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Good-Enough Gifts For These Recessionary Times

You might think I’m starting off this gift guide with Jack’s 99 Cent Store because the economy is sinking, the Dow is in the toilet, we’re all poor now, blah, blah, blah. But even in far palmier times, I’ve been known to dip into this dive. This is not only because I’m not a snob about shopping (I’ve learned the hard way that your favorite dress is as likely to hail from H&M as from Prada), but also because when it comes to gifts, who wants to waste a lot of money on things you’re not sure anyone wants? (Plus, I hate spending money on other people, so there’s that, too.)

In any case, Jack’s on West 32nd Street, which is bustling even as the boutiques on Madison Avenue stand achingly empty, has the usual strange offerings—along with $2 macramé ponchos and four-foot-high boxes of Cadbury Fingers for $6.99, there is a Christmas stocking decorated with psychedelic flowers that would not be out of place at Barneys, where this season’s holiday theme is the wacky 1960s. The price tag here, however, is a very un-Barneys $2.99.

Next-door at Weber’s, the management appears to turn a blind eye to the amount of broken merchandise that is languishing on the shelves: Mechanical skaters no longer skate; a Mexican boy garden ornament has lost his head (maybe a blessing). Then again, where else would you find stacks of a board game from 2000 called Political Asylum, apparently released by goofy right-wingers? The cover features a caricature of a woman holding a sign that says “I’m Miserable and Proud of It” and a black guy whose placard reads “Rewrite History, Down With Western Culture.” “This is a chance to see what it’s like to be a true liberal!” snarks the box, but, oh, how the mighty have fallen—their smirky game, which might amuse your friends, is now $2, and come January 20, they can sit in their living rooms rolling the dice and trying to figure out what went wrong.

If the above is just too jokey and weird, go over to Jewelry Plaza, on Broadway between 29th and 30th, where the costume baubles are ridiculously inexpensive and not-half-bad-looking, especially if you’re young and drunk. Plastic bangles embedded with rhinestones are $3.50; a pink leopard-print bracelet is $2.25. Strands of large graduated pearls for a faux-Chanel look are $6 (and that includes matching pearl earrings); a single crystal teardrop on a chain is $3.50. A brass peace-symbol pendant, with that crude, hammered, handmade look so popular 40 years ago, is $5.50 and, just to solidify your commitment to the cause, little peace-symbol earrings come along with it.

If someone on your list is as obsessed with recycling as disarmament, Urban Outfitters has a porcelain vessel with a silicone lid that states “I Am Not a Paper Cup,” for $20. (OK, you’re not, but you are kind of pricey.) This place, usually a reliable source for cheap gifts, has this year unfortunately fallen into a vat of scatalogical juvenilia—there’s a Poo Log for $9.95 (it is what you think); for $2 more, you can get the “What’s Your Poo Telling You?” 2009 daily calendar. Remove your head from the bowl and settle for fuzzy plaid slippers, straight out of Jean Shepherd’s A Christmas Story, for $18, or a sock-monkey tree decoration, which I fell in love with despite the fact that, at $8, it is not particularly cheap.

Despite the downturn, there is no need for label-obsessed people to sit this year out. At the Marc Jacobs shop at 385 Bleecker—as opposed to the other 49,000 MJ stores on Bleecker—the draw is the low tariffs, and the success of this gambit can be judged by the line that snakes outside the door every weekend. Inside, there’s a sign on the wall that reads “If you remove the plastic, you own the flip-flop,” which sounds like a Zen koan. Ignore the flip-flops (it’s 30 degrees out, and you don’t know anyone who’s going to the Tropics, do you?), and concentrate on the things that actually say “Marc Jacobs,” as opposed to the anonymous, not deeply interesting goods the shop also offers. Skip the plastic leopard cuff for $10 (didn’t I just see this thing at Jewelry Plaza for $2.25?), and head instead for the $5 heart-shaped red-leather compact, signed “Marc Jacobs”; the “Stinky Rat” keychains for $1 (“Stinky Rat” being Marc’s retail version of “Sasha Fierce”); and even the condom in a package that reads “Remember, Safety First! XXOO Marc Jacobs,” and is a paltry $1.50.

