Friday, July 29, 2005

The Gap.. in more ways than expected

I like shopping. I mean let’s face it; my people were born to spend money, right? They always say that men were born to hunt, women to gather and gays to purchase.

Everything about the buying process is cool; the choosing between items, the sliding of the credit card through that cool little machine, the mileage that accrues on each sale. It’s all just intrinsically rewarding.

My friend Kim is a full-time buyer. I think that sounds like the best job ever. Then again, everyone though it was treat for me when I worked at the Olive Garden and could eat as many bread sticks as I wanted.

Now that my company is in Tyson Corner, 2nd shopping Mecca in the DC area next to Potomac Mills (which we don’t go to anymore because it’s become too Mennonite for our tastes), I wonder through stores each week looking for those bargains or outfits that make me look 5 pounds bulkier in the chest. (Little luck there as you’ve seen.)

However, not all of it is enjoyable. You know me well enough that I will always find something to complain about. There is one part of this entire experience that just fumes me; the greeting.

When I go into a store, I like to do so unobtrusively. I’m just browsing for God’s sake; there is no need to announce my arrival.

But not for these career retail workers. Some upper management individual has decided that it’s important for the employee to interrupt my browsing to let me know that they can assist me in any way possible. As if I couldn’t pick them out with their wardrobes directly matching all the clothing on hangers in front me.

When I worked at Williams-Sonoma (my resume has many chain vendor careers, doesn’t it?), we were under strict orders to greet a customer within 30 seconds. There is actually someone assigned as a greeter. I wasn’t selected for this role very often since I didn’t much care about the features of a Cuisinart, but rather enjoyed the 40% discount on all items but electrics.

As I enter the stores of Tysons Corner, I long for the gentle “hello” that so rarely comes with my arrival. Instead, it’s something along the lines of a Shakespearean monologue. “Hi, my name is Peyton and I’m part of the purple team here at ___. If there is anything I can do to make your time here more comfortable, please don’t hesitate to ask. Have you had the opportunity to shop here before? Let me point out the sales promotions we are having right now. So just let me know what I can do? ‘kay?”

My worst experience ever was in the Gap. Our Tree House Club (that’s what my department used to call it when Russ & I would go on outings), decided to check out the wears in the mall. We ventured into LL Bean and Eddie Bauer, walked right past American Eagle Outfitters and Abercrombie & Fitch and stopped at The Gap. Contemplating whether they had anything for 38 going on 32 year olds, we took the chance and headed in.

The moment we crossed the threshold, our ears were deafened by the sounds of Hoobatank, 12 Stones or some other really loud music. We laughed nervously, realizing that we had a better chance of being mistaken as waiting for our kids, than actually attempting to find clothing for ourselves.

Then came the voice from above intersperesed among the heavy rock beats… “Hi, can ….”

“What did you say?" I asked.
“Nothing dude.” (We call each other dude.)

The voice came again.

Russ looks over. “It’s like God’s talking to us or something, but I can’t understand the words.” We both kept looking up and all around.

With that, some little Lindsay Lohan wannabe with a tongue ring, walks over and says, “Hi, I’m Angel. I asked you twice if you needed any help, but you kept looking at the lights. Are you okay? Is there anything you need here?”

Middle age hits you in the most ironic of situations.
“No, we’re just looking for our sons. Sorry.”

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

An ad in the hand, beats two in the bushes

There is a saying that one person’s junk is another’s treasure. I love this mantra. My qualities are contradictory in that I like to both purge, but hate to toss things into the garbage. There are too many land fills overflowing with crap that other people could use.

I recycle everything I can in our house. We got a new bin that allows for all types of paper, so I now collect everything and toss it; opened envelopes, paper towel tubes, old cereal boxes. This drives Larry crazy and I go splunking through the waste cans picking up his discarded items. “It’s like we’re on welfare,” he says. Whatever!

Craigslist is my new obsession. It has surpassed eBay as my recreational cyber adventure. It’s like Outward Bound, but for lazy people. Craigslist in its simplicity is just an online bulletin board. It allows people to communicate publicly; exchanging information and developing relationships.

The communities are created locally and everything on it pertains to your local area. There are job postings, personal ads, housing information, discussions, and most importantly, items for sale. And the gem inside the “items for sale” is the FREE Section.

I sell a lot of items on both eBay and Craigslist, but when they don’t sell, I give them away. It’s like chumming for frugal people. You can dangle anything out there and people will snap it up.

Yesterday, I gave away two pillowcases that were about 10 years old, separated from an old sheet set. Once someone picked up two old lamps that needed rewiring. Another person received a broken VCR. Many times, I arrange for the person to pick it up on my doorstep while I’m at work. Like some illegal adoption, the exchange happens without anyone having to even meet.

The piece de resistance was the day I got rid our bushes. Yes, as in the bushes in my front yard. I want to redo the front yard, but we have… sorry had… these two 30-year old andromeda bushes. These bushes were great, but they were old and wouldn’t go with the new theme. (I’m gay, we have themes, okay!) Plus, I just did not want to dig take them out.

