A Very Quotable Weekend
Part 1: Friday
Scene: The local mall. I am looking around Macy’s for birthday present ideas. Uninspired by mostly everything, I find myself drawn, once again, to the shoe department. There is a sale going on, so naturally the section looks like Susie Windmillarms came through and did a number on the place. There are shoes ALL over the floor (as well as a pink puddle of skinned-over glorp underneath a chair in the seating area that appears to have hit the wall behind it at Mach 5 earlier in the day).
Act One: The Staring Contest
There are two relatively attentive young people working the shoe department, a male and a female. I pick up a lovely snake-skinned heel and make my way over to a try-on area away from the pink glorp. Female employee asks me if I would like to try on the mate to the shoe I’ve picked out. I say yes; she disappears into the stock area.
It’s Friday night. The mall is a weirdly quiet place on a Friday night. I’m searching for a gift idea, but, really, I’m also killing time till the fiance gets home. Also, I could always use another pair of shoes. I can’t remember the last time I was at the mall on a Friday night. I think about where I would be right now if I wasn’t at the mall. I would be out on a date with the fiance, I think. We’d be eating sushi, or saganaki, and having a cocktail, and talking about weekend plans. I look at the few people around me. They are mostly single women. I look beyond the shoe section and into the cosmetics section and then out into the mall itself. I think: who are these people? Why are they shopping on a Friday night? Do they have plans to go out later? Is shopping their plans for going out later? A Muzak version of some popular song plays over the PA system. People move around in slow-motion. Piles of poorly designed and cheaply priced goods are messily heaped on display tables and stuffed one-too-many onto Formica shelves. I deduce that malls on a Friday night are probably the most depressing things on earth.
I look down at my slumped posture, at my boots laying on the floor next to my stocking feet. My legs are especially white. And it’s mid-June. I notice that I have thrown my purse up against the foot of the chair (and not put it ON the chair like a real lady would). Lord, I think. I’m here at the mall on a Friday night. I’m totally one of them.
I look up to check on the progress of my shoe request. There is an older woman standing at the counter and she makes eye contact. She is holding a bag containing a box of shoes and she looks like she wants to make a return.
Is anyone working here, she asks? Yes, I reply, but I think they’re both in the back getting shoes for folks. At the moment, I am the only one seated waiting for shoes, so it’s strange that both the employees are gone. I look back to my feet and then up again as another woman has entered our small, sad circle at the mall on Friday night.
This woman is probably in her late thirties. She is well dressed and put together. She is holding a shoe in her hand and she is staring at the older woman, who is staring back at her. She is studying the older woman standing at the counter with a fierce intensity.
There is a brief moment of complete and strange silence, and then this, from the late-thirties woman to the older woman: “STOP STARING AT ME.”
I look at the late-thirties woman. She has this look in her eyes, like a bull about to charge. I am almost paralyzed with alarm. Did she really just tell this sweet old lady, who, I am sure, like the rest of us, was just trying to focus on another living soul in the midst of all the negative space and shoe clutter and crusted-over smoothie, to STOP STARING AT HER? Surely the older woman was NOT staring at her, and even if she was, why wouldn’t the late-thirties woman just ignore her and go about her business? Why would she just blurt out this playground-style accusation at an old woman trying to return some shoes?
Just then both employees come out of the stock room, and another woman my age comes into the seating area holding a shoe. None of the newcomers have any idea what has just transpired. The late-thirties woman goes back to trying on her shoes. The female employee asks the young woman what size she needs and she quickly goes into the stock room again. She returns a moment later to say that she’s out of that size. The male employee starts to process the old woman’s return. The young woman sits down behind me and starts to pull her own socks and shoes back on.
The female employee then asks the late-thirties woman if she needed help. And this is what she says:
I DON’T APPRECIATE BEING STARED AT BY YOUR SPIES. THESE TWO (She waves her hand in my general direction) AND THIS ONE OVER HERE (she jabs a thumb at the old woman) HAVE BEEN FOLLOWING ME AROUND THE STORE FOR HOURS. I DON’T APPRECIATE YOUR HAVING CORPORATE SPIES.
My jaw drops. My blood pressure goes up. What. The. Fuck. Is. Going. ON?
The thing is, this woman who thinks I am a spy (Spy? SPY? When was the last time you used the word spy? Seriously. Think about it. Never? Yeah, I thought so.) looks perfectly NORMAL. Except for the intense bull-charging look in her eye. I mean, she’s doing the most mundane, normal thing in the world: shopping for shoes. She has a purse, she is wearing a well put-together outfit. Her hair is coiffed. It’s not like she’s wearing two different flip-flops and a gunny-sack stuck with dirty, feral cats. She looks completely sane. But the crap coming out of her mouth is bat-shit CUH-RAZY.
