ALISON, MY 11-year-old granddaughter, phoned the other day and said: “When are you going to take me to buy my earrings?”
She was calling in my IOU. Some months earlier, after a demoralizing resistance, her father had allowed her to have her earlobes pierced.
I had promised casually that I would take her out shopping for a pair of earrings.
Never having had a daughter, I am especially fascinated by my two granddaughters, though I wouldn’t say that they yet hold me in mindless esteem or regard me as a fountain of wisdom.
Alison is petite, pretty and smart. She sometimes gives me intelligence tests, which I routinely fail. There’s usually a trick to them, and its revelation makes me feel gullible as well as stupid.
I had renewed my promise to buy earrings for her several times, but I had never delivered. Now she had me nailed to the wall. I promised to pick her up at home one day at 3:30 p.m.
When I arrived, she was ready. Her mother suggested that we go to the shopping center at Pico and Westwood. “Don’t buy anything too gaudy,” her mother said. “We don’t want her to look like a harlot.”
We drove to the mall. When we walked inside, we were swallowed up in a seemingly endless cornucopia of goods.
We passed a jewelry shop and stopped to study the merchandise in the display windows. A pair of diamond earrings caught my eye.
They were hardly a quarter-inch in diameter. Not too big, I thought. I turned my head to read the little price card. It said $3,250.
“Those are a bit expensive,” I said. She nodded silently. I was glad she agreed.
“Let’s try the May Co.,” I said. It was down at the end of the mall, about two blocks away.
In the May Co., we walked through the cosmetics section, with its ambiance of seductive perfumes. The jewelry section was nearby. Dozens of earrings were displayed in glass cases and on open tables.
I saw a pair in a glass case that seemed modest enough. They were tiny gold hearts with one tiny pearl in each. They were only $24.95. “How do you like those?” I asked her.
“I like them,” she said, not going into ecstasies. She turned around to an open table behind her. “I like those, too,” she said.
She pointed to a pair that looked to me exactly like the diamonds at the jewelry store. They were round and sparkly, cut like diamonds; but they were zircons and only $14.95.
“They’re certainly a lot cheaper than the diamonds,” I said, realizing that I was being swayed by purely monetary values. They were cheaper than the hearts, too.
“Would you rather have the hearts?” I asked magnanimously. “I like them,” she said without great enthusiasm, “but I like these, too,” turning back to the zircons. She knew what she wanted.
We took the zircons. I began looking for an ice cream parlor, thinking that a little tete-a-tete over ice cream would be pleasant. “I know where one is,” she said.
We got into the car and she directed me to a Penguins parlor about two miles away.
It’s amazing how quickly they learn their neighborhoods.
“It’s not really an ice cream parlor,” she said as I parked in the mini-mall. “They sell yogurt, not ice cream.”
I do not love yogurt. But, as Johnny Carson said, “it’s the only live culture we have in Los Angeles.”
We both ordered medium-size dishes at $1.39 each and sat in the parlor, spooning them up in amiable silence. It wasn’t half bad.
When we got back to her house, she opened the jewelry box and showed her mother the earrings. I was rather startled at how dazzling they seemed. Her mother looked me in the eye. I saw her dismay. I knew what she was thinking.
“Oh well,” her mother said. “Maybe she can wear them on special occasions.”
In a minute, Alison had taken the earrings and put them on. She looked sensational.
What’s a grandfather for?