You’d be surprised how interesting the merchandise at Walgreens is, at least at the one on the corner of Cooper Union, where the Astor liquor store was for so many years. (And I don’t just shop here because it’s around the corner from the Voice! I’d come anyway, I swear.) Amid a welter of Christmas items—$1 candy-cane pens that allegedly smell like peppermint, but don’t really; $6.99 musical nutcracker dolls that play “Silent Night” rather than “The Nutcracker Suite” (this disappointment led me to consider the mute nutcrackers, which are only $1.99)—is a purple plastic dreidel that lights up when it spins and plays “The Dreidel Song.” (In truth, this is the only holiday item meant for people like me.) If you care to boost your cheapo presents with the addition of some chocolates, never a bad idea (the same goes for grocery-store flowers), a box of Disney Characters in Chocolate—well, maybe one of the lumps looks a little like Winnie the Pooh (I couldn’t find the price, but how much could this be?)—is conveniently located right next to Walgreens’ house brand of Prilosec ($10.99 for 14 capsules).

Lastly, the vendors on the outskirts of Union Square just can’t seem to get over the ascent of Barack Obama. There are badges, buttons, hats, and tees emblazoned with his lovely face superimposed on a sea of tie-dye, or rendered in glitter, or inscribed variously, “Obama Mama,” “The Dream Fulfilled,” “Victory,” “Yes We Can,” and, most eloquently, the simple “President Obama.” None of these items are very expensive, so indulge while the feeling lasts—by next Christmas, we might well be bitching about how much he sucks.

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One More Reason Not to Shop at Wal-Mart

Of course you’re not shopping at all right now, no one is, but if you were it shouldn’t be at Wal-Mart, where death has been stalking the grim aisles this holiday season — and not just when crowds notoriously trampled a man to death on Black Friday (which is called that because it’s the day retailers’ books reportedly turn from red to black each year, not because a morning of innocent shopping is supposed to end in a funeral).

Now comes word that an alleged shoplifter at a Florida Wal-Mart with $393 worth of merchandise died in the store’s parking lot last week after a struggle with three Wal-Mart workers.

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Good Morning, Shophounds

Three things to do every morning:

1. Turn on Fox Business News, channel 43, to watch the stinking, sinking DOW (I know, I know, FOX is hateful, but they broadcast the bailout hearings live while CNN and MSNBC keep cutting away for stories about cute cats and car crashes);

2. Read Page Six online so you don’t have to give Rupert Murdoch fifty cents; and

3. Call up theshophound.com for the very best reportage (except for my column, that is) on the Manhattan retail scene. Sure, it’s 99 percent bad news these days, but there’s an occasional diamond among the ashes, like the announcement that Housing Works in having a special sale of vintage Yves Saint Laurent fashion on December 11th.

Thanks, fellow hounds!

 

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Doomsday Book — Retail Edition

The first days of winter bring sad news for store lovers — two Manhattan stalwarts are turning to dust. Linda Dresner on Park Avenue, a throwback to the days when personal service and a refined atmosphere were expected if you were spending thousands of dollars, is closing forever on December 13th. Dresner may have stocked cutting-edge labels like Comme des Garcon and D squared, but the ambiance was old-fashioned in the best sense of the word.

And in news that may be closer to Voice readers’ hearts, Love Saves the Day, which has anchored the corner of Seventh Street and Second Avenue for decades, is slated to shutter soon as well. Now where will East Villagers get their Howdy Doody puppets, their eviscerated Barbies, their slightly smelly tutus, their only-a-little-worse-for-wear winter coats?

On the surface, these two shops may have little in common, but they were both unique Manhattan presences and their shared fate is a loss not just to avid shoppers but to the flaneurs who stroll the city’s streets straining for a whisper of difference and distinction above the din of chain stores. (photo via Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York)

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Holiday Storefronts: A Window Shopper’s Guide

Did you know that a billion or so years ago, snow clumped together in a most disgusting manner, and you couldn’t tell the boy flakes from the girl flakes?

