The other day I found myself staring into a drooling grandmas eyes trying to explain to her that I could not sell her a sweater worn by a headless mannequin. She had raised her bony hand above her head and was pulling at the headless dummy causing it to rock back and forth. When situations like this arise, I’m trained to say “this sweater belongs to brand senses and it may be damaged because we pin it to fit on the mannequin.” This answer is unsatisfactory to just about everyone, but each individual goes about voicing their displeasure differently. Some even come up with creative strategies triggered to persuade me or prove me wrong. My favorite though is simply, “well that’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.” Whenever someone asks to buy an article of clothing worn by a limbless torso my rehearsed response comes out on cue, sounding like an automated voice service, and I get tingly all over in anticipation of their reaction. In this case, this elderly woman chose to ignore and act. Her knuckles turned whiter as her grip tightened and her brow furrowed as she continued tugging. I carried on, “Mam, I cannot sell you this sweater and it’s pinned so..” I then became lost in her face, watching as spit glistened from her wrinkly mouth, her eyes fiery as she pulled on the sleeve of the sweater.
Working with the general public has taught me that the most difficult people of the human race have the most bizarre physical deformities. Unsightly hair in strange places, eyes that are too close or too far apart, strange moles or birthmarks. Difficult, demanding human beings usually leave me standing rapt in silence before them, unable to think because I’m assessing whether or not they actually had to chew on diamonds to have teeth that fucked up.
Suddenly, a small head appeared below me, two tiny eyes peering up at me, “I want the hockey stick.” Now, this I could handle. “That is not a hockey stick, that is a headless, asexual mannequin.” “You’re tall!” “Yes..I am big..who do you belong to?” The little sprout peeked around my legs and waved at Grammie who had successfully gotten the sweater entirely off the dummy except for the part that was pinned. “Louise” she barked, “come here.” Louise looked like a 21st century Huckelberry Finn, smudges of what looked like peanut butter across her cheeks, her brown hair fashioned into a perfect bowl cut. “I want that hockey stick.” I looked at Grammie as if to say, “Now which one of us should explain to little Louise what a headless, asexual manniquin is, now you are her grandmother after all..” but Grammie was on a mission.
I decided that although this woman’s physical body was old and drooling, her spirit was that of a spry and feisty eleven year old. “Look, that sweater has pins and holes in it, you don’t want this sweater, what about this one?” I held up another sweater that looked exactly like the one she was unravelling. Grammie’s left eye closed, her grip still firm. “Or what if you look online? Or hey I’ll personally begin sewing you one, if I start today I should be done in-” Grammie let go of the sweater and Louise spit her gum onto the floor. The dynamic duo ended up buying a shirt with a moose wearing a scuba mask and as they left I heard Grammie gurgle, “common now Louise, lets go to that bear building factory upstairs and make a teddy!” I suddenly wished I could be little Louise, out with my decrepit Grandmother and not me, a sad shell of a twenty two year old post grad who now had to use a cleaning product called “Goo Be Gone” to remove Louise’s neon green gum that was now smashed into the floor.
I spend a lot of time thinking about who I would rather be when I’m at work. Sometimes I give myself the option of anyone in the world, in which case I would be Lady Gaga, Joe Biden or Matt Lauer. Sometimes I give myself specific categories such as people who are already dead but I wish I could have been, in which case it would be Audrey Hepburn, Mother Theresa or Albert Einstein. And sometimes I narrow it down to other people who work in the mall, the top three being: the ladies who wear Dr. Scholl’s orthopaedic shoes and work at See’s Candy, the person inside the easter bunny suit who sits on a couch in front of a fake teapot house, and the rotund mall cop named Steve.
The mall is full of characters, it is its own small society complete with a cement parking garage. In mall hierarchy it is my belief that people who work in stores have more power than those who work at carts located in the hallways of the first floor. Mainly because that in times of civil unrest, carts are mobile, and therefore easily removable. Cart people sit on a chair next to their cart and remain there all day long. Unlike stores, where people usually mirror whatever “look” or brand they are selling, cart people do not in any way have to match their product. You would think that the person who sits at the cart that sells pillow pets (stuffed likenesses of ladybugs,unicorns and whales that are meant for children to lay their innocent heads on while sleeping) would be a sweet natured grandmother who resembles Mrs. Clause, but instead, is a middle aged man with hairy arms who resembles a cars salesman in the 70s.
Somedays it is easy to look on the bright side. Sometimes I actually can view mall cops as enforcement officials. But somedays I can only see them as retired fathers whose wives forced them to get out of the house for a few hours a day. I graduated college with high hopes for myself. Hopes that have been challenged. Now, all I hope for is to one day work at Sees Candy.