During high school I spent almost every afternoon and evening at the mall—working, not shopping—first at a department store and later at a trendy clothing store. One would say (if one were my manager) that I was less of a go-getter and more of a When can I go get lunch? type of salesperson, but I could engage anyone in conversation.
I talked with customers about their children, listened to them vent about their frustrating jobs, and tried to explain why the cute outfit I was wearing wasn’t from the store where I was working. Eventually I discovered a response that appeased my manager and kept me from spending my entire paycheck on clothes: “This is from last year’s collection.” While I’ve moved on from unlocking dressing rooms and convincing customers that yes, 100% cotton shirts don’t shrink…much, I still can’t stop myself from talking to strangers when I shop.
The last time I was at the grocery store, blueberries were on sale for $1 instead of $4.88. I was snatching up a few (actually, two dozen) packages while at the same time trying to convince the woman across the huge bin from me to buy at least one of the heavily discounted, berry-filled boxes. Didn’t she realize this was an incredible deal?
Seconds later I turned into a sampletizer lady at Costco. “You could freeze them,” I said, “or throw them in the blender and make smoothies.” I continued my sales pitch more convincingly than anyone on QVC, as the woman scanned the front of my shirt for a nametag, a store logo, or some other clue I worked at the store. Who badgers a stranger to buy ridiculously cheap blueberries? Obviously, me.
The confused woman finally grabbed two packages, tossed them in her cart and nearly knocked over a display of cantaloupes while she carried out her escape plan. She left before I could tell her about the strawberries, also on sale.
The last time I went shopping for clothes, an activity I enjoy even less than opening my electric bill during the summer, I spotted a long table filled with shorts on sale. As I picked up a tiny swatch of fabric with a zipper sewn into the middle, I asked the woman standing next to me, “Can you believe how skimpy these are? They should be 50% off instead of 20%!” She turned to me, looked at the shorts, and tapped her shiny earpiece to answer a call. As she headed for the opposite side of the store, I realized the earpiece was an oversized earring.
Six months ago, a podiatrist helped me clear a few shelves in my closet when he determined I was wearing shoes one size too small. I felt frustrated when I thought about replacing each pair until I remembered that my significant other had to switch from a size 17 to a size 18. My search for larger shoes was going to be challenging, while his was going to be impossible.
Like orphaned puppies, my favorite shoes and several pairs of boots found forever homes with my friends. One friend still sends me pictures of my former shoes enjoying hikes, visiting resorts, and living a more fulfilling life than they ever did in the back of my closet. I feel sorry for my new shoes.
While shopping for boots, tennis shoes, and flats that could have doubled as skis, I noticed a woman trying on boots a few chairs away. The introvert in me told me to mind my own business and focus on my own selection of 2 x 4 boards with 3″ heels, but my mouth didn’t listen.
“Those are adorable,” I offered as the woman about my age stood in front of a stool with a Barbie-sized mirror mounted on the side.
“Thanks. I’m going to a party tonight and I need something to wear with a skirt.”
We talked about her company’s event, the gorgeous venue where it was being held, and why she should take Uber instead of drive, and then I asked a salesperson to bring me the same pair of black boots in my size. When he pulled the pair out of the box, they didn’t look as cute as the woman’s smaller boots, but they were the right size and a better choice for winter than my flip flops.
We brought or matching boots to the counter and joked that we should shop together again. The cashier swiped the woman’s card, handed her a shopping bag, and as she left the store I may have wrecked the moment when I yelled, “Bye, twinsie!”
I’ve struggled for years to figure out why I can’t squelch my urge to offer suggestions and comments to people I’ve never met. Maybe I’ve worked from home for too many years. Aside from saying hello to my mail carrier and reminding my next door neighbor’s son to please stop running up and down my front porch steps, I rarely see anyone until the end of the day. I decided that my need to talk to strangers had to be linked to my lack of a commute and no interaction with co-workers, even the annoying ones .
Then I went shopping with my mom.
We spent a few hours at her favorite department store and while I was searching for a pair of jeans, I overheard her talking to a woman sorting through a stack of sweaters. The woman pulled out a blue sweater and held it in front of a mirror.
“That’s very practical,” my mom told her. “You could wear it to meetings or out to lunch.” Then she turned to a woman pushing a stroller and commented on her beautiful baby.
I smiled as I glanced at my mom and realized my need to talk to strangers had less to do with my home office situation and more to do with her. I can’t prepare Mexican food as well as she can, or throw memorable parties like hers where guests stay until 3am, but, like my mom, I can talk to anyone.
As I looked away, I saw a large group of women strolling into the store and heading straight for the sportswear department next to us. I abandoned the idea of finding jeans that fit and convinced the master communicator it was time to go.
Even if we combined forces, sharing our opinions with that many shoppers would have taken hours.