen my driver’s license?”

“Hmmm. That’s a good point. So you’re admitting that you’re not who you say you are?”

“No, I just want you to turn my credit card back on again. Why did you turn it off in the first place?”

“Well, there’s been some unusual activity on your account. Ordinarily, we see purchases for dental cleanings, children’s school supplies, and occasionally an oil change. But recently someone has been buying designer dresses in Paris, so we thought we should put a stop to it immediately.”

“You’re right, I’ve never done this before. This is the trip of a lifetime, and I’ve been getting some fantastic clothes, and I want to go and get more before my time is up. I’m nowhere near my credit limit. What is the problem?”

“How much more do you think you’re going to spend?”

“What are you, my father?”

“Listen, lady, we’re just looking out for your best interests. We have a very sophisticated computer program here to detect aberrant behavior, and you fit the profile. Fine, go ahead and blow your money on a lot of sophisticated fashions that nobody in Cleveland will even understand. See if we care. Oh, but you might want to cut back a little on the champagne drinking. Sometimes that can lead to poor judgment.”

We’re back home now, and Sue’s outfits are so fabulous that when she puts them on, everything she says suddenly sounds French to my brain, which is very confusing because I don’t understand French. We’ve taken to going to the outdoor cafe here, which is a coffee shop that has some picnic tables out by the parking lot, where we watch cars pull in and out of the spaces for the drugstore next door. But when I look at Sue, I can imagine that I’m still back with all the beautiful people in France, trying to cram my way onto a subway car filled with the dizzying fragrance of a Paris summer.

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