Friday, February 11, 2011

The Incredibly Annoying Salesman.

A well known American department store. Feb 11th 2011

  My 16 year old son belongs to a school group and their spring trimester conference is this weekend. The dress code includes 'business attire'. The suit and shirt were all sorted, but he needed a new tie.

 Being the kind hearted, push over mother that I am, I agreed to get him one this afternoon. He assured me that there was nothing to it; the shirt he'd recently bought had been displayed on a mannequin and the mannequin had been wearing a tie.  "Just get that one," he told me. "It's a kind of dark purple. Plain. It'll be fine." It seemed like a simple enough task, only slightly complicated by the fact that an old back injury has flared up and I am finding it difficult to sit. Or stand. Or walk.

  I drove to the shop, parked as close as I possibly could, swung the car door open - and gasped.  I had only driven for fifteen minutes but the muscles in my back spasmed and twitched as if I'd been on the road for days.
I took a deep breath.  The entrance to the shop was no more than thirty feet away. The men's department was close, and on the same floor. I would shuffle in, grab the tie, throw cash at the assistant and hobble out. I wouldn't even have to stop walking, and motion was good. Driving home might be a problem, but at least by then I'd have the tie and could text one of my neighbors to help me back into the house.

  I tried to make my walk look casual and unhurried rather than tottering and pained. Old people with frames and orthopedic shoes raced past. Once inside the shop, I moseyed over to menswear and found the shirt almost at once. But it wasn't on a mannequin and there was no sign of a tie. I carefully inched around the display, as my back screamed out for help.

 The sales assistant must have heard it.
"Can I help you?"
The poor man looked terrible. He was ashen and wan, faded and worn out. His taste in clothes was appalling, and did nothing to improve his sickly looks. But he worked here, so he should  be able to help.
"I'm looking for the tie that was on display with this shirt. Do you remember which one it was and could you show me where it is."
He shook his head. "Sorry. This was never displayed with a tie. I have a similar shirt over here ....."
My back began to cry.  It was as if someone was playing with the muscles like children playing with Plasticine.
"I need a tie for this shirt. It's for a sixteen year old boy. He's not too fussy. Something plain in a matching or contrasting color. He mentioned purple...."

 The man raised a finger and cut me off. He wrapped his left arm around his body and placed his right hand on his cheek..
 "Describe him."
"I'm sorry?"
"Your son. What does he look like."
"Um. Six foot two, medium brown hair, green eyes." My back gave an impatient twinge. "Why?"
"Because we're not just matching a tie to a shirt here. We're matching it to a person. Take me, for example," he waved a hand up and down in front of himself, like a magician performing a trick. "I chose my shirt to compliment my skin tone; my tie brings out the color in my eyes. "
 His shirt was chewed gum grey and his tie was an insipid pink.
"I .... see......" How could he not hear the distrust in my voice?
"What kind of kind of green are his eyes?"
"Are they the same as yours?" At least leaning back to look in the mirror gave me a chance to stretch.
"No. His are more grey/green. Greenish/grey."
"Like sea glass?"
"If you like. Look. Honestly. I don't want to bother you. I think I'll just...."
"Fair or tan?"
"What?" My back was clenching even harder. If I didn't get the chance to touch my toes soon, I was going to go mad.
"His complexion? Fair or tan?"
"You know what, I'll  just take a look around." I tried to move away but all I did was creak. I was the Tin Man. There was no oil can in sight.

 He grabbed my arm. "Come. Follow me".
If he hadn't pulled me along I may have never moved again, but my legs jerked into action and he propelled me between the socks and pants.

 "Suit color?"
"Charcoal? Steel? Smoke? Dove."
"Err. Darkish."
"Yes." Oh please shut up.
He slid some suits along a rack.
 "I bet it's something like this?
The salesman placed the shirt inside the suit. I waited, resisting the urge to assume The Downward Facing Dog. The Salesman stepped back to admire his handiwork. He clasped his hands beneath his chin.
"Now for the ties!"
 The Salesman set of, flapping his hands and urging me to keep up. He minced along up ahead, I dragged along behind. My left leg jerked like an artificial limb and I had to stoop forward to alleviate the pain. We looked like a wacky gender reversal of Esmerelda and Quasimodo. A cross-dressing take on Beauty and the Beast.

The salesman selected six boldly patterned ties, and flamboyantly flicked them back and forth.
"None of them are plain". I pointed out as he examined their effects.
Salesman shook his head. "Boring" he said.
"But that's what he wants".
He shook his head again and carried on, switching paisley for check and tartan for dots.
He picked up a wild, indescribable print. "This one picks out the shirt, and his skin tone,"
"You've never met him."
"And this one has the green, to pick out the color of his eyes."

 On a normal day I would have been firm, thanked him for his help, and high tailed it off to somewhere else. But I was in pain and could literally, barely move. I didn't have the strength, or ability, to escape his over zealous attentions. Fortunately I came up with a plan.
"I'll take photos, and text them to my son. Then he can choose."
 My son would hate them all and I would be able get the heck out of there as fast as my seized up legs would carry me.

