May 24, 2005

costume store of my dreams

let me tell you the tale of my first real job. the costume shop nestled between a tattoo parlor and a strip club. it's been about a year since i've been there and i'm beginning to miss the store and the people. i had meant to go back during spring break but didn't have the time, or alternately, the volition. was reminded at elissa's party about some great tales. it all started here:

she had a rosette made out of a palm frond on her dresser. i have three pinned to my bedroom wall back home. souvenirs from my first and only renfaire, which i went to with the girls from the shop. they were dressed as fairies and i was a sort of swashbuckling vixen with a knife on my hip and adana's bodice. nicole bought a pair of yummy sheepskin handcuffs, which she and adana put on and became my fairy captives. an older man in a leather mask and loincloth became enamored of me and handed me a palm frond rosette he had just made. i think he did it because i had been staring, intrigued by the mask. well, for the rest of the day, i would bump into him around the faire. he would follow me, throwing his rosettes at my feet from a few paces behind, or from nooks where he was lurking. i picked up a total of three but there were more i either failed to notice or was too bustling to stoop to get. i loved mask man! totally made my faire. also got my bosom nuzzled, giving a waiter his "tip," a dollar bill stuffed into my (even with a bodice on) minimal decolletage. nicole teased me for blushing, so i directed his to start at her ear, a know weakness of hers, ha ha!

a brilliant story of how stupid some people can be. every year around christmas, there is a dickens faire, which is what it seems, a victorian version of renfaire, essentially. our store ads say we costume for many events, including that one. (there was a lovely victorian high-collared black shirt with maroon ribbon and lots of prim tiny buttons that i love, but can't fit my broad shoulders into, alas.) well, late one evening, a woman calls the store asking about our inventory and adana takes the call. the woman asks, "do you have and rabbit costumes?" and adana describes the big furry mascot rabbits we keep around for easter, but that doesn't seem to wax the woman's fancy, so she asks, "well, how about costumes of that the rabbit wants?" and adana, a bit confused replies, "you mean a carrot?" evidently not. what rabbits want is "a costume shaped like giant penis?" which we absolutely did not carry. adana explains that we are a family store and really not into that sort of thing, thank you, but the woman might want to try our competitors, the joke shop down the street as they have no shame. and the woman replies with wonder, "but i have one of your ads here, and it says you do dickens faire!" *groan* we couldn't make this up, folks!

we write all our best customer stories in "the book." i only got to write in the book twice since starting there. both very noteworthy events. the first was a brilliant woman who wandered into our midst most likely entirely unawares. she walks into the store normally and glances briefly at our racks (of clothes, jackass), but then looks over her shoulder as if waiting for someone. but this was perfectly normal, we would often get people meeting at the store to pick out costumes together, or give approval for a play or the like. a pity with the perilously narrow parking lot and competition for the limited spaces with the titty bar next door. the woman comes to the counter and asks me, "did you see anyone follow me in?" no, of course not. and she was watching the door, as well. i tell her, politely, no she was the only customer in the store. she hovers around a bit and i go around the counter into another part of the store. she follows me, saying, "i'm glad he didn't follow me in. he's been following me all day. don't you think it should be illegal for people to stalk you with their minds? i mean, mental stalking is stalking, but the police say they can't do anything about it and i think it should be illegal after all...." woo, a crazy! i smile and nod and agree that mental stalking is wrong and wander back into the main room to flag one of my coworker's attention. shooting furtive looks at karsten and adana, i continue to listen and nod. she then tells me that she has george bush and al gore in her head (possibly cheney, too, memory grows fuzzy) and that they tried to get out and into mine, as they like pretty girls like me, but she stopped them because i really wouldn't want them in my head. and all the time, i kept glancing at my coworkers to see if they were listening, but they were glazed, not caring for the political talk as it was just before the 2000 elections. after she left, i, of course, recounted the entire story and they regretted missing it deeply and insisted i write it all down for posterity.

frankly, some of our best customers were homeless or crazy or a bit slow. one...ah, challenged man, "our favorite customer," knew our stock so well that he'd come in and just ask about the new products. a huge buffy fan, he'd corner karsten in his work and chat him up for hours, always wearing a black backpack high on his shoulders, with the sweetest earnestness. then there was the well-dressed homeless man (off-white leisure suit, rather southern looking) who would come in and buy our military hats, towing a rolling luggage cart that he would then leave in our aisles. he would insists we show him the entire inventory, removing all the hats, one by one, from the precariously stacked shelf. after looking at them all, he might buy one or place a special order, but more often he would declare he would come back at the end of the month to make an actual purchase or check our new hat inventory, and we would all grumble like mad. because, aside from his rather tedious needs, he smelled. he was a right ripe old fellow. and the closer to the end of the month we caught him, the worse he smelled. the first time i helped him, he was so foul, that my eyes were watering and my nostrils twitching in agony. i had to go sit in the stock room for a bit afterwards to collect myself.

