In retirement, I’ve recently taken a part time job in a fabric store. Old journalist-turned-new-fiction writer, I couldn’t have chosen a better part time gig while learning creative writing. Going from the requisite “distant narrative” of journalism to the deeply personal “close narrative” of fiction is a process that doesn’t happen over night.
Retail offers an ocean of characters, voices, personas, moods from which to observe and borrow. The build up to and moment of transactional vulnerability where the wishing, wanting, needing crosses over into reality, into ownership. We invest in what we value.
I chose to work in a fabric store specifically because sewing is a favorite hobby and I wanted to be in a space I enjoy a few hours each week. So for me, at the check out register, knowing that the customer chose our store in which to make an investment in something they value, the transactional moment is equally special. Did you find everything you were looking for — and more — today? The smile, the chuckle, the yes or no but.
Hearing customer voices, seeing the fabrics, colors, textures, trims and doo dads they are investing in, noting their heights and weights and ages and personal styles. The scanner bloop, bloop. Oh, that’s cool yarn, what are you making, if you don’t mind me asking? Oh! Not at all, here I can show you a picture on my phone. Wow. Who knew you could do that with yarn? Seriously!
And the little boy, holding tight the large fuzzy Beanie Baby, telling me that he is buying this with his own money. Giving me “the look” before even considering handing Leonard, as he had already named him, to me for scanning. And no he did not need a bag, thank you.
“The look” that said, in no uncertain terms or words, I’m trusting you lady to treat Leonard and this transaction with the utmost care and recognition of its importance to me. I’m buying this with my own money, in your store, and I’m just a little kid, so think about that.
Ah, perhaps, I suggested, under these pandemic times, he should hang on to Leonard with one hand and hold up his bar code tag with the other, that I am confident I can scan it from here. His eyes smiled above his little mask. He looked up at his mom. Her eyes were smiling too. She nodded. He held out the tag. I scanned. He pulled out a crisp $20 bill, handed it to me. Another moment of eye contact, of connection. The ring of the cash drawer opening, its friendly maw eager to receive a currency treat.
The boy looked at Leonard, kissed the top of his furry little head through his mask: just you and me now buddy, and oh the adventures we will imagine and discover.
We nodded our farewells as I counted back the change into his teeny hand, Leonard firmly secured in his other. With his own money. Of all the things in the entire universe available to this little boy to invest his own money in, he chose Leonard. And I got the great honor and privilege to be part of that moment for him, the gateway, the departure point to new adventures. Thank you, he turned and hollered back in my direction. Thank YOU, I replied, then went quickly in search of a tissue to mop up the mascara puddling around my eyes.
I see variations and harmonics of that same “look” among people of all ages, of course, but that one was so pure and so lovely and so vulnerable and so strong — all at the same time that had such a profound impact on me. If I never went back, and I will, but if for whatever reason I didn’t, that one moment was worth the gig.
Good retailers and customer service people must surely know this instinctively, yes? The whole transactional vulnerability thing? Surely, they must. I’m just a writer fortunate enough to be in a part time space where I can observe and listen and learn. I admire good retailers, brands who know their customers, who understand and respect transactional vulnerability all the way from source to end user and all the procurement transactions in between.
We invest in what we value every single day — whether that be in currency or time or attention. And if you don’t believe me, just ask Leonard, he’ll tell ya.
Go to MagdalenaBlue.com to explore Krystyn Hartman’s fiction project, “Hat Tricks In Hangar Six, A Magdalena Blue Mystery Adventure.” She is member of Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers, active in two creative fiction critique groups, and attends writing workshops as she can when not at the fabric store in search of interesting colors and textures — color stories that inspire!