Picture the scene: you’re at work late on a Thursday night. For the last half-hour, you’ve been forced to listen to a customer complain about how few albums you have from Artist X, how you’re ‘probably too young to know what good music is’, how he won’t pay the full ten dollars for that CD because the case is scratched and ‘Ten dollars? That’s bloody criminal.’ Finally you give him a discount (well done on saving those two dollars, buddy – don’t spend it all at once) and you think you’ve finally managed to get rid of him.
And then it happens.
You take a deep breath. It’s OK, you think. Maybe he just appreciates the pattern, the cheeriness, the artistry.
“You wear them well.”
OK, no. He’s just a creep.
“You know what song they remind me of?”
“Something by David Bowie?” you offer hopefully. They’re galaxy-print; you’re used to the Bowie comparison. You can deal with it.
“No, The Doors. Come on baby, light my fire…”
There are many reasons I hate working in retail, but this is what it mostly boils down to: people treating you like a piece of shit. Really, mate? You think it’s OK to tell me you’ve been staring at my arse? What do you think is going to happen? That I’m going to swoon at how romantic you’re being? That I’m going to jump into your arms and say ‘Take me away, you stud!’?
What I want to say is something like ‘Sorry, I don’t date men with bigger tits than me.’ Perhaps ‘I would have thought you’d need medication to light that fire at your age.’ Or even the classic ‘Your face has more wrinkles than a scrotum.’
But I don’t. I’m at work, and I can’t offend a customer, no matter how much he offends me. Instead, I fight back a roll of my eyes and say, “See ya, mate.”
I’ve been working in retail since I was fifteen, which disturbingly means I’ve been doing it for more than a third of my lifetime. Usually my smile is unwavering. I’m so polite I make myself sick. One of my friends came into the shop where I work one day and later told me, “You were just so nice. To everyone. I’ve never seen you be so friendly.” But I’ve been doing this for too long. Too many years, too many smiles, too much ignoring people behaving like dicks. For me, “See ya, mate” is downright aggressive.
The same man comes in every Thursday night. Since the tights incident, I’ve been doing everything I can to avoid Creepy Old Man. Going on breaks when he enters the shop. Palming him off on any other staff member I possibly can. The thought of him coming into my place of work makes me feel sick. Worse than that, though, is that today when I was dressing for work I changed my outfit three times. I wanted to wear leggings. I love leggings. I have quite the collection. They’re comfortable and bright and happy and practical and normally I don’t give a fuck what people think about them. Today I hesitated. The Creep has made his way into my head.
When I realised that his words had impacted the way I was behaving, I was pissed. No one should have that sort of power over another person by making one little (gross, sexist, overly familiar) comment. Fuck him. I pulled on the tights. In seven weeks I’ll be gone, never to return to retail. Let the creep say what he likes. But he’d better be ready for me to say something back.