Such is the stunning allegation made by Saks Fifth Avenue, where this year’s holiday windows, lavishly funded by the Swarovski Crystal company, tell the uplifting if entirely unsurprising tale of Mike the Little Snowflake That Could—differentiate himself, that is, from the other flakes, mostly by means of a spectacular aureole created from Swarovski sparklers that makes him look like a target of Prop. 8 advocates.

Mike floats, while the other crystals, who appear to hail from the Playskool School of Product Design, sink like lumps, and the hackneyed moral of the tale—”It’s simple. Be yourself!”—is so militantly ecumenical that even the Orthodox Jewish family waiting on line to view these shenanigans is able to enjoy the story. In the last tableau, the Chrysler Building spins in ecstasy and snowy blobs wave placards reading “Snowflake City Loves Mike.” (The moronic crystals may be giddy, but inside Saks, where everything is 70 percent off and they’re selling Juicy Couture handbags out of cardboard boxes on the main floor, things are not so sunny.)

Up the avenue at Bergdorf Goodman, the windows seem to have suffered an assault from Edward Cullen’s Twilight relatives. Everything here is languid and bloodless, if achingly elegant: Surreal clocks hang from a tree in silent homage to Dalí; a mannequin with a bird’s head models an evening fur; an artist in mink jabot and sequined knickers paints a pallid canvas amid rabbits wearing hats. A pair of nymphs dressed in Rodarte and Marchesa teeter over a pond filled with coral and sepulchral fish—have they just checked their sinking portfolios and are contemplating jumping? Around the corner on 58th Street, authentic vintage mannequins include one darling who bears a striking resemblance to the notorious debutante, Diana Mitford. She is playing an accordion while a wolf in a tux accompanies her on a trumpet—is this lupine fiend a veiled reference to Diana’s husband, Oswald Mosley, head of the British Union of Fascists, with whom Mitford spent the World War II years in a British prison, marked as a Nazi collaborator?

If the pale riders at BG wallow in a laudanum stupor, marijuana is the clear drug of choice over at Barneys. “Have a Peace and Love Hippie Holiday!” giggle the windows, which feature a cacophony of ’60s images—peace symbols (it’s the 50th anniversary of that icon, a birthday that Henri Bendel also saw fit to mention a few weeks ago); 40-year-old newspapers with headlines like “Games Are Rocked by Black Power”; and quotes by everyone from Tom Brokaw (“A great gaping chasm opened across the political and cultural landscape of America”) to the pithier Janis Joplin (“I’m one of the regular weird people”). Barney’s indulges in its own brand of surrealism, depicting the numerals “1968” through massive columns made up of, variously, hanging plants with heads, denim covered with sloganed buttons, tie-dye, and a welter of afros with pick combs.

Good old-fashioned booze underlies the festivities at Bloomingdale’s, where the nostalgia-laden windows might have been curated by the invisible hand of Douglas Sirk. Instead of the ’60s, Bloomies is entranced by the cocktail-fueled interregnum between the end of World War II and the gaping chasm Brokaw recalls over at Barneys. Tony Bennett supplies the soundtrack (and, bingo—his new CD, Tony Bennett: A Swingin’ Christmas, is being heavily promoted here), and the windows feature figures that appear to have been purloined from midcentury magazine photos: A GI returns home to a pair of waiting females slaving away in a period kitchen to the strains of “I’ll Be Home for Christmas”; chic women in swing coats and men in tweed chesterfields bustle outside a scale model of Bloomingdale’s (bet I’d like the vintage stuff they’ve got in their miniature shopping bags a lot more than most of the merchandise Bloomingdale’s offers these days).

If that Orthodox Jewish family so enjoying itself at Saks ambles down to Lord & Taylor, they’re in for a rude shock: Here, the theme isn’t snow or surrealism, but unapologetically Christian with a capital C. Each window has a title—”My Favorite Christmas Traditions,” “My Favorite Christmas Songs,” “. . . Cards,” “. . . Treats,” et al. The usual Victorian dolls (I love them, even if L&T does trot the same ones out every year) animate the vitrines, including a family dressed in vintage finery standing outside a replica of the store, which opened in 1914. (They apparently emerged unscathed from the recession of 1908, one of a number of economic cataclysms that have rocked our country in the past, if that makes you feel any better.)

