I know it’s a bit old-fashioned, but I actually got in my vehicle and
left the house today. I needed something decent to wear for author
photos, and while it might be practical to buy books and canned tuna
and printer cartridges (just to name a few daily staples) online,
clothing is a different matter.

For me, anyway.

I do order my work scrubs from an internet source, but with most clothes I
feel the need to actually see them on my body before shelling out the
dough.

So I went out.

I drove to the mall, and parked near Books-A-Million. Now, I have to say, most of my trips to the mall
start and end at this store. Normally, I do not feel the urge to
venture into the vast mallevolent
wilderness, with untamed predators pacing in front of their kiosk
cages, hawking everything from “free” cell phones (just sign on the
dotted line) to five-dollar scoops of ice cream.

“I don’t know if it’s worth five dollars, but it’s pretty fucking good.”

Today I was on a mission, though, so I only allowed myself a few minutes of
browsing while making my way from the street side of BAM to the mall
side.

I forced myself through the anti-theft portal (feeling rather violated as it magnetically frisked me with an audible click) and soon found myself in a different world.

“Welcome to The Suck.”

I briskly made my way toward the nearest department store, hands in pockets and eyes focused firmly on the terrazzo.

It was touch and go for awhile, but my shields must have been effective; I made it through unscathed.

I squinted and held my breath through a pocket of tear gas (i.e. the
perfume aisle), finally finding my footing on the escalator to the
second floor.

And there it was. The Men’s Department.

“We’ve been expecting you.”

I gravitated toward a rack of t-shirts (nice shiny ones woven from
space-age polymers), and was practically gagging at the thought of
paying thirty bucks for one when a stout middle-aged woman with an
eastern European accent said, “Are you finding everything okay?”

I just got here, Hulga. Give me a chance.

“Yes,” I said, and sauntered toward the suits.

Hulga followed me. She had obviously been trained by Americans.

“If you need help with anything, just let me know.”

“Okay. I will.”

Hulga shut up for a while and marched back to her station, but I felt her eyes drilling holes through me from the register.

I fingered through some fairly boring blazers with fairly exorbitant
price tags, and then, all alone on the clearance rack amidst a sea of
rejected trousers, hung the perfect jacket.

Ralph Lauren.

The color and texture of soft suede.

Fit as though it had been tailored for me.

It had been discounted twice, making it 75% off the original price. Bingo. It was mine.

Now I needed a shirt. I thought about going back to the slick futuristic
Ts, but then I saw some designer label shirt/tie combos also on
clearance. I was working on choosing one when Hulga approached and
said, “Would you like for me to hold that for you?”

I reluctantly handed her my prized blazer, hoping she wouldn’t neglect it and allow it to be abducted by another customer.

I found one shirt, and was looking at some others, when Hulga once again asked if she could hold what I was carrying.

“Actually, I’m ready to check out,” I said.

Fuck it. I was getting frustrated with all the attention. If she had left me alone, I probably would have bought more.

She rang me up. I swiped my card, and then she said, “Your phone number please?”

It’s an old retail trick. They want you to think you have to give them your
phone number just because you didn’t pay in cash. You don’t. They just
want to get you on their mailing list. Nice try, Hul.

“Um, I really don’t want to give you my number,” I said.

“It’s only so we can send you coupons and special offers.”

Really? I thought you were going to call and ask me for a date.

“No thanks,” I said, trying to be polite.

She frowned and wrapped my things and sent me on my way with the compulsory, “Have a nice day.”

Whew.

I trekked back to Books-A-Million, and as soon as I walked through the
mall side entrance I noticed a man sitting at a table with a stack of
books. He was signing one of them, and chatting with the customer who
had bought it.

I stood off to the side, thinking I might like to talk with this author and maybe even buy one of his books. I had
never heard of him, but he looked like a nice fellow and seemed to be
very approachable.

Then a woman walked up to me, smiled, and thrust a bookmark in my direction.

“Do you read thrillers?” she said.

“Why, yes, I do.”

She went into her spiel, telling me all about the book and its author.

“Actually, I have a to-be-read pile this high, and I’m trying to avoid any book purchases at this time...”

“But you can get it signed if you buy one now!”

I thought about it, but there was just something about the aggressive
sales pitch that turned me off. It was Hulga all over again. I was
being targeted and accosted.

When I walk into a store, I want to be left alone to browse in my own way and my own time. This is
especially true when I walk into a bookstore.

Note to self: when you do a signing, don’t have someone who walks around and annoys the
customers with hype about your book. Don’t have someone who does it for
you, and don’t do it yourself. You might gain a sale, but you’ll
probably lose ten.

“Are you his wife?” I asked.

“Um...yes.”

I glanced at the bookmark.

“I’m not familiar with this publisher,” I said. I wasn’t making any
assumptions at that point. There are plenty of legitimate small presses
that I’ve never heard of.

“Oh, that’s his company. He’s doing it all himself. We decided to bypass trying to find an agent and
submitting to publishers...”

I didn’t tell her that I’m also an author. I didn’t tell her the trials and tribulations I went through to
finally get a book deal. I didn’t tell her that every self-published
book I had ever read (all or part of) had left me with a sour
aftertaste.

I doubt any of it would have made an impact.

I wished her best of luck and hurried toward the exit with my new duds.

At least I had gotten a good deal on the jacket.

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Replies to This Discussion

I bought a windbreaker from Hulga earlier this week.
Old Hul gets around, doesn't she?
So, are you going for the totally black outfit so beloved by all successful mystery writers? :)
Black shirt, camel blazer, stonewashed jeans, and sneakers. Tie optional. :)
Jude--no fedora? How about a cat/dog/gun?
I don't have a fedora, but i have a ball cap that says Guinness!
Hats are a problem. I can't do the ball cap thing anymore (nobody over the age of twelve can, really, unless they're on a baseball team), but fedoras always make people look like they're, well, wearing a fedora. There are some other hipster-y options I'm also too old for (the stingy brim, etc.), so I'm really at a loss. Maybe I should just stick with the foam-rubber cheese-head.
And then there are the sunglasses. Indoors.
And you might consider getting your head shaved.
I love the $5 milkshake line, too. And classy of you not to snobbily belittle the "author."
I think Pulp Fiction is hilarious, Allie. Vincent Vega had just bought a little bag of heroin for a thousand bucks, and then he was complaining about the price of a milkshake, LOL.

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