I was at the mall this afternoon, making a beeline for Gap because I had to return something and because Gap understands me and acts as my safe place amidst the chrome storefronts and Auntie Annie’s-laced corridors of the shopping mall, when I passed a kiosk. I did what I usually do when confronted with the minefield that is a kiosk: made no eye contact with the sales people, didn’t break my pace, and pretended to check my phone for good measure.
Apparently, I didn’t look so impenetrable, because a sales lady chased me down, beamed the most charming smile you’ve ever seen, and told me she liked my earrings.
“Where’d you get them?” she continued conversationally.
“Oh, uh, the Smithsonian, actually. Natural History gift shop.”
I politely turned to go; the comforting navy and white of The Gap was only feet away.
But now the sales lady had my wrist. “I love your watch, too!”
“Thanks, but I really have to keep going.”
“Where are you from, may I ask? You don’t look like you’re from here.”
“I’m from Minnesota originally.”
“What! Not from Europe? I would have guessed Europe. You’re so stylish.”
(Note that no one in the history of the world has ever called me stylish. Maybe my mother, once, just after I came out of my five-year bucket hat-and-overalls stage. Most clothing would have looked stylish in comparison.)
“Well, thanks, but — ”
“Guess where I’m from? Guess!”
She had an accent, but I’m no good at placing accents, which I told her.
“I’m from Israel! Here, let me show you something from my country.”
She had, by now, figured out that I am afraid of being rude, and thus would not cut her off as long as she kept talking. So, she kept talking.
She still had my wrist, and now grabbed my index finger, and asked me something that sounded like, “Do you mind if I take your finger off?”
“No, not at all.” Take the finger! In fact, take the whole hand! I’m a lefty, I don’t need my right hand for much anyway.
Luckily, she had been referring to the nail polish on my index finger, which she stripped off with a wet cotton ball. I had just painted my nails the night before. Three painstaking coats, plus topcoat.
Then she began to buff the nail with a foam block, flipping it periodically to use its various textures on the nail, and explaining all the while about how the silk side would last forever, my nails would no longer stain or crack, and something about ‘originally 139.99, now 49.99, and a second free.’ When I didn’t know how to respond, she asked me more questions: did I live with roommates? Where did I work? Did I like DC? Nothing about my social security, though it was heading in that direction. But in the friendliest way!
I knew, even as my naked fingernail was burnished to a high gloss, that I was going to have to buy this nail care kit. I was in too deep to back out now. She had complimented me! Buffed my nail! Surely I owed her something in return!
The woman claimed another finger, made quick work of its polish, and handed me the buffing block. “I’d like you to try,” she said, “You’ll see how easy it is. Just two minutes for both hands! You can do it under your desk at work.”
“Yes, it’s great,” I said miserably, rubbing the block over my nail and feeling like an idiot. I wondered how my sister would like a nail grooming kit for Christmas.
Finally, mustering my will, and mostly, my desire for the humiliation to end, I thanked the woman and told her I would think about it. She didn’t falter. “Let me get you my card, then!” she said brightly.
I waited while she rummaged in the cart’s cupboards, handed me a business card, and seemed to release me. I began to back away, but she called me back.
“Can you keep a secret? I mean, really, you’d have to keep this secret. No one can know. I might be fired if they found out.”
Now, despite all that had happened–two fingernails stripped and shined, lots of luring compliments, and an almost-sale–I actually believed at this point that she was going to confide something dark and personal. Maybe she just needed someone to talk to! Maybe she just needed a friend!
I leaned in.
“This nail grooming kit is worth over a hundred dollars and sold for 49.99, but I’ll give it to you for 39.99.”
Also, ‘gullible’ is written on the ceiling.