The secular returns with a literal frenzy at Macy’s, where a sign reads “Great Gifts Under $100.” (I’m afraid that won’t help a bit. How about under $10?) Yes, the moth-eaten Miracle on 34th Street windows, that paean to snail mail rolled out every year facing 34th Street, is still here, but so are the mechanical extravaganzas along Broadway. Garishly cheerful as ever, the theme for 2008 is the fantastical underpinnings of some of the season’s predictable traditions—lights, tinsel, etc. “Joy and Hope Are Materials That Make Them Ethereal,” the wall text reads in part, explaining the Rube Goldberg–like machines operated by friendly monsters. Gremlins emerge from a vat labeled “Puffball Juice”; what looks like a giant lavender cotton-candy machine is busy creating snow. (There’s no sign of Mike.) One window, dressed in green, thankfully does not offer the millionth boring lecture on the environment, but instead extols something called “warm and fuzzy Blubble.” (On closer examination, Blubble turns out to be no more compelling than recycling.) The last installment reverts to type, featuring that old geezer with the white beard in the red suit and his docile wife, trimming a tree next to a “Believe Meter.” This contraption is supposed to gauge your faith in Santa, glitter, Blubble, renegade snow flakes, the redemptive power of Tony Bennett, etc., but it could also take the measure of your level of optimism in this strange and harrowing holiday season.

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Wal-Mart Death: Don’t Mourn, Organize

The horrible death of Wal-mart employee Jdimytai Damour at the Green Acres mall in Valley Stream on Black Friday has occasioned all kinds of hand-wringing and teeth-gnashing about consumer greed, but the real blame may lie less in the behavior of a whipped-up crowd than the notoriously worker-unfriendly company that did the whipping.

As Bruce Both, President of United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 1500 rightly asks, “Where were the safety barriers? Where was security? How did store management not see dangerous numbers of customers barreling down on the store in such an unsafe manner?”

Read the union’s full statement here. Queens Councilmember James Gennaro gets the message; he’s introducing a “Doorbuster Bill” to make Wal-Mart and other local retailers take precautions against this kind of nonsense in the future.

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Isn’t Obama a Doll?

I saw Rosa Parks in her underwear. I was looking for Michelle, Sasha, and Malia dolls on the Internet and found myself visiting stardoll.com, which traffics in virtual paper dolls and includes facsimiles of everyone from Angelina Jolie to Zhang Ziyi, but at this point, no Obamas. (For the record, possible ensembles for Parks include a demure blue coat with a stars-and-stripes scarf.)

In fact, I can’t find Obama dolls anywhere. I know times are lean—just yesterday, I got an e-mail that actually suggested toothpaste as a stocking stuffer (“The holidays are a great time to smile . . .”)—but I would think that if anything would fly off the shelves, it would be a quartet of shrunken Obamas.

Is it just too soon for these dolls to hit the stores? Is that the problem? I attempt to contact a number of toy companies, Mattel and Stardoll among them, to find out what’s up. Stardoll gets back to me—they decline to speak to me, but at least they get back to me—but no one else even has the courtesy to reject me. I chalk this up to three possibilities: 1) The companies’ PR departments have been laid off; 2) I am too ridiculously unimportant to be acknowledged; or 3) Legal problems surrounding the manufacture of celebrity dolls is a subject no one cares to discuss with a reporter.

I prefer to go with number three, especially after I do speak with somebody: Bruce Giuliano, a guy who was one of the people responsible for the ascent of Hello Kitty (don’t hate him for that) and who now has his own branding firm. Giuliano confirms that it is indeed a legal quagmire out there: Maybe a Barack doll would be OK, he thinks, since the president is sort of in the public domain, but the ladies are strictly off-limits. Of course, you could produce them without the first family’s permission, but then you might get sued.

