It was a very hot day today at the store. Ninety degrees in the shade kept all but the most discriminating shoppers away.
We have hats on special lately – it pulls people into the store and is a critically necessary item for some (I have noticed there are allot more bald people than normal lately…is it just me?)
It’s nice to watch people try on hats, grateful for the air conditioning. Unlike with clothing, if a hat looks funny, generally it makes people laugh and not grumble with disdain at themselves.
Not every day is sweet. Today certainly wasn’t at all roses. It was a conflict day. Every once in a while the little store sends me a wave of this weird energy for a day. It has never lasted very long – but it is as though one after another obnoxious, raring for a fight client comes into the store.
I realize I am the common denominator however.
First of all – I am NOT a shopper, so I make a pretty lousy store clerk at times.
First of all – I don’t have patience and my kids will attest to this. In fact I have something like negative patience or rapid-fire-anti-patience – with people who are disrespectful or just plain ignorant of other cultures.
When someone comes into our sweet little store with a decided attitude that they are going to “get a deal” and hard line negotiate me, on a dress which is dripping with beautifully beads applied by tiny determined hands all the way across the world, I am short on patience and it seems I suffer from an affliction whereby the filter between my brain and mouth simply dissolves. You can give me all the advice you want on this, but I am old and ornery is not going to get any better.
The fact that i really don’t care about a dress – but was willing to have an argument about it – tells me I went in boxing.
So, when I found myself face to face with a raggedly dressed 20 something “hipster” toting mommy’s credit card (oooh my favourite) – who then thrust the delicately beaded dress in my direction and asked sweetly at first:
“How much is this?”
“It’s a hundred and twenty five”, I said smiling, seriously half expecting her to say something like “wow that’s crazy” in a “really good deal” way. But nope, instead she said
“Can you give me a deal?”
“Um…it’s hand beaded, probably by small children in India. This is a very good price for such a labour intensive piece”.
Then it began.
“Look at this thing – it’s made by “Shiva”- some rag from India, it’s not even worth fifty bucks!”
Please keep in mind that I had not yet consumed a second coffee and I am on day two of not smoking again.
I heard my mouth say:
“Hey, I have an idea. How about you go downtown, find me a hand beaded dress for less than $600.00 bucks and come back here – I’ll buy this one for you myself”.
Oh my, someone is grouchy.
Her eyes turned smokey dark and angry like my cat when he realize he was going to the vet to be castrated.
“That’s not a very good sales technique”, she said to me flatly as I ushered her with my body language, accustomed to moving large equines with a single thought all over the places, I led her none-too-delicately towards the door.
“If someone were teaching sales, they would say you sucked at this”, she exclaimed with dramatic bravado. I agreed silently with her.
Her lanky beet red boyfriend headed up the rear of the angry parade, and smiling at me gleefully unaware headed out the door.
And that was how my day BEGAN.
I go to the cash, and there are two french downtown women, who are badgering my boss for a rebate. My boss demurely tilts her head downwards when she wants to avoid conflict. She just goes silent. Selective hearing that works to disarm passionate negotiators.
The women looks down at the two blouses she is buying, and says to Aman in aggressive and rapid french, clearly knowing that Aman’s french is not good enough to understand.
“We aren’t tourists here you know”, She said glowering at Aman, waving the blouses in her face. Is this how people talk to you if you are Indian cause seriously, no one has ever talked to me like that.
I try a little social experiment and snap lightly at the woman clear that the price was already very good.
“Neither are we”, I said quickly and shortly.
I had been in work for less than five minutes and I was already exhausted.
And please let me be clear that I didn’t really care about “the dress” that began this whole discussion. I don’t care about “things”. Seriously, they hold absolutely no meaning for me. And I (none-too-secretly) think shopping is in general, is insane and a massive waste of time and resources. In fact it is clear that in the West especially, we have materialized ourselves out of our connection to ourselves and each other. We are in a frenzy of false fulfillment, when we buy yet another blouse, another pair of shoes, another – whatever.
But the little store is giving me hope that many people are waking up from this false delusion and realizing their connection to each other and the importance of taking better care of our basics. Meditation and yoga are daily favourite topics.
Our little store seems to call people – when they need it, when they are ready. Sometimes when they have something to share and I need to learn. And although small hippie store in a tourist town may not exactly have any real power in the world, like the united nations, I bet it does more to bring people together and facilitate the exchange of ideas and solutions in a more usable and community oriented fashion than the united nations or any other government.
Anyways, i’d do it just for the stories…
And old lady came into the store and bought a hat. Clearly she had seen some stuff in her lifetime with a strong eastern European accent, she thanked me with twinkly gentle eyes. When I asked her if she would like the second one which would only cost her another five dollars with the two for one special on hats, she smiled and said:
“Oh, no thank you dear. I only have one head”, and she winked and hobbled off.
Right behind her, a young beautifully dressed Iranian woman comes in with six hats in her hands. I say:
“Oh, are you bringing home gifts?”
“No. They are for me”, she replied unsmiling. When I was silent she continued:
“You never know what I will need tomorrow”, she said finally noticing my inability to reply to her.
“Yes of course”, she could tell I was thinking about this.
Yes that is true. We really don’t know what is coming tomorrow.
But six hats – a million hats – won’t give you the security you are looking for.
Nothing can give you that.
In the store I meet all sorts of people with amazing stories. The three Korean ladies who introduced me to polite Korean greetings and their amazing Korean instrument that makes beautiful music. They were quick to remind me that “Ganham Style” is Korean. A source of national pride.
I saw the tattooed Arab guy who teaches zen so naturally through his own falteringly human stories that every time he comes in for a bracelet or a stone, I feel like I have been filled with some new understanding or good focus for the day.
In the store I get a cross section of so many cultures, it seems that the continuous vibrant and interesting exchange regarding global instability and the ecology it always evolving . Everyone has a different take but the conclusion is usually the same. That we are in trouble and change at an individual level is very important.
I find out what people REALLY feel about things going on in places far away. For example – I found out that the British people ARE NOT happy about the new prime minister, although our new papers have not covered that, apparently its all the news back in the UK.
I found out that people from South Korea think that little Kim Jung whatever-his-name-is , is as funny as I do. They talk about south Korea and its beauty, food, people and music. We sat in the store for about an hour talking, playing Tibetan bowls and learning new words in Korean.
I have met many women from Arab countries, who appreciate the clothing we have that reflects what they were accustomed to in their home lands.
SO many people who have moved here from around the world, I hear allot of grateful an appreciative stories of homelands many fear they will not see again. I meet allot of homesick people.
I meet allot of people who are experiencing stress and grief. Grief is a big one – and talking about it seems to make everyone feel better.
One of my favourite new friends from the magical little store is a survivor of the Rwandan genocide. Hearing his stories keeps things in dire perspective for me,
The most interesting of these daily conversations are those I have with young people who have new ideas about some of my old ways of thinking. I am hearing a very big interest in meditation and learning about consciousness and self-studies. These Bright lights are drawn to the kinds of things we have at the store because it supports their growth and understanding.
Now – that’s the kind of shopping I’m talking about. We get more of these than the determined “dress-nazi” – many many more people with kind hearts who are looking for connection and fellowship, which they find easily once they step through the front door of our strange little shop. And even on crappy-ish days, I feel tremendously privledged to have the opportunity to be subjected to all of this beauty and diversity every day.