“Could we get more cashiers behind this register?!”
It was a woman’s voice, quite strained.
Sucked into the 400-page vortex of my soon-to-be purchased new book, I hadn’t payed any attention to the proceedings at my local Barnes and Noble, while I waited for my turn, in line. But it’s not like I harbored any high expectations from this impulsive detour I’ve taken on my way home, at the height of the holiday shopping season.
First, I had to get through the parking lot of the main boulevard leading to this shopping mall. Not a problem, I thought. I could call the damn store — and put my item on hold; then trip out on my packing list, while sitting in traffic.
Then, there was the Korean owner of a dry cleaners who appeared on the brink of going postal from the absence of a Merchant Teller at my Chase. I tried to save the day:
“Would you like to go ahead of me?” I sheepishly offered. (“That’s some holiday magic for you, woman!” I thought while staring at the corrugated surface of her forehead. She wasn’t sure about me.)
She took my offer. Didn’t say thank you.
“You’re welcome,” I shrugged.
Instead of leaving the parking lot and joining the caravan of smoggy vehicles and their annoyed drivers, I left my ride at Chase and walked over to the Barnes and Noble. Nothing like getting towed for the holidays, but my current grasp on sanity was a lot more important.
And normally, I would have to shoot down some sarcastic commentary in my my own head, in order to enjoy the experience of having way too many choices and holiday inspired displays — at any store. But when it came to bookstores, I wouldn’t care if the sales people were promoting their merchandise in the nude.
(Come to think of it, I would actually prefer it that way:
“Written on the Body — in hardback edition!”
“The Breast — at 15% percent off! 30% — for members only!”
I could live with that, I think.)
Now, there would be a disheartening moment I could already foresee through the window, from outside: A display of Valentine’s Day themed gadgets, Nook covers and writing supplies.
“Nope! Not at all weird!” I talked myself out of succumbing to my traditionally sarcastic mindset.
(At least, in New York, I could walk away from it all. Take a different route. Go to a different branch. Get off a packed subway car — and wait for the next train. In this city, avoiding crowds also entailed avoiding their vehicles: And those usually took up much more space!)
But look at how rad I was being: Smiling at other pedestrians, communicating with the parking attendants and security guards! Keeping my cool while riding the escalator behind a woman who blocked my — and everyone else’s — way with her shopping bags!
“She’s just being generous!” I talked my head out of a looming fit.
The three-level store opened in front of me in all of its giant-windowed glory. Despite the chilly temperatures, the sunshine lit up the dust bunnies suspended in the columns of light. They were sparkling.
“Did someone butcher Tinker Bell, on the third floor?” that one got away from me. I wasn’t even being flippant. Just funny, in my dark Russian way. I smiled. Tinker Bell: Butchered. Funny.
The end tail of the check-out line reached me as soon as I passed through those security towers that shortened my lifespan every single time they went off.
“Is this the line…?” I asked a lanky young man reading, by the look of it, some poetry.
“For the check-out?” he finished my sentence. “Yes.”
No worries. I could do that. That’s all good. Armed with a discounted copy of the Steve Jobs’ biography, I determinedly began losing track of time.
“Could we get more cashiers behind this register?!” was the first thing that brought me back from my trip.
It was a woman’s voice. I turned around.
She was of a dignified age, with short hair bleached to the shade of being invisible. What ever was exposed of her chest and arms was covered with age spots. Her hands were manicured and clasping a Louis Vuitton wallet. The woman was bejeweled so heavily, I could study her for the duration of my remaining time in that line: A gold and diamond wedding ring, three other diamond rings on the other hand. The Love Cartier bracelet (a.k.a. the Chastity Belt for America’s feminists). A few tangled diamond tennis bracelets. And all this — before I had a chance to study to her neck.
But it’s her face that deserved a double take. Her lips, actually. She was pressing them together after uttering her customer complaint and viciously staring at the skinny child manning the Nook counter, baffled by her request. I briefly entertained a thought about the origins of her smile: Was that the smile that earned her the family jewels now weighing down her slightly trembling hands? Or were they a consequence of it?
Sensing my mind venturing out into its jaded ideas on this woman’s marriage, I immediately reined it in, and focused on the smirking face on the cover of my book.
There is a split, you see, in the mind of an immigrant: ME — in US; then ME — outside of THEM (who are US, some of the time). Or, is it a head trip of an artist straining her empathy against the people she means to portray well?