Enter Craigslist. Within ten minutes of posting a “Dig out your free bushes” ad, I had eight people lined up. I picked the person who lived the closest and offered him the bushes along with my address. Two days later, I came home to find my front yard devoid of bushes with just two small holes as proof of their existence. The deed had been done.

Larry finds the whole process a tad creepy. I think it just meets a need. You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours. I post an ad, you dig out my bushes.

Tom Sawyer really did know best.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Be Prepared

A few weeks ago, my folks joined us on a week’s vacation to the Caribbean. I know what you’re thinking, but overall it really was a great trip.

No, seriously.

We always do well with my folks on neutral territory. Three days or less at our house, work fine as well. It’s staying at their place that can be a little mind-numbing. As my friend Jessica says, “You & Larry do really well when you are staying at some place that begins with Ritz and ends with the word Carlton.” I must agree with her theory.

While the trip itself was great, the weeks that led up to the vacation were hysterical. We were staying in our friend’s condo, so Larry & I had been there before. But this was my folk’s first visit and my mom is a person who likes to plan ahead. Yes, I know you think that I’m over-organized and planner. I am, but not to this extent. Mom likes to be prepared. I mean the Boy Scouts could use her on their merit badges as the “Be Prepared” mascot.

About six weeks out, the calls began. “What type of weather will we have?” she’d ask.
I answer, “Assuming no hurricanes, it’ll be hot.”

A week later … “Do they have shampoo and soap?” Okay, a logical question which I answered in the affirmative. “Do I need to bring bug repellant?” I was prepared for this one too. “Mom, there are no bugs on the island. Besides, there are stores there so you can buy anything.” (Turns out there were bugs, so she got me on this.)

A couple days after that… “What are the pillows like?”
I said.
She asked, “Well, are they hard or soft or medium?”
“I’m not sure” I replied. “I’ve never had problems with them before.”
She indicated that she’d bring a pillow from home, which then led me into my lecture of packing light. It was only 6 days and we had access to a washer & dryer. My father immediately interrupted saying that I had no understanding of what it was like to live with a woman who was packing a suitcase. He advised me to keep quiet.

HA! Me? Keep quiet? I’m like the Dr. Phil and Martha Stewart love child when it comes to giving advice.

The kicker was two weeks before the trip. Mom called to say that they were bringing two suitcases and three carry-ons. “You have no idea how much a woman needs on vacation.” (Well true, I didn’t.) “I have my ankle braces (she’d recently sprained her ankle), my curling iron, and my (fill in with various female-oriented things). Plus I have my noise machine.”

I paused. “Your noise machine?”
“Sure,” she said. “Your father snores.”
“Okay Mom, let me get this straight. You are bringing an electronic device that makes the sound of the ocean?”
“Yes, it blocks out the noise,”
she replied.
“Mom, we are at the ocean! All you have to do is open the door!”

(Silence) “Well it could be humid and then I’d have to fix my hair.”

Yeah, I don’t know much about women.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Casual Day

Our office is casual… I mean really casual. I’ve usually worked at places that dress in business casual. I hate wearing ties and suit coats. My favorite outfit is just a pair of kackies and a collared short-sleeve shirt.

But here, it’s a little different. Jeans and tee shirts are norm. Sometimes people come in with holes in their jeans; sometimes it’s shorts. It’s great in the summer months for those that get overheated, but I’m out of my element in this casual world.

When a new person starts in my department, we usually go through some basic company training. As the boss, I also lay down my expectations of them as a worker and employee. This also includes Steve’s Clothing Etiquette Lesson. See, the one thing I learned from being employed is that it doesn’t always matter what the company rules are. If your boss disapproves, that’s all that matters.

So I have three things I ask of new folks in my department.
#1 No flip-flops. I hate ‘em. The noise they produce is like nails on a chalkboard.
#2 No crop tops or muscle shirts. I don’t want to see your belly button. Seriously!

Number three always floors people when I say it. “You need to wear under clothes every day.” And my follow-up to their next question is, “Yes, it has happened before.”

The other day I passed one of my co-workers in shorts, a tee shirt and bare feet. We both laughed as I asked if he’d just been at the beach. I joked that he was pushing casual dress to the edge. He looked back and said, “Dude, you wear slippers at work.”

Damn, I did wear slippers. I admit it; I wear them everyday, even in the summer. At first, I used to wear them because my feet were always cold. The doctor says I have sweaty feet. (Weird, I know, but better than sweaty back or something gross like that.) Well sweaty or not, now I just wear them because they are comfortable.

The slippers I bought are black so that people wouldn’t see them. They did. So then I called them business slippers. They believed that as much as Corey believing that the “waffles were asleep.”

To make matters worse, the office was really cold so I bought a cardigan sweater. I went from the Cool-Reality-Marketing-Guy (ok, that name only caught on with me) to a lame version of Mr. Rogers. Everyone knew me as the Slipper Guy. Even the president of our company noticed them.

I was hoping this would begin a fad. It didn’t. To this day, I’m the only one in bedtime footwear. They’ve even discontinued my brand of business slippers. It’s tough being a visionary.

But hey, at least I wear underwear.