In the unlikely event that you could get the Obamas to cooperate, you could just pay them royalties and you’d be fine. (There’s a guy somewhere in California who makes money every time you buy a Marilyn Monroe fly-swatter or beer mug. On the other hand, Giuliano tells me, the heirs of Audrey Hepburn are vociferously protective of her image, which is why you don’t see her elfin presence gracing toilet-paper covers.)

So, Bruce, how come Stardoll can feature everyone from Anna Wintour to Tinkerbell and not get sued? Seems as if you can do whatever you want with other people’s images, as long as you don’t make any money from it. And Stardoll.com does appear to be free (I just spent an hour dressing up Paris and Nicole, and it didn’t cost me a thing). Then again, the site also features something called Stardollars, though I do not understand exactly what you can buy with them. (Ask an eight-year-old.)

Well, if I can’t have an Obama-girl doll, what can I have? I take a stroll through midtown, passing Saks Fifth Avenue, where there is a harrowing sign in the window that reads: “The Gift of Time—Enjoy no interest and no payments for 12 months when you spend $2,000 or more on one receipt, Tuesday, November 11 through Thursday, December 11.” What? Saks is now adopting the come-ons perfected by shady furniture stores on 14th Street? Who says you’ll be in any better shape to pay a year from now? On the other hand, should I just go in and buy a Cartier watch?

“No!” the Kit Kittredge doll shouts from the window of the American Girl store across the street. Kit is one of the store’s “Historical Characters”—she lived during the last economic collapse 75 years ago, and she’s so popular, she was played by Abigail Breslin in a movie last summer. (I saw it. It was good.) Kit’s on the market just when we need her. She even has a book, subtitled “Times are hard during the Great Depression, but Kit finds a way to make Christmas bright and merry.” (I hope it doesn’t include giving people toothpaste.) Plucky Kit, who wants to be a journalist (bad career choice there, hon), now comes not just in the traditional American-girl doll size—18 inches for $90—but in a $22 miniature version, so she can give you lectures from your pocket about canning fruits and making dresses out of flour sacks as you wander around Saks buying stuff you can’t pay for.

What’s this I spy at Toys “R” Us in Times Square, which is blissfully empty on a weekday afternoon? (Well, blissful for me; I don’t think the Toys “R” Us owners are all that thrilled.) It’s a Barbie for President doll, in black and white versions, and only $14.99! The box says, “Turn the White House pink—Vote Barbie for president,” and they are a distinct improvement over the sticky Fairytale Wedding Barbie and Musical Princess Barbie, both of whom, I am sad to say, are here in abundance. More good news in the next aisle: Sharpay and Zeke are going to the prom together. This is a boxed set of two dolls from High School Musical—she’s blonde and appears to be named after a dog; he’s black and has his arm around her—who seem to be dating, and no one cares. (At least I assume they’re dating, since I’ve never seen their show, since I run screaming from anything with “high school” in the title.) Sharpay and Zeke remind me, briefly, of another showbiz couple: If you’re really, really old, you remember that in 1968, Petula Clark (she’s white) merely touched Harry Belafonte’s arm (he’s black) during a musical number on NBC and set off a shameful storm of controversy.

I exit the store just in time to catch the tail end of the elaborate Uniqlo event set up across the street in the Times Square Recruiting Station (a task that may be easier if the new prez keeps his promise to extricate us from unnecessary conflicts). Uniqlo, a Japanese clothing company, has built some kind of elaborate booth its calling a human vending machine and has staffed it with Heat-Techies wearing silver bodysuits who are dancing around and dispensing free Heat-Tech shirts that allegedly retain warmth no matter how cold it is outside.

Just the thing to keep Rosa Parks’s descendants toasty in D.C. on January 20.

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H&M and Comme des Garçons Get Married

Thursday, November 13, 7:05 a.m.: The long-anticipated, unprecedented marriage between the lowbrow H&M and the upscale avant-garde Comme des Garçons has finallybeen consummated! The clothes are in the stores! You can buy them! Even though I have been looking forward to this day for months, it turns out that seven is the absolute earliest I can rouse myself.

