A Day’s Worth of People
November 13, 2011 § 3 Comments
I haven’t blogged in a long time, partially because I never seemed to find myself with extra time. Now that I’m single, I find myself with both time to do things, and write about them. I have trouble remembering the myriad experiences I have every day, most of which I really enjoy. Maybe it’s time to write a few down.
I’m working at a pop-up shop downtown. It’s my first job in retail, which is funny, because I help manage a storefront at a different shop – but I never end up working in it. In highschool retail seemed like a dream job. The warm fuzz hasn’t warm off yet. I miss thinking hard about business things – but I am exhausted from focusing all my social know-how and interacting with everyone as productively as possible.
I’ve never had any reason to buy hand cream or lotion, but my favorite thing on the floor at the shop (‘the floor’ is what I think you are supposed to call where customers are, but it seems confusing, given the actual floor being a thing) is the beauty product samples. I spend all day fidgeting by rubbing doses of sweet-smelling ointments into my hands. Unfortunately I rarely remember to stick with just one throughout the day, and end up a cacophony of pleasant scents. Worse yet, when I open the glass cases to show customers some prize piece or other, I invariably find fragrant little fingerprints all over the glass afterwards. I spend the time when I think no one is watching vainly scrubbing at them.
It’s hard not to love getting to talk to so many people. A little sample of today:
– One man moved here a few months ago from a small town in Michigan. He can’t stop thinking about how different and wonderful it is here. He loves the rain, because it isn’t snow. He loves wandering around all day talking to strangers. He asked me about the differences between Vermont and Portland, and I admitted that the thing I noticed missing was a peculiar New England brand of old folks. I miss the way they communicate in such a gruff, witty, sharp-edged way, and then have really sweet soft centers. They say what they mean, but they mean well. He looked somewhat confused, so we moved on. A job with Leatherman drew him here, and so I learned that Leatherman’s headquarters is here in Portland, and this is where they make most of their wonderful utility knives. I told him emotionally that when my father gave me a Leatherman, it was one of the most important moments of my childhood – I had always wanted one, but thought that because I was a girl, no-one would ever think to give me one. One day my father said, you have a Leatherman, don’t you? And upon my confused ‘no’, he marched right out and bought me one on the spot, saying ‘Everyone should have a Leatherman.’ They give tours on Wednesdays. I am so going in January.
– A very nice woman in clean, white clothes with a fashionable white baseball cap and perfectly cut black hair told me she was from California, but originally from Vermont, and we both had a wonderful surprise. She’s living in the Silicon Valley right now, and was happy to spill about it to a fellow New Englander. She said with no prompting that what she misses most is the sharp, honest, and blunt (unlike tools, NEers can be sharp and blunt at once) communication. In the Silicon Valley, her employees are horrified to hear her honestly say, “Please don’t do that” to this or that inappropriate action. Instead, she’s expected to passive-aggressively complain about it to someone else. Direct communication is taboo. Everyone is so busy that when she says to her girlfriends “Let’s go out and grab a coctail”, they say, “in a month, let me pencil it in”, and then reschedule 3 times. She’ll be celebrating her birthday a month late because that’s when it fits in her friends schedules. She was charming, and successful, and had just the right shade of tan cover-up, and was quite fed up with where she was living. “I get out as much as I can,” she told me. “I go on work trips to New York or San Diego, or anywhere, as often as I can get my boss to schedule me.” The worst part, she finally sighed, was the men. With a 5-to-1 gender ratio (or something like that), she thought the men would be happy to go on dates, but she says they’re composed mostly of undateable nerds. “They tell me, I’m dressed too nicely. I say, you’re not dressed nice enough. So there. I have to import men to date.” I honestly really liked her.
