Don't Give, It Only Discourages Them

JANET HELLER

April 19, 1991|By JANET HELLER

It is no fun being mistaken for a baglady in Manhattan. Thenext time I visit the city I shall borrow a fur coat, wear simulated gold in my ears and carry nothing but a purse. It is better to be mistaken for a woman of affluence.

I arrived in the Big Apple wearing a vintage down coat that made me look like a bulky Muscovite, woolen stockings for warmth, and Nikes. If women working in corporate offices can wear Nikes, I reasoned, why not a visitor from Maryland? Of course, professionals in skirts hurrying along city streets usually clutch expensive leather attache cases, and their intense expressions speak of high-powered mergers and acquisitions.

I, too, was into acquisitions, the kind one makes on the Lower East Side. Down there it is a cash-and-carry operation. ''This ain't Bergdorf's, lady,'' one of them explained. ''Bargains I got, United Parcel I don't.'' So I toted a quantity of large parcels uptown where I planned to meet a friend in front of Henri Bendel's elegant new Fifth Avenue store.

I was early and there was no place to sit and wait. The doorman at Bendel's eyed me suspiciously as I hung around, so I walked over to St. Thomas's Episcopal Church and plunked myself and my parcels down on the stairs in front of the house of God. The picture I must have presented to the world going by didn't occur to me until a woman about my age, fearlessly swathed in mink and carrying an endangered-species handbag, dropped a dollar in my lap and hurried off.

Mortified, I immediately got to my feet, wishing desperately that I had worn at least a smart cloth coat. Mayor Dinkins is going to receive an impassioned plea urging that lockers be placed in the lobbies of uptown buildings to enable day visitors to store packages until their departure.

Looking sleek in a fake fur, my friend was waiting in front of Bendel's. She eyed me up and down with a bemused smile. ''You look like an overweight immigrant just off the boat with all those parcels and that ridiculous coat,'' she observed, touching a raw nerve. ''I'm the daughter of an immigrant,'' I responded testily, ''you can't take the old world out of me.''

We marched inside to admire the newly restored Lalique windows. I gave the dollar to the doorman.

Janet Heller writes from Baltimore.

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