and i saw more men in drag, then, than i ever did during middle school. (we had a very strange theater department.) one day, adana and i were talking behind the counter. i looked up and saw a hairy man in an arabian nights costume looking at rack. went on with conversation. shortly thereafter, we both looked up and saw the same man just standing there, dressed like "i dream of genie," and continued our conversation without missing a beat. about forty seconds later, though, we burst simultaneously into laughter, not at the random apparition, but at how blase that sort of thing had become. i've helped drag queens pick out tights, and shown punky transvestites our inventory of skirts. i once sold a transsexual some fake blood to cover the blue haze of her five-o-clock shadow, because we didn't carry the real stuff, and mac was too far for her to get to that evening. warned her that i didn't think it would work very well. sticky.

with the location of our store, we did attract some of a less desirable element. mostly drunken customers from next door who wandered in around closing time. the best at dealing with them was the arthritic but sparky diana who helped out as a special favor to our boss (or more likely, was hired as a special favor for the extra income) around the holidays. we bonded and discussed the military and tattoos. we'd get in some of the dancers from next door, but they were cool. "which gloves go better with pink g-string bikini and a fishnet bodystocking?" "well, i couldn't say for sure offhand..." "oh, well, here (lifts shirt, holds out arm)." more obnoxiously, would be twentysomethings who asked sixteen-year-old me to try on lacy tops for them and asked my coworkers my name. actually, there was only one of these, but boy he creeped me out.

none of those things went in the book, though. what did was my porn proposal. man walks into store. karsten, the quintessential salesman accosts him with hilarious sleazy grin, timbre, and energy - you want costumes? we got costumes, we got 'em by the truckload, so what can i do you for? the man wanted wizards. i half-listened from behind the counter, bemused. the man wanted a film...harry what?! now karsten is a pro when it comes to innuendo, but when someone starts talking about sex in all seriousness, he becomes a bit more shifty and reserved, and in this case, amused. he shows the man the wizards talks about special orders and generally humors the man with his sense of humor. and i'm giggling silently to myself behind the counter in a top hat. i have to assume he was in the area visiting the adult bookstore couple doors down or the titty bar next door. as the man leaves, and i casually try to catch a glimpse to put a face with the story, he spots me and sort of sidles over to where i'm standing. "well, hello there, you're a cutey, are you 18?" **wee-oo wee-oo** *asshole alert!!* "yeeess..." "do you model?" *asshole alert asshole alert, grade 3!! man ironic detachment stations!* "haha, no." (no.) by this time, karsten has noticed the man has not left and his radars are beeping too. *switching to: protector mode.* "ah, i'm a photographer, i'm always looking for new models. would you like to see my portfolio? it's actually just in my car...." (little smile) "alright." he leaves to get it and karsten swoops over to land in the crook of the counter just in front of me and to my left. gives me significant look. the man returns, he's left his proper portfolio at home and just has the little one. starts flipping through it. it's mostly uninspired shots of strippers with the naughty bits expertly covered by little digital swirls. those pay the bills. and then there's his "art." naked women in front of sort of psychedelic universe computer-generated backgrounds. there are several shots of a particularly busty asian woman, who he identifies as his "muse." karsten and i make appreciative mutters. he couldn't show us the last few pages as they were a bit more...risque. darn. and it looks like he's about to leave when...our boss steps out from her office. and he shows her his portfolio as well. my former boss is an intimidatingly tall matronly woman, with a take-no-gruff attitude, and a one of those thin-lipped stares that's reminiscent of legions of angry librarians and history teachers. and i get a bit anxious that she'll yell that we're not working, but instead she looks through his portfolio as i look on in bemused horror. she leaves us to our customer, then, and he writes his contact info on one of our cars for me in case i or one of my friends is interested in posing for him. fat chance, but i keep the card as a token. of mr. photographer "techno eros."

it was an interesting place to work, i must say. the low pay and often dull afternoons offset by the absolute hilarity of a few glowing moments. and despite employee friction, hearing the chronic gripes of one hypochondriac with ibs, and generalized fear of my boss, i had a brilliant time. i'll never forget going back there for an afternoon during my holiday, my first year into college and being set hard to work unpacking a box of pirates and rubber chickens. damn, good times.


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