I learned a lot while working a series of shitty, low-paying jobs. I don’t care how often I hear the same joke, I can still muster a laugh. That skill came during my time at French Connection. At least one katrillion times a day, a customer would point to one of our F.C.U.K. shirts and say, “Has anyone ever told you that looks like FUCK!?!”
I would slowly glance over, look away, do a quick double-take, then chuckle real authentic-like. “Sharp, broseph.” Sometimes I would wink or give a thug respect nod (head bobs slightly upward instead of the standard downward motion of a regular people nod), but it really depended on my mood. My paycheck wasn’t going to reflect those little extras. A non commission-based rate of $7.75 doesn’t come with a lot of Give-A-Fucks.
I learned the art of dodging phone calls while peddling beauty products at Crabtree and Evelyn. My manager, a decent lady with an extensive collection of sexually-provocative hosiery, often ignored the shift schedule she created each week. She also didn’t have a lot of Give-A-Fucks because she would repeatedly call until that employee answered the phone, then she would badger the person to come in right now. I’m not good at saying “no” so I became good at turning my ringer off.
Also, Evelyn is pronounced with a long “e” sound (eee-vuh-lin), not “eh” (eh-vuh-lin). When my spirit of volunteerism hits, I still go to my nearest Crabtree and Evelyn and just mill around, waiting for someone to mispronounce the store name. I’ll correct them, and then I let people know it’s okay to make mistakes because each mistake just adds to our unique patina as Earth beings. I know I’ve made a difference in people’s lives, but it’s the classic conundrum of any Giver: How far-reaching is my kindness? How many people will be affected by this one small act?
You’ve heard of the Butterfly Effect, yes?
The most important thing I learned while blackening my soul as a cog in the retail machine was this: Do not make assumptions about people based solely on their exterior. (I also blackened my soul working at non-retail establishments like a dry cleaner and a tutoring center, but I can’t go into all of that right now because I don’t keep alcohol in my home.) I’ve assisted customers who looked “young and broke” or “two steps away from homeless” who ended up spending way more and treating me with a lot more courtesy than customers who were “of a certain age” and “dressed impeccably.” That’s not always the case, but it happened enough for me to understand the value of giving each person a baseline level of respect. Well, until they got sassy with me. Then I would fuck ’em up and no, I’m still not sorry about it.
I’m now the customer, and I wish more sales associates would adopt this way of thinking.
I am often ignored when I walk into stores. Maybe I’m not dressed well enough. Maybe I look broke. Maybe I look subversive with the streaks of color in my hair. Maybe I look like a drain on society because I seem young and a teenager keeps calling me “Mommy” so I most likely receive public assistance and why the fuck am I looking at hand-stitched handbags with a two-year wait list? I might be getting ready to steal it so make sure the security guard follows me around.
Harv didn’t believe me at first when I told him that this is A Real Thing that happens to me. About four years into our marriage, he witnessed it. He has never been marginalized because of the way he looks or carries himself, and although he didn’t actually say these words, I’m pretty sure he thought I was being sensitive or high maintenance.
I walked into a store about 20 steps ahead of Harv because he was finishing a phone call. He had an unobstructed view as I crossed the threshold, becoming the sole patron. No one greeted me. No one asked if I’d like assistance as I was rifling through a pile of sweaters. When Harv walked in, the two sales associates who had previously glanced in my direction but remained silent warmly welcomed him. As he came to a stop by my side, one SA said out loud, “Oh you two are together.” She looked at my Air Jordans and my JESUS IS MY HOMEBOY t-shirt, and then at Harv’s buttery loafers and lavender bespoke shirt. I recognized the look (Judgment) because I sport it on my face about 40% of my waking hours. I’d like to think it’s one of my more finely-honed skills.
Y’all seem like the type of people who can handle this kind of information without getting all up in my face about what a pampered housewife I’ve become or threatening to revoke my hood pass: High class problems are real problems too. Sure, being ignored in a store that sells key chains which cost the equivalent of 7 welfare checks I used to receive is no big deal when I think about the really dark and life-altering moments I’ve encountered. But in the world of things that don’t matter, this shit is legit.
One Ivy League dollar is worth 100 pennies. One Thug dollar is also worth 100 pennies. Please don’t ignore me because you think I’m not valuable according to your standards. Fuck bitches. Get money.
If wasting time during the day is one of your more finely-honed skills, “like” the Flourish in Progress Facebook page and follow along on Instagram (username: flourishinprogress) which has a picture of my ratchet hoe thigh-high hosiery at a Hollywood club. I don’t know how long it’s going to stay up. Probably until the next time Harv checks my Insta.