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Thursday, December 18

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Detour

This all started as my quest to create the ultimate holiday puff-piece for Gapers Block. I'll admit it: I wanted my piece to be the cashmere Christmas stocking of the site this season. I will not be ashamed.

Instead, I now fear the Macy's Wish Fairy will lose her job.

It's an especially odd Christmas tale: One of rumored eating disorders, taffeta costuming, the memories of past generations, shopping, drinking, eating, familial meals and misunderstandings, and even of controversial corporate takeovers.

Perhaps you've visited our setting: Hundreds of crystal chandeliers cast a million-menorah-candle's-worth of forgiving seasonal light across a bustling dining room. Predominantly white families of shoppers, complete with overweight mothers, fathers and tantrum-prone children, shovel spoonfuls of the store's classic chicken pot pie into their mouths. Waiters hurriedly cater to each white-clothed table. Some servers are youthful and swimming in poorly fitted tuxedos. Others have an established and mature air about them, and fill their uniforms well. Children squeal or shriek. Some are thrilled by the grandiose Christmas tree on display, encased in a fiberboard village painted with glitter, others are simply cranky with shopping exhaustion.

Amidst the chaos of gift-seekers, the tiniest of fairies soothes children of all ages. She gracefully floats from table to table, swimming in her powder blue taffeta gown, fragile bones weighed down with heavy tiara, dangling Diamonique earrings and — around the sharp and protruding edges of her collarbone — matching Diamonique choker. She is fair yet rosy-skinned, and dark-haired, as if cast in the role of Snow White. The Fairy's path is interrupted only by the store's newest addition: The Walnut Room's wine bar. The wine bar, in essence, is really just a long, regal table. Rumored by employees to have cost Macy's $100,000 and also rumored to be made of plain veneer, the bar seats approximately 40 and elegantly splits the room into two sections. An accidental hierarchy of mature wine patrons and a ground floor of common families and familial disruptions are each instantly enforced. To first-time visitors, the Walnut Room is Macy's treasure. To seasoned shoppers, the room still belongs to Marshall Field's. To our Wish Fairy — who has worked the room, granting wishes and sprinkling "angel dust" on the heads of both Marshall Field's Patrons and Macy's shoppers over the past three Christmas seasons, the room is a stage. And yes. She really calls it angel dust. You can't make this stuff up, people.


photo by circulating.

"Have you figured out why everyone's always trying to buy her lunch, yet?" A generously proportioned waiter serving patrons at the long table approaches me. He has noticed my observation of the Wish Fairy, and is not the first to comment on the girl's skeletal figure. I have been in the room only twice this season, and have heard her referred to as "Anna" with a wink — a reference to her rumored anorexia, amidst other crude comments. I watch as she nearly completes yet another sprinkling of wish-dust with ballet dancer grace and Broadway enthusiasm, and note the girl's fragile frame. Indeed, she is tiny, I think. But what fairy isn't?

A manager of the Walnut Room, distinctive in her lack-of-tux, says, "She's great. She's really theatrical, like a little actress. The way she incorporates the little girls, asking them if they're future princesses or queens."

Indeed, the Wish Fairy does take her role seriously. I am seated at the wine bar, across from an elderly foursome of two gentlemen and two ladies. One woman, sporting aged blue teeth nearly the color of the Fairy's dress and a tuft of well groomed white hair remarks sees the Fairy and remarks, "I remember coming to Marshall Field's as a little girl with my mother. Back then it was Aunt Holly and Uncle Mistletoe. I was so excited to meet Aunt Holly."

The Wish Fairy, as if on cue, approaches.

"Hello little girls and boys," she coos. "I think we have some true Queens on our hands, here." She smiles at the two older women.

Her satin gloved fingers grasp at a pinch of sparkling dust from her silver dish, and slowly she gestures to each couple. By the end of the ordeal, the group is thoroughly charmed and covered in glitter, the men trying in vain to remove the sparkles from their hats and coats.

"So was she better than Aunt Holly?" I ask.

"She's so young," the elderly woman replies, "but she's cute."

"She's no Aunt Holly!" her energetic gentleman friend fires out, still attempting to wipe the glitter from his brow. The group breaks into polite laughter as they notice the other adults in the room, equally dismayed with their angel dust covered faces.

A Marshall Field's neophyte — I moved to Chicago at the close of our last holiday season — I'm curious to know what else has changed since the Macy's takeover. I ask our waiter.

"You hear a lot of complaints. But about normal things, like the wait. There's always a wait in the Walnut Room. But people take it out on the store and say 'This would never happen at Marshall Field's.'"

"You hear those complaints all the time." The tuxless manager chimes in.

An obtrusively sloshed but friendly blonde woman in her 30s leans over and brings us back to our observation of those in the room. "You think the Fairy is entertaining? Wait 'til you see the suburban wives. It's fucking unreal."

She lets out a cackle, and re-tells her previous Walnut Room observations from seasons past. "You see all these people, so into the holiday thing, you know? They come in to pose in front of the tree, with their matching scarves, and their matching sweaters. And there's this one family, you wouldn't believe it. They're all in matching sweaters, with fucking snowflakes on them, no really, snowflakes. How classic is that? And they're waiting for their meal, and everyone is served, right? But the wife doesn't get silverware. She fucking lost it. I have never seen such a normal looking woman fume that way. She was just sitting there, rubbing her hands together, she looked like a vein was going to explode out of her face! Over silverware! That's some holiday cheer, right there. That's the kind of thing that makes this place great. The crazies in matching outfits. Jesus Christ."

And she's right. The dysfunctional family vibe runs high amidst cheerier holiday well-wishers. Shopping brings the best out of us, hm? The smiling Fairy hurriedly floats by as more wine is poured for our blonde friend — a reminder of all things fuzzy and warm and supposedly Christmas-like.

Although our meeting — for my aforementioned holiday puff-piece — has been planned, the Fairy is literally swarmed at times, and swishes her layers of satin and taffeta to each table in a tizzy. I am informed that she's not only the smallest Fairy Macy's or Marshall Field's has seen in years, but also possibly the hardest working woman in Chicago show business.

"She works seven days a week," one flustered waiter informs me as he and his coworkers rush to wrap up a lunch rush. "She's pretty hard to nail down."

As a compromise, I offer to email the Fairy a brief questionnaire, and simply observe her ways from a distance later in the week. Mondays, apparently, are a slow day for wishes. I exit, and leave the Wish Fairy's magical Yahoo account full of inquiries on Macy's-now and Marshall Field's-then, her life outside of wishes, and a few holiday themed questions about what she's wishing for this season.

Macy's wasn't so into that.

"She's going to have to talk to our PR people about this," a Walnut Room floor manager informs me. "Macy's is a big corporation, you know? She could get fired for this." Naturally, I never heard from the illusive Fairy again. Be it her busy schedule, or her rigid corporate gig, I was granted no access in response to questions like "Do you have a closet full of dresses? If you work seven days a week, when do you wash the costume?" Hmph.

And while I'd hate to be viewed as just another bitching patron of the Walnut Room — I truly enjoy its ambiance, patrons, and lively staff — I just have to wonder if you're all thinking what I am...

"This would never happen at Marshall Field's."

 

About the Author(s)

Auriane de Rudder moved to Chicago from Baltimore. She does not have syphilis or a drug habit, nor does she watch "The Wire." She is eerily fond of hotdogs, and constantly references meat products while dancing, writing and nine-to-fiving her way through life. An avid consumer of free cocktails, Auriane holds down a lushy and coveted spot as a staff writer for Chicago's MyOpenBar.com.

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