Was Anyone Helping You Today?
I miss the mall. I should go there more often. There's nothing like the mall for letting you know, just a little, what the texture of other people's lives are like. To give you an inventory that will slot me, demographically, with what I'm terrified to say will be accuracy:
I'm poking through shirts noticing how orange they all are and wondering if a certain friend would be likely to wear any of them, when the very slight girl in the sexy sequined and beaded semi-sheer caftan-like top calls to another girl a little ways down and asks her why she was late.
The voice is light, soft, almost sweet. For a moment I'm thinking maybe they're friends and she's just asking her fellow-sufferer why she wasn't there to suffer with her. But the question is repeated, then repeated again. The other girl, younger, heavier, starts explaining lamely that she left a little late, and there was traffic coming from Burbank (which is, let's be honest, pretty close by). She tries to make a joke about how she was only five minutes late this time, it's less, it's an improvement, but then the little one, whose headset I've finally noticed, starts asking her what she's going to do to solve this lateness problem. I notice I've started walking away, because this is excruciating, because something in me is just moving away from the embarrassment and discord. So I force myself back. For some weird reasons. Because I want to know how invisible I am, qua consumer. Because some part of me thinks that I was shamed into letting these two alone so the one could get it, and I'm not okay with that. But they've moved off.
On the one hand, I think of the caftan-wearer, bitch. On the other, I remember my coffeehouse job for which I had to get up at 4:30 am four days a week, and the one guy we had who just kept coming in late all the time, and how much I hated that. The guy who joined the FTC office the summer I was there who'd ghost around my and the other clerk's offices trying to get us to write his memos for him, because he was a total idiot whom the supervisor loved for being a guy's guy.
What do you do with slackers? What do you do with people who make it really clear that they feel they're entitled to having you carry them? It's the lot of the headset anointed, I suppose; your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to be the local nanny, sheepdog, and yes, bitch.
I'm trying to find a red to replace Clinique's discontinued "ginger cookie," which is just about the single damn red lipstick I've ever been able to wear. (Just about all lipstick reds have a certain amount of blue in them. I don't know why. Not being able to find a workable red lipstick is kind of a problem. Having red lipstick can be, in certain social situations, as useful as having a college degree. It's like a Swiss army knife, when you need a Swiss army knife. I don't have a little black dress, but when the two remaining millimeters of this lipstick run out, I am fucked.)
So I find something I think will do, and take it up to the counter, and behind the counter there's employee 1, an older brunette, and employee 2, a blonde, who's teaching her how to work the register. 1 is clearly a new hire. She's like thirty-five. Now, I know nothing about the circumstances under which 1 took this job, but I find thirty-five to be a conceptually distressing age at which to have to learn how to use the register at a store in the mall. I look at 1, her so very carefully done makeup (foundation, eye shadow, eyeliner, touch of glitter, mascara — this is five products, just for the eyes, and it's not overdone. She's not Tammy Faye. It's just, you know, "done." I find myself wondering what her interview was like. Did she do makeup like that for the interview, or has she become a crack-pro at this kind of surgically precise multi-product application?), and 2, who's younger, a bit distant, a smidge imperious, but impersonally so.
At one point 2 explains to 1 that this is the screen she'd use if I wanted to split payment — to put $x on a credit card, for example, and $y in cash. I immediately have a vision of myself as Madam Bovary, hovering on the brink of ruin but nonetheless spending my last pennies on luxury cosmetics balanced between my credit card limit and my pocket change. It was . . . weird. It felt Vegas to me — this is your special option for last ditch vein-draining. Always assure your customer that s/he can purchase more!
When it was over, 1 thanked me for "waiting." Actually, I think she was thanking me for taking no overt steps to make the experience more stressful. Anyway, she was really sweet. I hope, as they say in dressing rooms, that it works out.
3. The Gap
I kind of like the Gap because Gap is the mall Target. Seriously, I feel like I've never walked into a Gap that didn't look like a bomb just hit it. I suppose I've seen Gap employees be mean to each other, but mainly I've just seen them be all fiercely bonded, like they're together in a foxhole, which they kind of are. In the Gap, the enemy is clearly the customer. At the same time, if you're nice to them, they tend to be really nice to you. And most of them seem to like working there. They sing along with the store music. They deal diplomatically with screaming infants. Screaming infants are implicitly unwelcome just about everywhere else in the mall.
Anyway. So I end up talking with a clerk who tells me with a shaggy smile that yeah, they're actually always understaffed there, for some reason the store is slotted as [technical term I forget] instead of [technical term I forget], so they just don't get to hire as many people as the other stores, but they always manage to figure it out. In my mind I was like, Naomi Klein! No Logo! But the guy had already moved on to asking a crying one year-old why she was crying, since hey! she was being held!, and then to figuring what to do with the wallet that a recent customer had just left behind on the counter. He tells me to have a nice day, and he means it. By his genuine affability in the face of disorder bordering on disaster, I am uplifted, and somehow primally reassured.
I don't think that's stuff one's allowed to say about the mall.
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