Terry McMillan Finds Her New York Oasis

By LAURA M. HOLSON

“Wow, how times have changed,” said Terry McMillan as she gazed at a yacht floating in the Hudson River along Lower Manhattan. “There used to be rats down here. I’m not into rats.”

Ms. McMillan, 64, was in New York for a day to promote her latest novel about a woman seeking to reinvent herself, “I Almost Forgot About You.” She became famous in the 1990s for strong female characters in books like “Waiting to Exhale” and “How Stella Got Her Groove Back.”

Now, she lives in Pasadena, Calif. But she spent earlier years at Columbia University when, she said, she rarely came downtown. On a recent Wednesday, though, she had a few hours to spare until her appearance on “The Daily Show” that night.

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Ms. McMillan likes to shop, and gasped when she walked into Brookfield Place, a palatial glass and metal indoor mall near the World Trade Center. Palm trees stand sentry in a large atrium as sculpted birds float overhead. “It feels like London,” she said. “Or Paris.”

A toddler walked by and stared. Ms. McMillan cackled and laughed, a wide grin splitting her face in two. The boy clapped. “I’m a baby whisperer,” she said. “Did you see how he looked at me and smiled? They know when you like them. Like puppies.”

She passed the window at Salvatore Ferragamo. “You really have to be gainfully employed to shop here,” she said. She pointed at her tangerine purse. “This is from Target — $39.99. Those over there? $1,000.” Her fitted black dress came from a shop in New Orleans called Trashy Diva. “Every time I go there, I buy something,” she said.

Accessories are an obsession. “I wear hats when I’m not wearing a fake bun,” she said, pointing at a globe of burnished red curls atop her head. She said she owns about 40 hats. “Every time I go to Paris, London, Covent Garden, it’s hats.” And leather gloves. “I have orange, yellow, a pair of mustard suede, purple, hot pink.”

Another young boy walked by in a black polo shirt, his skin the color of cream and coffee. “Oh, look at that,” she said, pointing and staring at the boy. “Is he decked out or what?” He scowled at Ms. McMillan and reached for his mother. “‘Uh, uh, mama, Negro,’” said Ms. McMillan, laughing. “Do you see how he grabbed her hand? Never mind. We are both brown.”

She saw Vince, a favorite store, ahead. “I’m not buying anything,” she said. Still, she perused a rack of monochrome tops before landing on a winter white cashmere sweater. “I like this,” she said, looking at the tag.

It was extra small, but sized more like a medium. “Is this for skinny people?” she asked the clerk. The clerk said no. “Why don’t they put a large out here?” Ms. McMillan asked. “These people kill me. I hate that.” She decided to buy the extra small anyway. It cost $321.18.

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As she handed the clerk her credit card, she admired the young woman’s curls. “I like your hair,” Ms. McMillan said. “Can I touch it?” The clerk said no. “Why?” she asked. “Because I’m not a petting zoo,” the clerk replied.

Ms. McMillan demurred: “I didn’t mean it that way. I apologize. I’m black and I know better.” Later, Ms. McMillan said, “I thought she would be flattered.”

The author left the mall and marveled at a manicured baseball field next to the West Side Highway. Her thoughts turned to President Obama. “For the most part he did the best that he could,” she said. Republicans, she added, “started out saying they weren’t going to support him. ‘No matter what he does, we are going to block.’”

“The Republicans aren’t the way they used to be,” she said. “They used to be smart and civilized and conservative. Now they are all tea partyers.”

By now she was hungry and slipped into Mulberry & Vine for some herbed chicken and sweet potatoes. She pulled out her iPhone to show a line of painted sheets and linens she is designing. “The thing I like about New York is, it is everything,” she said. Like the baseball field a few blocks back.

“It’s like an oasis almost in the middle of all this,” she said. “I’m coming back.”

Source: www.nytimes.com

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