“Excuse me, miss, can you tell me what size these are?” said the older gentleman in the thrift store.
I looked around, already well aware of who he was beckoning but wanting to believe something different. Miss? I hate being called “miss.” It makes me feel like the person talking to me is being condescending. But because of my good mood, I allowed it.
I walked towards him, knowing what he thought but deciding to play along anyway, such was my happy mood.
I grabbed the shoe and looked at the tongue, trying to ignore how many different strains of cooties I was exposing myself to.
“Eight and a half,” as I handed back the shoe and turned my attention towards the jackets, smiling the whole time.
This guy thinks I work here. He’s not finished with me yet.
I wasn’t looking for a new jacket but I pretended to be enthralled with them, furrowing my brow and doing that scrunched up face thing we all do when we want someone to just leave us alone because they think we are really deep in thought. Although, to be fair, I usually am in deep thought, thinking things like, “what’s that smell?” or “could I make mac and cheese with chocolate milk?” The answer to this is yes, but it’s not edible.
“Miss, can you help me again? My eyes can’t see that tiny writing.”
You just don’t want to reach your hand in that icky cooty-filled shoe so you’re asking me under the guise of bad eyesight. Well played old man…well played.
I gingerly pulled the tongue of the shoe upwards to get a look at it. I made sure to use both hands to perform this task because I knew if I didn’t he was going to let go of the shoe, leaving me to put my empty hand on the bottom of the shoe to hold it. In these moments my mind focuses on where the shoes have been and how filthy they are. There is a one hundred percent chance that they have walked on a gum-laden sidewalk, a pee-sodden public restroom and if the person was not attentive, they very well could have stepped in poop.
I will let this shoe fall on the floor before I put my hand underneath it to keep it from doing so.
“Eleven. These are elevens.” I smiled and started walking away. I lingered at the jackets a moment more just so it didn’t look like I was trying to escape. I’m not entirely sure why I felt like it would be rude of me to walk away from a fellow shopper but I did.
I made my way to another aisle. No sooner had I walked seven feet towards my freedom, I heard him calling me again.
Keep walking. Ignore…..yes, you’re almost far enough away that he will-
You don’t have to turn around….you don’t have to turn around….you don’t have to–
I turned around and the same gentleman was just a few feet away from me, coming towards me, eager for my help, my knowledge, my expertise.
“Miss, do you have any more shoes in the back?”
Yes, which shoe do you want and I’ll go get it in your size. THIS IS NOT FOOT LOCKER. THEY DON’T STOCK EVERY SIZE OF EACH SHOE. THEY GET SHOES PEOPLE DON’T WEAR ANYMORE AND THEY PUT THEM IN THE STORE. THEY DON’T HAVE A BIG STOCK ROOM IN THE BACK.
Finally, the charade was over. It had to be. No more bluffing.
“I don’t work here.”
“Oh, I look like a fool!”
“No you don’t, you’re fine.” Yup. You look like a big fool.
Freedom. I could walk away with a clear conscience (Although again, I have no idea why I felt the need to go through any of this. I could have told him I didn’t work there the first time he asked me to touch the shoes.)
This is not the first time this has happened. This is not even the second time this has happened. I can’t even tell you HOW MANY times this has happened to me. What is it about me that looks like I work in whatever store I happen to be shopping in? True, I used to work retail but I haven’t worked in sales for over eleven years.
Is it my self confidence as I stroll through a store looking like I know exactly where everything is? Because I stick to the same stores most of the time so maybe that’s it.
Is it my general avoidance of every living creature that gets within a five foot radius of me? Because most of the time I don’t make eye contact or smile at someone because of the exact situation that just occurred. And to be honest, even when I did work retail, by the time I was at my breaking point, I had mastered the way to avoid most interactions.
Was I just the closest person to the customer needing help? Was I just at the wrong place at the wrong time?
It’s hard to say why this keeps happening to me but it does. And for some reason, every time it happens I’m still a little shocked. I mean, obviously I am giving off some sort of “I’m here to help you” vibe to people who are shopping in the same stores that I am.
The last time it happened was when I went to Best Buy with my parents. They were off looking at vacuum cleaners and I had already finished perusing CDs, DVDs, and WII games. So as I was walking near the front of the store, an older gentleman (I just realized it’s usually an older gentleman) walked through the sliding doors and made a beeline straight for me.
I used to work at Best Buy. But not that Best Buy. And not for several years. And no, I was not wearing a blue shirt.
“Do you know where I could find a watch battery?”
Here we go again.
Luckily for this guy, again I was in a pretty good mood and bored. I looked around for an employee. Within my sight there were three “Blue Shirts” as we used to be called. Each of them was with a customer and none of them looked like they would be finished any time soon.
It’s go time. Do I ask a Blue Shirt to help him? Do I tell him I don’t work here and walk away, leaving him standing there looking lost? What do I do?
“I don’t know but we’ll find out,” I said, looking around again to try to find an employee.
I walked around several areas of the store, half looking for watch batteries and half looking for a Blue Shirt to help him. After several minutes, I realized neither was going to come to fruition so I interrupted the herd of employees that were selling ONE PHONE TO ONE PERSON. (Seriously, how many Blue Shirts does it take to sell a phone? This sounds like a riddle, please feel free to comment with a witty answer)
“Excuse me, this guy is looking for watch batteries. Can you tell me where they are?”
This is your clue, Blue Shirts. Surely one of you can help this man. I’M DOING YOUR JOB.
One Blue Shirt looked up, semi-annoyed that I broke her concentration (because obviously you have to really focus to get the phone to start working; it all boils down to mind control.)
“They’re up by checkouts,” she said. No sooner had the words left her mouth had she bowed her head back into the huddle to will the phone to activate.
Ok then…I’ll just do YOUR JOB.
“Follow me,” I said to the gentleman. And he did. And we found the watch batteries. And he didn’t even say thank you.
Over the years I’ve been in similar situations. Sometimes I help the person, sometimes I don’t. And secretly sometimes, because of the cruelty I endured from customers over the years, I get great satisfaction in saying,
“I don’t work here,” and walking away.
And while I have yet to figure out why this happens to me so often, I have figured out a few things that make my shopping easier:
Never wear blue to Best Buy or Wal-Mart.
Never wear red to K-Mart.
Never wear stripes to Foot Locker.
Never wear a paper hat anywhere near the food court of the mall.
And never, EVER, wear any kind of khaki pants anywhere because it’s the go-to of every establishment.
POST SCRIPT: After writing this blog, I was walking around the Goodwill By the Pound store (wrote a blog about it, you should check it out if you haven’t.) and a guy stopped me..
“Do you know what size this is?” he asked me about the stained and soiled comforter he was pawing around on.
“Nope,” said I, breezing right past him without stopping to feel guilty.
I may just beat this trend yet…