The Gift Shop (Part I)
What exactly are we gifting today?
I work part time in a small-town gift shop. I am the first in line to ask myself, “Self, is this what God created me for?” Self is the first in line to proclaim, emphatically from the mountaintop, a healthy and vigorous, “Hell no”.
Today, I’m not so certain.
A Creative tends to need structure (in addition to extra dough in many cases) to give a sense of order and accountability to the creative work that neeeeeeds to be done. This Creative also was tired of doing her own roots from a box by Revlon. Highlights are expensive.
So what’s the best easy job for extra dough with the least amount of brain responsibility for a person who likes that shiny healthy glow on top her head? A little home town gift shop, of course. A happy place!
I’d assign myself special writing time outside of that. I’ll have easy down time to think while others were quietly shopping.
Best laid plans….
The extra money - I mean if you can call it that - extra for what? The highlights and a coffee… a drip …maybe, (extra ain’t what extra used to be), you begin to wonder if your time is actually worth any of it. Structure? The war is ever raging in the head no matter what tasks are ordered on the agenda. (Except for my justified paranoia that I’m being surveilled by one of the four 4K cameras eyeing me from strategic angles.)
The phone rings. “Fleur, I’m so surprised you had your laptop open while people were in the store.”
But there I stand, at the ready. To sell what? Gifts.
It’s quizzical, the selling of gifts. It turns out it doesn’t look at all like I’d imagined.
For instance, I could never logically explain why every time “Josephine”1 walked in for her third (or is it fourth) comfy poncho of the same style (different color), suddenly the store was empty – for the exact amount of time it took for her to reveal her struggles with her family; the brother who had just committed suicide, the husband who was drinking too much and had completely checked out of the marriage so much that at forty-something she had moved back in with her parents and, well, how her Dad was now opening up to her “a little more than he used to and it’s not so bad but…" (as she faced me wearing a t-shirt with a cross scrawled from neck to stomach in edgy black marker font)… "Will you pray for me?”
I’m not a huge fan of emojis in my writing but here’s where that wide-eyed and surprised raised eyebrow face gets inserted.
What am I going to say to her? “No?” No.
“Of course I will,” I reassure. (And I do.) She pays me the 59.99 for the new poncho asking me to set aside any new colors and to call her when they arrive and quietly exits into the morning daylight.
All of this took roughly forty-five minutes soup to nuts. Only about four more hours to go that particular day and that’s good because there’s time for “Helena” who walked in looking like she’d just been hit on the expressway by a two-hundred car pile-up replete with three-inch scar (and exposed) stitches down her forehead. Honestly, she could have walked out of Central Casting’s callbacks for a gender bending Frankenstein with that man-made scar.
She says she ran into a door.
For some reason, I believe her.
Again, store empty. Again – life story. She runs a school. She raises her grandchildren after her daughter died from cancer. She’s getting up there in age. She’s tired. But she has such a passion and deep love for these children to whom she has taken over role of mother. Her granddaughter especially doesn’t like Helena to refer to herself as “Mother” because she’s their grandmother. And their mother died. It’s all a bit of a … “cluster.” And I think how I completely and utterly understand. Viscerally.
She couldn’t know that my grandmother raised me. We’ve never met, so there’s no way she knows that I thought my actual mother was my sister for the first nine years of my life. I called my grandmother “Mother”. It also was a “cluster”. I’m not a huge fan of that re-arrangement of titles. I stand there listening, knowing that it’s not that her granddaughter doesn’t love her, it’s that you can’t erase or replace “Mother”. Perhaps she could use a wider perspective from understanding and empathy – even sympathy. Perhaps I was put here for such a time as this.
But for today, I’ll just listen. For in that empty store there’s a presence guiding the conversation. Today is for monologues.
“Betty” and her husband “Hal” stroll in. They have lived in this town since the stone ages (so they purport). They love Halloween. Just strolling through to see what décor we have. But they don’t buy anything. They just chat with me in the, once again, empty shop. (I must state that it’s not always empty.) But in this moment, it clearly has been reserved in the spirit for their allotted time. They tell me of all the shops this particular space has been. (I’ve heard all this before, but I’m not selling things today. I’m selling validation. So I listen again, perhaps they’ll add another to the list.)
“An apothecary, a furniture store…Oh what was before that, Hal…?” Hal recalls, “hardware store, another gift shop, a bank, a real estate office….”
Then Hal pulls out his phone and gives me an online tour of their Halloween décor from the 1920’s onward. Gentle little figurines hand-made that “they” don’t make like “they” used to. I agree with them emphatically. (Truly these little gems are one of a grandma makin’ kind.) Hal and Betty make candy too. They leave me a card in case I want some. They invite me and my husband to take the tour of the figurines. They only live a few miles away.
Hal and Betty exit out the back door swiftly. I think they just sold me candy.
“Janet” bought a puzzle for Christmas and brought it back within the fourteen-day frame of time to get her money back. The receipt says it right there at the bottom. The puzzle is perfect. Never opened. Except I’m not supposed to give refunds. It’s a small business so I’m encouraged to encourage a gift exchange.
“But that’s not what the receipt says!” Janet has a point. Janet is right. These are the times I love not being a shop owner.
Janet can’t find anything else she wants in place of the puzzle, so she takes a gift card. I can tell Janet is miffed. I do not blame Janet for her miffiness. Though I’m on Janet’s side, I must be obedient to what I’ve been asked to do. (Sigh.) Janet leaves in an understanding, yet “I know this isn’t your fault” respectful, huff.
I sold something. Dissatisfaction and frustration. I definitely bought a chance to see Janet again.
This, (the whole receipt/return issue), has actually happened before, and I don’t know why it isn’t rectified. I mean, we have the technology. Just change the wording on the receipt. But: not my shop.
“Dave” walks in on another day. He wears a denim cap with a gigantic yellow sunflower on the front. Dave seems to like denim. He wears it head to ankle, except for the brown leather sandals. Honestly, I can’t really understand a word that comes out of his mouth but again we are “blessed” with emptiness of the shop as he, well, rambles on about bitcoin and crypto everything. He buys a small white spotted owl statuette…thing which thoroughly delights him. And that seems to make perfect sense.
He loves the aquamarine mosaic firefly hanging on the wall but has to figure out from his bitcoin app how buying that firefly can help the climate by supplying his rooftop with solar panels – as I undoubtedly misunderstood it. (I don’t think I’m getting this wrong. It was hard to follow.) He shows me a picture of his two-year-old daughter. She’s precious. I’m not sure how’s she’s connected to the bitcoin, but I continue my role as sounding board. Mostly smiling and nodding because he’s speaking a foreign language. But that’s okay, because he doesn’t seem to mind (or know) that I don’t comprehend a word he’s saying.
He and his hoot owl leave narrowly saving the planet. I have sold joy, listening, and some extra acceptance today. I may also have saved the planet. Still, it was all foreign so I’ll never be certain.
Janet, (Remember Janet? The puzzle? She left respectfully miffed…) has returned with that chance to see her again, now having had time to fume in her righteousness and injustice. She wants her $24.95 back. She wants it now.
Part two of the The Gift Shop will arrive next Sunday!
All names have been changed.