Tuesday, November 15, 2011

on manners and luxury deferred

I have a weakness for fine cosmetics. Not that I wear them always, or buy vast quantities. As a dancer, I spend most of my days in the studio, working up a state of sweaty dishevelment that renders the application of expensive pigments and concoctions pointless. But, when I do have the occasion to paint my face, the whole point of it, for me, is the pleasure of doing so. Heavy cases that snap shut. Velvety powders and finely cut, nearly invisible spangles. Pigment that screams. Pencils that draw on skin like warm butter. Scents that are clean, or dusty, or flowered. I don't have the sort of money that one splashes about ridiculously, or throws out the window, but I am an enthusiast of sybaritic pleasures when taken in restrained doses, and there are certain things (fripperies, or foolishness, or everyday joys?) that I indulge in. Good notebooks. Beautiful shoes. Cashmere sweaters. Nice cosmetics.

Which is all to explain why I was in the cosmetics department of Barney's New York in downtown San Francisco yesterday afternoon. And why I am writing the following letter.

Dear Barney's New York (in San Francisco):

Yesterday, I arrived in your cosmetics department. I knew exactly what I wanted. I picked up a bottle from a shelf and walked to one of your many cash registers. I stood behind a customer (the only other) and waited while one of your sales people rung her up. The process wasn't particularly slow, but I had time enough while standing there to notice three more of your sales people, dressed in black and impeccable lipstick. I had time to notice how they emerged from behind their respective counters and looked at me. I had time to notice how they gazed at my torn jeans and flannel shirt, the bottle of lotion in one of my hands, and the scruffy wallet in my other. I had time to notice how they very definitively turned their backs to resume their conversation. I had time to notice how they did not ask if I desired help. I had time to notice how they did not offer to let me pay for what I wanted to buy. I had time to notice how, when another woman came in, coiffed and sleek in a business suit, they clicked their heels across the floor and buoyed her up with questions and suggestions and fluttering hands.

Let us be frank. I, too, have worked in shops. I have even worked in very nice shops. I have worked in shops where, on a Sunday morning, I have sent a woman away with ten thousand dollars in t-shirts and sundresses and a very decent purse because she wanted someone to help her pick out clothes for a cruise. I am familiar with the judgments made on customers. The jaded assumptions of who will be difficult, who will be a pleasure, who will fling open their wallets, who will not. But I was never so confident in my psychic ability to assume my assumptions were anything like fact. And didn't your parents, or Jiminy Cricket, or your own dear heart ever force upon you a hoary old chestnut about doing to others?

But, wait! How can I know that those women were not very busy? How can I know there was no pressing matter calling them away from me, a customer, with my wallet out and in my hand? 

Because, dear Barney's, it has happened before. Do not fear! You are not alone. I have visited other shops scruffy and bare-faced. And I have visited them (and you) when I have dressed with an eye to looking pretty, and have put on makeup and pulled back my hair. Condescension, rudeness, and my apparent invisibility are always more likely in the first case. And (isn't it funny?) the kindness, accommodation, helpfulness--the manners, if we are still being blunt--have always been more in evidence in the second. 

Now, I realize that the item I wanted to purchase was comparatively small. My lotion (Malin + Goetz) is $45 per 4-ounce bottle. A bargain of insane proportions when considered next to this $335 pot of cream. But, I go visit you every few months to pick up my lotion, and sometimes a lipstick, or a candle, or an eye shadow I can't resist. These purchases make me happy. I rarely regret them. I make the assumption that one does with habitual pleasures, that I will, sometime soon, return for more.

Dear Barney's. I would like you to know that I put the bottle of lotion back on the shelf. I put my wallet back into my purse. I walked up the stairs and away from your sleek, golden treasure cave. And now I have a new assumption in my head. 

I highly doubt that you would like to hear it.

Best regards,

P. S. There is a salesperson I would like to make certain you know this letter does not apply to. Jonathan (with the glasses) is impeccably kind, constantly nice, and absolutely helpful. Unfortunately, yesterday he was not there. Too bad for me.

1 comment:

Shannon Kurashige said...

I think you should write this out on NICE and EXPENSIVE stationary and mail a copy to SF customer service, HR, and to corporate. Wuahahahaha