The Gift Shop (Part II)
What you're buying is not what's being sold.
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“Janet”1 has traversed from minutely miffed to regally pissed.
“This receipt says…” Janice firmly points to the fine print so I won’t miss it. I make a call – literally – to the owner dutifully playing the thankless role of middle-aged middle management.
Janet gets her money back. Janet should not have had to go through that.
Before Janet leaves, I lean over the counter and tell her not to stop shopping here. I give her the days I’m working, presuming she likes me.
“Well, I wasn’t ever going to shop here again but I will come back as long as you’re here.” She then repeats back to me the days I work.
Janet leaves smiling. Because I don’t sell things. I sell gifts: satisfaction and reassurance. I sell confirmation. I sell “you’re right!”
I hear “Hildy” before the door opens as she steps, or should I say, saunters, in. Hildy is all weddings, weddings, weddings! Hildy was just at her best friend’s wedding and her other friend is getting married and she also, Hildy, just got married and “Where is your engagement wedding stuff? Oh, that’s cuuuuuuutttte. Should I buy that? What do you think?” (Hildy doesn’t give a rat’s doody what I think, nor would she hear me if I responded.) Hildy speaks just a few decibels louder than needed with the rhythmic tone of a dishwasher. “Oh my Gawww that’s so cuuuuuutttte. But I’m not surrrre if I shouuuuld.” She takes a picture. She calls her friend. She amps up volume in the empty store.
I think Hildy needs attention. I think Hildy likes attention; likes being watched… because Hildy does not feel seen. Hildy has some more opinions about things, then Hildy leaves having dispensed judgment on all goods wedding oriented. But she’ll be back. Always about weddings. Always about opinion of things to buy for weddings. (She does eventually purchase a framed picture of little rock people hugging each other.)
Hildy is exhausting. I’ll bet Hildy is exhausted.
“What do I get my niece?”
Oh, it’s three o’clock, so I must be omniscient. That’s the only explanation I can surface. “Paula” walks in with an air of cluelessness as to how she got here.
Paula has a ton of faith in me. She really seems to think I know what to get her niece. No, really. She has bequeathed me expert status on mind-reading for nieces.
I mean… I do have a niece but….
“Ummm… well, what’s she like?” And the long, oblivious, mind-reading requests circle themselves. Paula is also exhausting in that my answers have nothing to do with her decision as much as they have to with her veering me toward convincing her to purchase what she desires. Except she doesn’t really know what she desires. Tired yet?
Paula leaves with a black oversized robe-like sweater (similar to the ones Josephine collects in various colors). I confess, I may have encouraged it. Or it may be that I have encouraged the quickest purchase and subsequent exit of Paula.
Paula returns the next day with her daughter who has convinced her to return (that is, exchange, because… you know… the whole receipt issue thing) for something more suitable. “What would be more suitable for my niece?” (It must be three o’clock again.) They leave with a bracelet. Of which I had nothing to do, though they kept me in on the decision-making process until this safer, much more successful choice was made.
My Dad always told me I’d be a good salesman. He was a paper salesman. He was good at it. I never actually saw him “sell” paper, but he was always in a crowd of people, laughing and telling stories. He saw that in me. I was mortified when he proclaimed this talent over me. That was back when I didn’t know that being an actress was the height of sales.
“Helena” comes back for Christmas shopping. The store is decidedly not empty. But Helena strolls and shops over the course of a few hours for what ends up being about a thousand dollars’ worth of merchandise for those grandkids, teachers, and students. Helena doesn’t give a flip who hears our conversation, her conversation, about the trials of raising her teen granddaughter as if she were her daughter. There’s so much to unpack there. So much of which a gift shop is not a worthy space. But healing happens where it will. If you feel safe to share, who cares where you are.
Helena loves her granddaughter “more than she will ever know”.
My grandmother used to say that to me.
After an hour or so, as the shop seems to be going through a quiet “wave”, I offer a point of view from personal experience. For what are the chances that a woman would walk in who is having communication issues with her late daughter’s child, a child she must now raise as her own? And what are the chances that the woman working in the gift shop was raised by her grandmother whom she called “Mother”, and understands from a rare perspective, the intricacies of the relationship?
What are the chances indeed.
It is a gift shop. But the gifts that seem to be desired are not resting on the shelves.
Maybe I’m not here for the structure and blond highlights.
Helena really wants to go to lunch and introduce me to her school.
Did I mention her scar has healed? She looks lovely. Her red hair flowing over in a Rita Hayworth style swoop to cover up the remaining substantial dent in her forehead.
Helena is reaching out. She gives me all of her info. I write it on a sticky.
In the mad rush after a full day of Christmas upheaval I forget it on the counter. But not to worry, I’ll pick it up when I go back.
When I return, the sticky with a name, name of a school, an email and a phone number in my handwriting has been unceremoniously thrown away.
I am beginning feel at one with Janet.
Once you’ve realized why you have been placed where you are, (to be used for good by the gifts and talents you’ve been given) you will better understand why you are called upon in many cases to sacrifice what should be a simple offering (i.e. a quiet little easy job in a gift shop); why you might have to stay longer than expected; why you might have to put up with off-glances of those who don’t understand your lifestyle and the throwing out of a sticky paper without so much as a by-your-leave; why you might have to suffer Minion Purgatory.
You may learn that the reason you’ve been asked to fill your coffers with dough from job “A”is precisely because you are so good at gifts and talents you’d like to be using for job “B”.
Job “A” just might keep Job “B” honest. That is to say, selling thing-a-ma-bobs, it’s quite possible, will help you in virtue when you are seeking to tell your stories (or whatever it is you are called upon to do) so you will not work with said gift for the wrong reason, especially in a world that says you should be charging a particular price for your talents to be “valued”.
It ain’t necessarily so.
I’m not long for this job. (I mean that return policy. <eye roll>) As quickly as I was placed there, I am even more quickly being pulled out. The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away! (O yez!, O yez!) Blessed be the name of the Lord!
Is it possible you are not where you are for the reason you think?
You are where you are for the reason God placed you (or permitted you) to be there.
It doesn’t have to be a mystery.
We do see through a glass darkly. But if you ask to have eyes to see, it will be granted.
And isn’t that lovely? Pressure off.
Now, my Friend, what are you selling in your gift shop today?
All names have been changed.