Wednesday, November 11, 2009

the line

It is near closing time. A woman comes into the shop where I moonlight. She is accompanied by a dog. A medium sized one. I notice that the dog is wearing a pooch sweater. Odd... It’s unseasonably warm outside.

I hesitate about letting the dog in, but then I think – in France a dog would be welcome. We sell French products. I’ll make the dog and owner feel welcome. Especially since we have been put on notice that sometime this week a secret shopper will be making the rounds. I don’t want the shop to lose points (secret shoppers rate the seller and shop on any number of performance variables) just because I wasn’t friendly to the dog.

Still, the pooch is off leash. As its owner chats, he darts in every corner, in the back room, too. I’m getting nervous. The shopper appears oblivious.

I try to assess her shopping needs. They appear to be zero. Killing time, she tells me as she leans on the counter. In the vernacular of my youth, I would say that the woman is clean cut. Her hair is styled, her complexion looks healthy.

I’m taking steps to close. I’m sweeping, I’m bringing papers from the back room. I try to direct her to a shea butter hand cream – everyone in Wisconsin needs a shea butter hand cream in the winter. She looks at it, tries a little, then returns to resting against the counter.

By now, I’m wondering if she is unstable. Or lonely. Or the deliberately difficult secret shopper. Her dog is bored. He’s sitting by the door, looking out at the dark, empty night.

So, what is it that you teach? I already told her what I teach. I repeat the list, offering no detail. She describes a problem that she has that may require legal intervention. I’m used to that. Tell someone you’re an attorney and they dig out every miserable mishap from their lives.

When she starts probing more about my law school classes, I decide she has crossed the line. It’s bright and visible, that line between shopper and seller. You can exchange stories: you can say where you’re from, what you do, you can talk about your children and grandchildren, you can flatter the other with praise for their choice of jewelry. But at some point, you have to know that it can go no further: the transaction will end, the customer must leave, you have to return to closing the store.

Shea cream. Consider getting some shea cream. With essential oils from the south of France. She shrugs her shoulders and lets herself out. The dog trots dutifully by her side.


It’s no secret that I believe I have in me a book. I also have in me essays. Unlike the book, these have been coming out in a fairly steady stream over the past decade. Less so in recent years. But certainly something that I took seriously in the last years of my marriage.

I pulled out some of those essays this week. I could have thought: splendid! I must do something with these! But I didn’t. Instead, I thought – what a bunch of amateurish crap.

This is not unusual. Tearing apart my own work is a fairly common event for me. I go through so many drafts before I stop and think – why am I doing this? Why am I reworking stories that will never be audience ready?

I’ll leave you with this day – told in four pictures: morning (familiar, no??), noon-ish, evening, and nearly night.




Yes, and night... or nearly night...