retail and the rat pack

The holidays remind me of Crate and Barrel.

When I was an undergrad in Washington, DC, I worked at the store on Massachusetts Avenue as a sales associate, and beginning in early November they played Rat Pack Christmas classics, the type of holiday music that, compared to the dogs barking out “Jingle Bells” on the radio, was supposed to emote sophistication and class tempered by a sense of humor.  On Sunday mornings during the season, before we unlocked the doors, I would tie on my apron — red, as opposed to the traditional black, to intensify holiday cheeriness — and join one of my favorite coworkers in a clumsy dance to Dean Martin’s “Baby It’s Cold Outside,” twirling down the central accessories aisle and barely missing the ornament bins.

That store is in an affluent part of town, and we would often ring up 100 place-settings of bone china for a diplomat’s formal dinner, or help an upper-class couple from some political or military circle register for an embarrassing number of hand-blown wine glasses for their housewarming.  Sometimes the elitist clientele were a little too uppity to tolerate, and I had to seek refuge in the basement stockroom, where I would pace fuming between the jute coir area rugs and the artfully distressed sideboards.  I remember one particular night when I hurried downstairs before I could go ape crazy on a man who was WIGGING OUT because we weren’t selling Adirondack chairs.  In February.

For the most part, though, I really liked that job, and for some reason the holiday season was more fun than manic.  The whole place smelled like peppermint mochas from the Starbucks next door, and next to every register there was a small bowl of the designer candies we tried to sell for something ridiculous like $20.  But man, those minty meltaway things were good.  And it just seemed easier, full on pilfered chocolate, to laugh at the snobbery of a woman who asked me to take her floor-length fur coat to the back for safekeeping while she shopped for a dame aunt with a ridiculous name like Mimsy or Mumsy.

(We did keep the coat in the back.  And we all tried it on, striking our best Cruella De Vil poses and snapping polaroids with the cameras reserved for customers who just couldn’t decide on that leather couch.)*

I know I’m idealizing.  These days I spend from 9 am until 9 pm either working on my dissertation or feeling guilty about not working on my dissertation.  The constant human interaction required by retail — even the most horrendous encounters with primadonna customers — seems preferable to long days alone in my apartment, staring at a computer screen, writing a sentence only to declare it ridiculous and delete it.  And I miss having a job that you can leave at the end of a shift.

But at least I can be certain that, if I get any MLA interviews, no one will scream at me about Adirondack chairs.  At least, I hope not.

I suppose you never know.


* Carrots is an anti-fur blog.


4 thoughts on “retail and the rat pack

  1. i think of you every time i visit a crate and barrel. and i could use your sales associate knowledge too, since my mother informed me that i did not register for enough stuff at the crate. perhaps some adirondack chairs would be good…

    • One thing I learned: register for five more wine glasses, five more place-settings of dinnerware and silverware, a little extra of everything, then — if you get it all — you can return the extra for a merchandise credit and buy a piece of furniture.

  2. I’ve spent a lot of time in the retails world. And this is the first Christmas season in a long time that I haven’t been working retail or tech support. It’s definitely a world of its own, and, even though you were glad to get out, you miss it sometimes. The camraderie among customer service workers of any stripe is a truly incredible thing.

  3. Pingback: in which carrots buys a roasting pan « running with carrots

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