For the next several awkward seconds, the employees, the old lady and I all do a sit-com style head turning routine where we all look at from one to the other and worldlessly ask “Is she talking about ME?”
Now she is staring right AT me and muttering something about my being a spy. And let me tell you something: I have never been so paralyzed with fear in my life. The look in this woman’s eyes was an unearthly mixture of ImmmaKillYou and far-away non-focus; I’ve never seen anything like it. And I wasn’t sure what to do.
I mean, I had a pretty good idea. What I WANTED to do was stand up in my heels, do a snap in a Z-formation, and get all Jerry Springer on this woman’s ass. I wanted to slap my sternum with my open palm emphatically, lean forward, and shout at the top of my lungs “Are you talking to ME? You think I’M a spy? Are you fucking OUT OF YOUR MIND?” And here I would laugh derisively or dismissively, whatever, and I would look at the employees and ask them, “You believe this bitch? Saying I’m a spy?” And then I would turn back to her and say, “Listen. Only reason I’m in this store on a Friday night is because I’m trying to kill time. Even if I WAS a spy, what in Jesus’ name makes you so damned important that you need to be spied on? I mean, really. Like anyone cares what the hell you’re doing here. Like any one cares what the fuck you do with your lame-ass, pathetic Friday night, you-“
What actually happened was this:
me: blink. blink blink.
female employee: sheepishly ma’am, um, she doesn’t work for our company.
me: blink. swallow hard. blink blink.
female employee: blink.
male employee: craning neck from behind the counter and pretending to be looking at something in the far distance
young woman behind me: slips shoe onto the counter and slinks off
older woman: hurriedly gathers up her purse and walks away, unphased. I presume she is partially deaf. Or maybe scared to pieces. Hard to tell.
me: blink. blink blink.
female employee: looks at me, looks at customer. looks at me, looks at customer.
customer: staring hard at me, or at the fireworks on her retinas, I can’t tell.
And now I am faced with a conundrum: I want to leave, but that means I’ll have to interact with the employees (’cause the snakeskin heels are gorgeous and I want to put them on hold) but I’ve just been accused of being a spy, and even though I know I’m not, I have no idea what the employees are thinking right now. My anxiety is kicking in. Why the hell would I care what these people thought of me? Why can’t I just brush this whole thing off? It’s sheer clinical craziness. Why should I, the sane one, have to defend against the clearly crazy one? Why am I trying to rationalize my getting up and walking away? Why do I want so badly to yell at this woman STOP IT; JUST STOP IT. I can’t explain it. Something about this woman’s presence in that little corner of Macy’s was sucking all the rationality out of it. Up was down. Wrong was right. Bored Friday night shoppers were corporate spies. And the thing about protesting against accusations of insanity (or spying activities) is that the more you protest, the crazier (or more spy-ish) you sound.
I go to the counter where the male employee is busy shuffling papers (anything to avoid looking five feet to the right where this woman is standing). He asks if he can help me and I inhale and hold my breath for a second and plop the shoes on the counter. I meet his eyes and we have this milli-second exchange that went something like: You just see that shit? What the fuck, right? You know I’m not a spy, right? And you know I wasn’t following that lady around, right? Dude. I am soooo sorry you have to deal with this kind of shit on a Friday night. I mean, it’s hard enough having to look at people’s bunions and dry, cracked heels, and unkempt toenails all day long. Now you have to deal with people like this. And it’s an hour before closing and the clearance section looks like a bomb went off in it. I know you’re just counting down the hours till this is all just a distant memory and you can go home and tell your girlfriend what a fucked up day you had at work. I know you’re smarter than this. I know you’re being underutilized and underpaid and that you don’t deserve this. I bet you’re studying to be a doctor or something, and you just took this job to help pay for your graduate studies. I know this woman is probably only one of hundreds of nutcases that comes in here on a regular basis and accuses you of price-fixing, or of hiding the good stuff, or selling things that Macy’s clearly does not carry, or of being personally responsible for Macy’s return policy, or their store hours or locations, or one of a million other things that you have absolutely no control over… and it just sucks the life out of you day after day having to explain to a generally very uninformed and very impatient populace the way retail sales work in this country. I am so sorry. Really, I am.
Also, dude? There’s a really nasty spill under the chair over there you’re gonna wanna take a look at before you clock out.