8:20 a.m.: I rush through Rockefeller Center on my way to the H&M flagship at 51st and Fifth, walking past the sad clot of people lingering outside the Today show (though this is surely not any sadder than lining up for clothes). I race by a trio of camels, who I believe are extras in the nativity scene at the Radio City Christmas show, but I have no time to confirm this with their keepers—I’m late!

8:23 a.m.: The line snaking around H&M is surprisingly short, though it does extend around the corner and halfway down the block. I guess I was expecting thousands, and there are maybe 200 people here. Two women with clipboards are posted at the side entrance—though they didn’t invite me (why? Why?), it seems as if press can get in early. I sweet-talk my way past them, and now I’m inside, but how to kill a half-hour? There’s no buying until the doors officially open, which is only fair.

8:41 a.m.: Though I have looked at these garments endlessly on the H&M website and even fingered them before, at a press party that H&M had a few weeks ago in a dark place where you could hardly see the clothes—whose idea was that?—their proximity still excites pathetic me. To kill time and justify my early admission, I ask a few dull questions because I’m supposed to be a reporter—um, what time did the first person line up? Around 11:30 last night? Really?—but in truth, I just want to get up close and personal with the merchandise. Two seconds later, I’m admonished for lifting a polka-dot handbag off a peg—”Lynn, do you mind?” I hear a PR person say.

8:52 a.m.: I isolate the things I really want: pleated skirt, spotted cardigans. I notice that these items start at size 32, a foray into extreme teensiness I was previously unaware of. The other members of the fifth estate are watching from the balconies—the place is designed like an 18th-century Panopticon, the famous prison that allowed a single warden to keep his eye on all the inmates at the same time—but I don’t want to leave the main floor. Through the windows, I see a group of amoral people I know hanging around the entrance and planning to rush the door.

8:58 a.m.: The music swells, the doors swing open, and why is my heart pounding so? I feel like a moron. Suddenly, there’s a roar, and the room is engulfed in panicked shoppers. That stuff about locusts is true—a starving horde can literally pick a crop clean in seconds. You blink, and the handbags are gone—every jacket is gone. It’s like smash-and-grab looting, except you have to pay for everything. (On the other hand, unlike the draconian policies at the real Comme des Garçons on West 22nd Street, at H&M you can get a full refund. And you will need to try it all on when you get home—like the stage set for Sartre’s No Exit, like a room where a family is sitting shivah, there are no mirrors anywhere.)

9:12 a.m.: An acquaintance gets into a vicious fight with another customer over a polka-dot scarf, and the ensuing battle has to be broken up by H&M personnel. Someone has recorded the skirmish, and by tonight, it will surface on YouTube.

9:26 a.m.: I have scarfed up scarves, sweaters, wallets, and whatever else flies by me. The store has a rule that you can buy only two of each style. I take this to mean that I must buy two of everything. My aching arms are so full that every time I move, something drops from my pile, and I’m terrified that another vulture will swoop down and pick it up, so I waddle to the cash registers. Too laden to make it to the subway, I’m on the bus heading home by 9:40.

10 a.m.: Am I crazy, or do all these dots look a little cheap in the light? Over a much-needed cup of coffee, I try everything on. Love the pleated skirt, even if it is kind of itchy. Nothing wrong with the scarves and wallets, though their specialness has evaporated and is now confined to their Comme des Garçons/H&M labels. The spotted cardigans, on the other hand, look less like a hard-won Comme des Garçons item than a middle-American sloppy mommy costume, at least on me. Now what do I do? Return them? I fought for them! They’re collectibles!

11:10 a.m.: Go on eBay, and type in “Comme H&M.” There are already hundreds of items up, though the stuff has only been on sale for two hours. The good news: Many polka-dot cardigans are being offered for far beyond their $69.90 original price. The bad news: There are no bids for any of them.

