Ralph Lauren’s Cheap Black Book



Neighborhood: Upper East Side

photo by ajay_suresh

It felt glorious to look at Edward standing on the corner of Madison, knowing this would be the last time I’d have to look at him for a week. As he hugged me, the steam rising from the gutters around us seemed neither tawdry nor romantic, but ordinary. 

“I have a gift for you honey,” Edward said, surprising me, and I was happy until I opened it and saw it was a lousy book, called, The Little Black Dress.

“Edward, this is so nice, thank you.” 

“Well,” he smiled. 

“I mean, gosh Edward,” I stared at the stupid book, “What made you get this for me?” 

“Well honey I just saw it and,” you could see him looking for the answer, a look that said I’m lying, I didn’t really buy her this book, someone gave it to me, but thought I could get bonus points after backing out of getting a blow job yesterday if I give her a present.

The only thing remotely appealing about that book was the fact it was still in the plastic wrap, so that I could return it. 

Bon Voyage!

I started down Madison where the rich people were out and about. I had my army bag on my back and was dressed in blue sweatpants, gray hoodie, and my ripped orange Bronco’s cap, but I felt great. I had money in my pocket, and every now and then I’d reach in, feel it, then slide the bills out and look at the faces on them. 

I stared at older men all along Madison— tan men, men with wrinkles, dapper men. The men did not look at me. I was in sneakers and walking fast. My walk was not queenly. I wished I’d been decked out like the Nikki Beach clad girls with their bags and designer sunglasses who were on the Avenue. It really is a culture up here on Madison. It’s like entering another country, where if you are not rich in gold and reflecting diamonds, you might as well just sit down and die. 

And Ralph Lauren is the worst.

Because let me tell you if I felt like a crumb between Edward’s sheets this morning…

“Ohhh!” It was actually quite embarrassing. I pushed open the front door to the Ralph Lauren Mansion so hard—not realizing there was a man on the other side, doing his job, by opening the door. “So sorry,” I said as I fell into the store. “Quite alright madam, are you alright?” The doorman extended a hand. 

“Perfect. Yes. Thank you.” I adjusted my hat and army bag then trotted through the dark store. It really is dark in there. The lights are low, and the air is so thin that it’s like standing on the wing of an airplane, with no wind. 

“Hi. Excuse me, do you sell books here?” I asked the short salesman folding ties. 

“Fourth Floor.” He resumed folding. 

“Thank you.” I stood by the wooden elevator and looked around. Lots of cashmere and ties. The rugs were thin, Oriental. Many cases with many displays and a miniature silver roadster car I would have bought for Stanley in a nanosecond if it wasn’t seventeen thousand dollars. Inside the elevator I encountered women with strange posture and hair that did not move, carrying purses that looked like alligators.  They pretended not to look at me. 

That is what rich people do. They have built-in sensors to eliminate anyone either not in their family or of their ranking. I tried to smile anyway. And when the elevator doors opened, I said, “Excuse me,” but still they did not notice. Instead, they looked sideways, almost annoyed that my voice was polluting the sanctity of Ralph Lauren’s flagship store. I headed straight to the big book table on floor four to look for my book. I wanted to see how much it cost, or if it was even there. I mean for all I knew Edward’s gift of a book was so small (and useless) it could have come free with a purchase. 

But oh, wow, I perused…there were many books and some were quite interesting. None however (much to my dismay) bore any resemblance to the piece of crap in my bag. 

I scanned the room for the most unattractive sales associate I could find (so I would feel better about myself when I presented my question about returning this ridiculous gift). Thankfully, there was an older, heavyset woman, someone who looked like she might kindly appreciate me returning this sad little black dress book

“Hello,” I put my hand up.

“Yes.” She carried a trundle of swatches. 

“Could you please tell me,” I said, as quietly as possible…and I proceeded to remove my sack from my shoulder, set it on the froofy white Ralph Lauren bearskin rug, and look for that tiny book while every employee’s head shot up like a school of dolphins being fed sardines. 

Don’t worry. Got it!

“Do you have this book?” I was turning red, the screaming in my head asking myself why was I there, what was I doing? It was a cheap book, this whole thing was stupid. These people hate me, and they’re probably going to call the police. 

“Yes. I believe we do.” She took the book from me, and then handed it to the best-looking man I’d ever seen. 

“And just what would you like to do with that?” He curved his hip.  

“Well,” my voice shook, “I’d like to return it.” 

Oh.” He looked at it. “Do you have a receipt?” 

“No, it was a gift,” I told him. The man sighed then rolled his eyes and brought me over to a computer. “Name of purchaser please.” 

“Beaumont.”  Saying Edward’s last name out loud, I suddenly felt bad, returning his cheap gift. I watched the man’s fingers tap into the computer. I mean what if Edward finds out I returned the book? What would he think? He’d never give me another cheap gift as long as I lived. 

“Address,” the man was obviously irritated at my small exchange, wasting his precious (Ralph Lauren) time for such paltriness. 

“21 East Seventy-seventh.” 

The man turned, acrimoniously. “Does he have a residence in Athens as well?” 

I wish. 


“How about Sicily?” 


“St. Barts?”

“Just New York,” I stated, “maybe it’s under his mother’s name, she’s in Santa Barbara.” “First name,” the man said. I felt like saying what is this a game? I didn’t steal the book okay, all I want is my credit so I can get something I like. 

“Well, I don’t see anything,” the man huffily huffed, before asking me if I wanted to exchange it for something. 

“Yes (great, exactly), thank you,” I smiled, then added, “I’m sorry, but how much was that book.” He stared at the back of the book and pointed to where I should have had the smarts to look. 

“Eighteen-ninety-five.” The words bit the air. Edward, you cheap unforgivable bastard. I did a quick sweep of the room—what in god’s name would cost that little at Ralph Lauren? 

I picked up a white pillowcase. $410. I put down the pillowcase. I picked up a pen, $75; a coaster, $81 dollars… People were looking at me. Women with children, and husbands, and lives. Women who would probably be going out later, dressing up, drinking.

“Actually sir, I’m sorry could I just get a store credit, I don’t really have time to find something right now.” 

It would take me days, maybe weeks, possibly a year, to comb through the store for the cheapest item in there, aside from that goddamn book. I will now, at some point in my life have to go back into that store and find something that cheap. The moral of the story is I should have just kept it.


Elizabeth Schoettle is an artist and a writer, living in New York City. libbyschoettle.com/about She is currently working on her first memoir about her life as an artist. 

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§ One Response to “Ralph Lauren’s Cheap Black Book”

  • Kelly Kreth says:

    So good! If you are a woman and lived in NYC long enough, you’ve dated an Edward…

§ Leave a Reply

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