 The Salesman was back on board. He clapped his hands with glee and began arranging the shirt and ties. Anyone would have thought I was holding a top of the range Nikon not an iPhone, and that the photos were going to appear in Vogue. The Salesman hovered close to me, peering over my shoulder as I mms'd the pictures to my son. There was, of course, no reply. We waited a few minutes, I looked at the hard, flat floor. I longed  to lower myself onto the stripy carpet tiles, put by bag under my head and stre........tch.

 "Call him?" the sales assistant suggested.

 Just as my son picked up, the Salesman was summoned to help with a long queue forming at the till. Under normal circumstances, this would have been my chance to run away. But the best I could hope for was to furtively bury my way into a rack of trousers and hide until his shift came to an end.

 "Hi." I hissed into the phone. "Help me. There is no specific tie to go with that shirt you bought. I'm being railroaded by a lunatic and I am in real pain. I can't run away. What exactly do you want? Paisley? Stripes? Tartan?  Dots? Or plain?"

"A PLAIN one"
"That's what I thought."
I had no choice, I had to get away. Salesman was coming back.

 "Well," I exclaimed cheerfully holding out the paisley tie. "Your first choice was spot on."
Salesman flushed and beamed. He took my card, punched in numbers, and made a great fuss with tissue paper and tape.  As he wrapped and scribbled, he jabbered on about his years and years of experience. He told me how he could read any customer, even if they were "channeling through their Mom". I paid up, made sure that the receipt was safely in the bag and slowly hurried away.

 I  limped pathetically towards another department store. I told the assistant that I wanted a plain, dark purple tie. She showed me two, I picked one and BINGO, I was making my agonizingly slow trip back to the car.....

 And now, just five hours later, my son has picked the tie. Was it the plain, dark purple one you ask?

 NOOOOO. He's gone for the paisley. And very handsome he looks too.

 So the anemic looking,  badly dressed, incredibly annoying salesman was right.  Which only makes him even more annoying.

 And to make matters worse,  now I'm left to  wonder.... Do I really channel my son.........?

 (P.S. The picture really doesn't do the ensemble justice.)

Monday, February 7, 2011

The Little Girl with the Huge Crisp.

The Crown and Greyhound. Sometime back in 1990.

      The Little Girl was sitting at a table with her parents and several of their friends. She was  eighteen months old, more or less.

      The day was warm. Cardigans and sweaters had been shed and were piled in a limp and tangled heap upon the bench. The men rested their elbows on the rough wooden tables and curled their hands round pints of amber beer. The women drank from tall slim glasses, the ice tinkling against the sides, as they played and teased with their straws. The Little Girl  was drinking from a juice box and picking raisins from a small, white, tuppaware box.

Another friend joined the group. He was carrying three fresh pints, and he gripped the corners of several packets of crisps.between his teeth  When he reached the Little Girl's table,  he placed the drinks in front of his friends and threw the crisps into the center, instructing the others to help themselves.

The Little Girl pulled her legs up underneath her and, gripping the edge of the table to steady herself, she rose and stood. Little Girl reached out for a shiny bag. Her mother gently took her hand and shook her head. But her father said. "Alright, Just one."

Little Girl's mother sighed and rolled her eyes but she picked up a packet and tugged it open. The Little Girl dipped a hand inside.

The crisp she pulled out very, very big. In fact it was huge. As she held it up, the sun shone through it and it glowed like a disc of pale gold. Little Girl's mouth fell open. Her eyebrows disappeared up, underneath her fringe. She bent her knees and bounced. No one looked. She shouted something but her vocabulary was limited and the word she chose expressed delight, but in a non specific way. Her mother half turned, reached out and patted Little Girl's behind, but she wasn't paying close attention and failed to notice the awesome crisp.

The Little Girl shouted again. This time her father looked up. Little Girl thrust the crisp forward. "Daa!" she shouted. The father laughed and told the others to look. The whole group were delighted and impressed. Little Girl pushed the crisp towards each one in turn.

"Wow". They exclaimed. "It's huge. It's amazing." They praised the Little Girl, as if she peeled the potato and cooked the slice herself.

Her mother began to clap. When you are eighteen months old, and a grown up claps, there's only one response. You clap too.

And that's exactly what Little Girl did.

We all watched in horror as the huge crisp shattered and fell onto the bench and floor. The flakes were papery and ordinary. The magic was immediately gone.

The adults exclaimed a collective "Ahhhhhh", and pulled sad and sympathetic faces.

The mother took her daughter into her arms, but Little Girl's tears could not be stopped. Her anguish was absolutely real.

                                                    ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

I dedicate this to Katie, the one year old daughter of a special friend of mine.

When I was visiting them a week ago, something Katie did reminded me of this incident. It came back with such clarity although it happened over 20 years ago.

Katie is at that special age when everything she does is utterly enchanting. When she manages to scoop a spoonful of dripping yoghurt into her mouth, it elicits a round of clapping. When she bashes out a tune on her baby sized piano, everybody cheers and breaks into applause. And of course, we clap Katie claps and we clap even more. Generally this routine is completely harmless. Unfortunately, in some cases, it is not....

So, thank you for jogging my memory Katie Mac. You're one of the sweetest Little Girls I've ever known.