1:10 p.m.: Go back uptown to the other H&M venues to see what’s left. Did I really have to kill myself getting up at the crack of dawn? Yes. At the Lexington Avenue store, the very chic windows are full of Comme, but inside, all that’s left are tons of $200 trench coats—no one seemed to like these at the flagship, either—along with some unwearable backless ballet dresses, and a dull group of shirts and tees.

1:50 p.m.: Trudge back to the flagship in the pouring rain, just to make sure I didn’t miss anything. (Who says I don’t work hard for this column?) The public has certainly spoken: more trenches, more dance dresses, lots of shirts here, too, but that’s about it. I ask a salesman if they’re putting more stuff out, ever. He shakes his head no.

2:28 p.m.: H&M appears to believe that people who shop on 34th Street don’t want wacky Japanese fashion: The branch near Sixth Avenue has nothing but shirts and a single sad trench. The second store, near Penn Station, has even fewer shirts and no coats at all.

4:32 p.m.: Back home. Have now developed a violent dislike for the polka-dot cardigans. Ponder the notion of desire. Why do we always want what we can’t have? Why do we turn so bitterly against things we once so ardently longed for? Wish I knew how to sell on eBay. Alas, it’s the story of my life—I only know how to buy.

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David Fenton’s Revolutionary Photos of Tom Hayden and Bill Ayers, With Caesar Dressing on the Side

I spent last weekend palling around with Bill Ayers. OK, it was actually a photograph of Ayers leading a 1969 Days of Rage march in Chicago, and it was hanging on the wall at the Steven Kasher Gallery, but the sight of it made me feel positively insurrectionary.

I love this gallery because: 1) It specializes in photographs of renegades, radicals, and rebels with the occasional foray into vintage protest posters; 2) It’s around the corner from Comme des Garçons and Balenciaga; and 3) It’s next to the Half King, a bistro that always makes me feel like I am a great undiscovered artist even though I am defeated by a Paint-by-Numbers kit.

The present exhibit at Kasher is called David Fenton: Eye of the Revolution and features the works of the photographer, who began recording street protests while he was still a teenager in the ’60s. I visit the show on Election Day because after I vote, I am so hysterically nervous that I don’t feel like going shopping, a rare condition for me.

The photos on display depict uprisings at Yale and Columbia, Black Panther headquarters, Central Park Be-Ins, and even the occasional foray into the frivolous—one work is entitled “A Naked Protester in the Reflecting Pool at the Honor America Day Smoke-In, Washington, D.C., July 4, 1970.” As I’m looking around, Kasher pops out of his office and reminds me that on Saturday, there’ll be a panel discussion at the gallery to discuss the legacy of the ’60s, featuring none other than Mrs. Bill Ayers, former Weather woman Bernardine Dohrn (no, she didn’t read the forecast on TV—she was a member of a radical underground group); SDS founder and Chicago Seven defendant Tom Hayden; former Black Panther Jamal Joseph, who earned two college degrees during his nine years in prison; and Fenton himself. I hate panel discussions, but the prospect of hearing this crew of iconic ’60s personalities weigh in on the election sounds like it might be a little bit of fun, especially if we win.

We win. When Saturday rolls around, I meet my friend D. at the Half King for a pre-panel Caesar salad with dressing on the side (let’s all lose five pounds between now and the inauguration!). Then it’s off to the gallery, where the principals look surprisingly cute—Dohrn has a perky red bow in her hair; Joseph has a lovely face and a passel of delicate braids; and Hayden is so distinguished you can almost see what Jane Fonda saw in him. Kasher introduces the panel and gets a laugh when he says that if the other team won he thought he might have to cancel the event, since the panelists would have left the country.

Want to know what happens to unreconstructed radicals of a certain age? They become college professors. Joseph is now chair of Columbia University’s Graduate Film Division, Dohrn is a law professor at Northwestern, and Hayden teaches at Occidental College, which means they tend to talk in complete sentences and full paragraphs, which makes me want to squirm in my seat, stare at the clock, doodle, and giggle. Still, it’s hard not to share in their palpable excitement that everything they worked so hard for, and went to prison for, and dreamed of decades ago finally seems to be coming true.

