Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Sir, they make lozenges for your problem.

As a teen, I worked summers at a local mall. Dear readers, those various crappy jobs in various crappy stores waiting on various rich Manhattanites and tourists with crappy attitudes instilled in me a profound and lifelong hatred of retail. No experience could have done more to motivate me to excel in college; I vowed never to work retail again once I had my degree. To this day, I am the most polite customer ever; I re-hang clothing that has fallen off of racks, and am almost unfailingly smiley to customer service people, whom I know are treated like human punching bags on a daily basis.

My adventures in retail also provided a crash course in (bad) male behavior. Most of the teenaged boys that I knew behaved with more dignity towards women than the fully grown men that harassed me daily. The husband of one of my bosses would come into our store when he knew she was at lunch, leer at me and compliment me on my "hot bod" (I was fifteen, and looked like a broomstick with frizzy hair). While working in a men's clothing store, I had more than one middle-aged husband try to take a swipe at my ass when his wife's back was turned (I was sixteen, and my ass was concave). While working in a women's clothing store, a man who must have been in his 50s followed me around while his wife was in the dressing room, calling out "Marry me! Will you PLEASE marry me?!" (I was fourteen - let's not even go there). I watched men try to peek into women's dressing rooms; I caught men masturbating behind clothing racks. Readers, these were not unwashed, muttering mental cases. Most of these guys looked "normal", and their wives seemed completely oblivious to their behavior (they might not have been; I was too busy fending off their husbands to really tell). I knew that some men could act like degenerates, but because I was so young, I was amazed that so many of them had no compunction about doing such things in public, with no shame whatsoever!

I've always been kind of a brassy chick. Whenever I encountered this type of behavior, I would look the guy dead in the eye and loudly say, "Sir, your zipper is down," "Well that's very flattering, sir, but I'm underage," or "Sir, that is the WOMEN'S dressing room." I'd always say it with a smile. That was my job, service with a smile! So good was I at my temporary profession that I could effortlessly serve up that smile with a side of public humiliation. Readers, if a man was having trouble keeping his pants up/keeping his hand out of said pants/keeping his hands off my nonexistent ass, I was just trying to be helpful by announcing it to everyone! Surely he hadn't noticed, and therefore needed my assistance! Lord knows, my bosses didn't pay me $6.25 an hour to sit on my flat backside all day.

One night, after a particularly grueling eleven hour stretch on my feet (it was a holiday weekend), I was walking to my car when I spotted a man loitering in the parking lot. I come from a cop family, and at seventeen I was already well trained to give strange men a very wide berth. A man standing alone in a parking lot usually spells trouble.

"Mmm-HMMMM." The guy cleared his throat loudly as I passed him.

I approached my car, holding my keys. Throat Clearer (let's just call him "TC") stared after me. "Mmm-HMMMM." Louder this time, trying to get my attention.

I didn't acknowledge him, but kept him in my peripheral vision. TC walked directly into my line of vision and casually leaned against a car that was a few spaces away.


I'd had enough. TC wanted my attention? He got it.

I made eye contact. He grinned at me, the way you expect a pedophile to grin at an 8-year-old in a Lifetime movie of the week.

"Sir," I said calmly, "do you have a hairball?"

TC's smile faded; he looked confused. Now I was smiling. "You might want to get yourself some Chloraseptic," I advised cheerfully. "There is a pharmacy down the street. Have a nice night!"

I drove away chuckling; in the rearview mirror, TC glowered at me.


Blogger Ben Varkentine said...


Off-topic, but have you ever read the Atticus Kodiak mystery books by Greg Rucka?

I ask because one of his major supporting characters is a woman named Bridgett Logan-a redhead private investigator of Irish descent who lives and works in New York city and comes from a cop family.

Don't know why I thought of that. Anyway, the books are really good-though I do always feel compelled to warn people, Rucka's a writer who likes to really test your sympathy for his characters.

If I've sparked your curiosity, you can see summaries, excerpts, reviews and such here:

"Smoker" and especially "Finder" are the best, I think.

12:22 PM  
Blogger Linnaeus said...


I worked retail during the summer between my junior and senior years in undergrad, and I will second your distaste for retail work. The store that I worked in wasn't fancy or upscale by any means; in fact, it was explicitly "discount" in terms of its target customer base.

Overall, I wasn't treated poorly, but the bad incidents were enough (as well as the bad supervision I got from time to time) that I resolved to avoid retail as much as I could, though I suspect that given the job prospects in my field, I just might have to do it.

Usually I got treated like a servant when bad incidents did happen, but nothing like what happened to you. I suspect that one reason teenaged males didn't engage in such behavior was because they may have been too intimidated to do so. Older guys can be a double-edged sword: most are mature enough to know that kind of stuff isn't cool, but a few think they're sophisiticated enough to get away from it, or that you were naive enough to enjoy the attention.

3:00 PM  
Blogger Ginger said...

Older guys can be a double-edged sword: most are mature enough to know that kind of stuff isn't cool, but a few think they're sophisiticated enough to get away from it, or that you were naive enough to enjoy the attention.

Or, they're just assholes.

4:32 PM  
Blogger Ginger said...

Ben, didn't you know that character is based on me?? LOL

I haven't read any books by Rucka, but I might check him out after I get through my latest Ruth Rendell novel (she's my favorite mystery/crime author).

11:01 AM  
Blogger Linnaeus said...

Or, they're just assholes.

Well, yes. That too.

11:29 AM  
Blogger Ginger said...

LOL Linnaeus...IMHO, there's nothing sophisticated about hitting on a teenager who only got her braces removed two summers previously.

11:34 AM  
Blogger Ben Varkentine said...

Read the books before you say that, Ging. Bridget is bold, brassy and big as life too, but there may be one or two things about her you won't want to claim as your own after all...

12:36 PM  
Blogger Linnaeus said...

IMHO, there's nothing sophisticated about hitting on a teenager who only got her braces removed two summers previously.

Indeed. Some people just aren't that sensible.

10:17 AM  
Anonymous Jax said...

great post - you have a good way with words. I never worked retail, but I worked in pubs, clubs and bars, and the behaviour that men think is acceptable there is ever so interesting. I too have a good line in polite put downs with a smile, a skill that has served me well through life.

What I'd really like is to not have to need it though.

here via the carnival btw.

4:57 AM  
Blogger Ginger said...

Welcome Jax, and thanks!

9:11 AM  
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