I got my first taste of the Christmas retail season this afternoon. I am taking the day off of work tomorrow to join Tim in Muncie, where David Letterman and Rachel Maddow will participate in a discussion at my alma mater
. Tim and I are going to do a bunch of Christmas stuff after the event (we're going on a "tree tour" at the dean's mansion, then getting a live tree of our own to decorate), so I wanted a new holiday sweater to wear for the occasion (and for the inevitable photographs). I am on a strict budget this Christmas. Other than foodstuffs, gas, bills, and essential Christmas gifts for others, I am putting myself on a monetary fast until the new year. (But look out, January 1: I will very likely be hung over for you and wanting lots of pancakes.)
Suffice it to say that I was not in the market for designer labels, nor was I interested in padding out my winter wardrobe. This attitude is anathema to the average retail salesperson (often known by their scientific name: Gottagetium commissionicus
), and as soon as I crossed the threshold of my neighborhood boutique I was swept up in the whirlwind of a saleswoman named Lisa, who proceeded to ply me with so many fibers, textures, and layers that it started to feel like a movie montage. You know, maybe to a Roy Orbison song. Unfortunately, I'm a teacher and not a hooker with a heart of gold, so I don't make that much money. A notion which I thought I made pretty clear when Lisa asked me what I did for a living. "A teacher, huh?" she asked, as she handed me three more pairs of trousers and a blouse that looked like it had come out of a sheet metal factory, "that's cool. You should try on this shirt. It would look amazing
with a pair of heels and hoop earrings. All of our jewelry is on sale for 50% off." I looked back at my overloaded dressing room and cracked a tight smile: "I'm a teacher, Lisa. Not the dean."
I finally settled on a pair of black trousers and a sweater, pretty proud that I'd resisted temptation. At the counter, Lisa rang up my order and chatted amiably to her manager that I'd "found some nice items," but that I hadn't decided on any of the sixteen pairs of jeans she'd shown me. The manager's jaw dropped like she'd just been told I enjoy punting kittens in my free time. "You're not
taking advantage of the BOGO sale?" she asked, at which point Lisa made a sympathetic clucking sound in the back of her throat. (The jeans, while not outrageously expensive, were approximately the same amount of money that I spend heating my apartment every month.) "I'll come back
," I cringed, feeling sort of like I'd just told my ninety-eight-year-old grandmother that I would not be staying to play canasta with her and all of the other nursing home residents. Lisa smiled genially and handed me my bag. "Come back and see me
," she said cheerily. I promised her that I would, took my bag, and left.
Now, let me say this: I have a lot of respect for people who work retail. I did it once, for a summer, and learned enough to know that I never wanted to do it again. Nine times out of ten, retail is a thankless job. Customers are needy, or fickle, or downright rude and often see the retail associate as a category of sub-human. I know that Lisa was just trying to do her job. I was never rude to her and I made sure that she knew I appreciated her time, but I never allowed myself to be pushed into buying anything I didn't want. That's the main reason I avoid shopping at places like the Buckle, where you are practically locked in a dressing room by a sales associate as soon as you walk in the door. It probably doesn't help that I experience sudden mood swings while shopping: one minute I'm tooling around the aisles, happy as can be, and the next it's all I can do not to sprint out to the parking lot with a bag over my head.
Afterward, I went over to Wal-Mart to pick up a few groceries. When I walked in, I met the eyes of the greeter stationed beside the door. He gave me a world-weary scowl and looked away, intentionally erasing me from his memory. Ah,
I thought, breathing a sigh of relief, my people.