Hayden begins by saying that everybody knows this moment is something special: “Let’s just say it’s historic. The question of what the left will be like will be determined by the Barack Obama movement, the Barack Obama generation. I would much rather be with something that is new, new, new than ever be a part of the old left.” Dohrn talks about being in Grant Park on election night—she and Ayers, as the whole world knows, live in Chicago—and describes the irony of seeing the police discreetly tucked into the far corners of the crowd, so different from the situation 40 years ago, when out-of-control officers caused such mayhem during the infamous Chicago ’68 police riots at the Democratic National Convention.

Then, former Black Panther Joseph talks about being on 125th Street on Tuesday night and overhearing a group of kids partying and one shouting, “We voted, and it worked, yo!” and how touched he was by that. He tells of how the doorman of his building in Harlem stopped him and said, “This is a great day! Don’t let anybody take your joy away!”

After these initial statements, which are not exactly short—these people are college professors; they live to talk—I must admit that my joy, although by no means vanished, is waning somewhat. I distract myself by looking again at the Fenton photos and am particularly taken with a 1969 shot of members of the High School Student Union protesting the Vietnam War. The students are wearing lumberjack plaid, army jackets, floppy hats, Indian shirts, and lots of scarves. None of them would look out of place walking down the street today, and, alas, their “Bring Our Men Home” signs are not antiquated either.

The next day, still basking in the exquisite unreality of President-elect Barack Hussein Obama, I decide to continue my exploration of the ’60s and how that decade fucks with your emotions, even if you were born years after Mayor Richard J. Daley unleashed his Chicago cops in 1968. (Another exquisite irony—you can’t make this stuff up—is that current Chicago mayor and fervent Obama supporter, Richard M. Daley, is the son of Richard J.) I am certainly not alone in this enthusiasm—the windows at Henri Bendel presently salute the 50th anniversary of the peace symbol—their slogan is “Peace is the new black”—and Barneys plans to unveil ’60s-themed holiday windows in a few weeks.

I skip these big stores in favor of a place called Free People, whose very name could have been coined in a squat in Haight-Ashbury during the Summer of Love. I go there because I’m a free person, even though I know this place is meant for shoppers far younger than I (at least its moniker, unlike the dastardly Forever 21, doesn’t throw sand in my face) and because there is a wonderful velvet flapper dress on the racks, a perfect replica of the vintage clothes that people first started wearing in the ’60s. Of course, back then, a ’20s dress was only 40 years old. (Now, an ugly dress with shoulder pads from the ’80s qualifies as a vintage garment, but that’s another story.)

I gear up my courage and try the velvet thing on, in a fitting room that has walls splattered with psychedelic flowers and a thick shag carpet on the floor. My plan is to treat this garment as a top, since, of course, it’s way too small, but who cares? I’m in no mood to let one tiny frock take my joy away.

lyaeger@villagevoice.com

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Lynn Yaeger: About Last Night…

Glorious as it was, engulfed in tears as we were, there are two distinct clouds besmirching the azure horizon — one gigantic, one not so big.

The big one: The apparent loss of the right to marry for all Americans in California. This sad, infuriating development is partially mitigated by the fact that gay marriage will almost certainly become a reality in New York State in the near future as a result of the Democratic victory in Albany. I know this to be the case since David Paterson himself assured me of it — ok, me and a ballroom full of other people — at the Empire State Pride Agenda fall gala at the Sheraton a few weeks ago.

The little one: Michelle’s dress. How unfair is it then men can wear the same old dark suit and never suffer the merest whiff of criticism and women get nailed to the cross for their choices? Must we join our voice to this rising chorus of idiocy? Alas, we must. There was nothing wrong with your TV set last night — that red and black Narciso Rodriguez monstrosity merely looked irradiated. Michelle, usually so flawless, took a wild chance on this one. And yes, it sucked. But on second thought — so what! Think how wonderful it will be to watch her fashion choices, as progressive as her husband’s politics, over the next four years.

God bless Seventh Avenue, and God bless America.