– A woman who makes things out of books bought my favorite book-cover handbag. It was partially related to the fact that she had recently painted an eel. “I don’t know why I’m doing this – it’s the last sort of things I should buy. And I’m against things made of books that destroy them, like this.” So am I, but that was the most amazing handbag. It had a happy, graceful watercolor of an eel and read “HOW DOES IT FEEL” across the top and “TO BE AN EEL?” across the bottom. I loved it. I’m ashamed to say I nearly teared up seeing it go, even though I wouldn’t have bought it myself, but she promised me it would have a good life touring France, and occasionally Maine, and I had to agree that sounded very nice indeed.
– I’ve spoken to a large and varying number of women who are in Portland for the Women in Technology Conference. It’s inspiring to think of all those women in male-dominated technological fields! It’s hokey, but I mean it. Some of them told me that some of the booths at the convention give away free lip-products and nail polish, and the girls have been painting their nails together. Some people are against it, they noted, but they liked it.
– There’s a culinary institute upstairs. Yesterday I learned from a pastry chef-in-the-making that meringues are meant to be browned with a blowtorch, not baked, and that they’re liable to burn up. I immediately texted my meringue-making friend with a blowtorch and a penchant for burning things. Texted isn’t in spellcheck. How old is my copy of Microsoft Word?
– Yesterday (yes, I’m sneaking in two things not from today) a young man from the UAE told me he has 40 cousins in Portland. He said it’s nice to have family, but awkward to be running into cousins everywhere you go.
– The young woman who paints the astounding number-paintings at the Saturday Market confessed she liked my outfit so much she had secretly taken a picture of me. Specifically, when I was up on a stepladder bending “librarian-like” to reach a painting on the wall.
Clomping through the cold to get to the bus home, I was waylaid by a girl playing ukulele. I watched her play until her fingers were too cold to hold up to the strings anymore, trying to pick up tips. I started two days ago, so I’m atrocious. I gave her the second half of my lunch and half a roll of ritz crackers instead of a monetary tip, and she happily gobbled them down while we chatted. She was a charming Lewis & Clarke student who had escaped a rural Oregon logging town. Everyone where she had come from married their high school sweethearts and hunkered down to a life of toiling in the hot, chemical-filled mills, or as a logger. The women would work other odd jobs around town as well – waitressing and whatnot. She said fuck no to that, and is studying to get a degree in musicology. I assume this makes her a musicologist, and am pleased to have taken my music-related failings to her.
When I finally make it out of the cold and onto the 17 bus, a young man sits next to me, and I’m cheery enough to bother him into conversation about the weather (namely, the cold of it). I indicate that it has rather crept up on me, and he rebuffs that had I been paying attention, there had been several days of warning chill. It turns out he is a friendly and handsome fellow, the latter because of his full green eyes. He charmingly notes that he will need because of said weather to begin carrying a handkerchief to wipe his dribbly nose with. In a sudden moment of remembrance, I dug a fresh, pink-flower embroidered handkerchief out of my purse and handed it to him. I told him it was for keeping, as I probably had hundreds at home, 25 from one grandmother, 25 from the other dozens more from high school when I used them and bought them at thrift sales, another bundle from the Bins. It turns out he used to have lots of handkerchiefs too, but he cut them up to make neck scarves for his very tolerant cat. I wondered later if admitting to owning potential hoards of handkerchiefs was a bad call and made me sound like a crazy cat lady, but seeing as he was in similar dangerous territory for putting scarves on his cat every morning, and taking them off of his cat before bed at night, I feel a little better. His stop came, and I assume he went home to tell his friends he had been given a hankie by a stranger on the bus. I hope I see him again sometime. I suppose these are the situations that make missed connections so colorful.
Now I’m at home out of the cold. I’m huddled typing on the kitchen floor, which happens to be where the electric heater vent is. It also happens to put the chip rack at about mouth level. My roommate has come home with luxurious fruits from the produce department she works in, proclaiming that we need to learn of her ‘other life’. I have tasted the best grapes of my life. She’s trying to get me to go to a drink & draw, although from the flyers, I think what they do is get a lot of people drunk on wine and have them all copy the same Van Goh painting.