Once every couple of years or so, Ellie manages to talk me into a shopping expedition for new clothes. I'm hard on clothes. When I get new ones, they look good for a while, but pretty soon I begin to look like my sloppy old self again. And I don't need to look like one of those models in the New York Times Men's clothing supplement. But I understand the value of looking reasonably well put together--especially now that I'll be venturing out into the world to spread word about "Persist."
So yesterday was the day. I had promised before Christmas that I'd spend an afternoon at Fashion Island (!) and take advantage of the seasonal sales. We drove up the coast in unpromising weather, a slow, steady rain of the kind that makes driving in California hazardous. It's well-known that Californians have no idea how to drive in the rain. The invention of anti-lock brakes is a blessing for all those who have never learned that you drive into a skid, not against it... But that's another story.
We started out at one of the (very) slightly down-scale department stores, where prices are more or less reasonable--and the products of correspondingly inferior quality. I have always preferred shopping in these stores: Mervyn's, while it lasted, was my major supplier, and Target does me pretty well, too. See, what a shopping snob I can be? I had expected the stores to be mobbed. This one was virtually empty--as bereft of staff, it seemed, as of customers. The only place where actual people were visible was at the check-out counters, where solitary employees struggled to keep up with long, impatient lines of those wanting to make purchases. Actual help was out of the question. I found some things that I liked, but naturally every one of them was in the wrong size. Try to find someone to ask if they had the right fit... well, forget it. (We did, in fact, finally find a woman who seemed anxious and ready to help--but who informed us that "everything was out," and if we couldn't see the right size, it wasn't there.)
So we trudged over to a definitely more up-scale store, also less than crowded with eager shoppers. And here we found--miracle of miracles--the best "sales clerk" we had ever encountered. This was a young man who was helpful and polite; friendly in exactly the right measure, not overly anxious to please; efficient and thoughtful. When asked for suggestions, he listened seriously to our attempts to explain the "look" we were after, and came up with useful and appropriate ideas; when asked for his opinion, he took his time to look carefully and offer an honest appraisal as to what worked and what didn't, what fit nicely and what needed adjustment. He was willing to spend the time that it took to get things right. And he sold us a whole bunch of stuff. I shouldn't say that: he sold us some excellent outfits, exactly what we had been looking for, selected with care and nicely co-ordinated.
Turns out, this young man is an actor and a dancer! Should have figured that out from the balance and poise of his presence, his clear articulation, his alert and imaginative approach to this audience of two. Toward the end of our two-hour session, he allowed himself a few personal revelations, including that he had spent time traveling the world in his "other" profession--a sure way to expand the horizons of one's life. I told him about my new book and its theme--the predicament of the artist in a culture that worships celebrity and money--and his response was that of virtually every creative person I speak to: that's something I need to read!
I left with thanks for his help, and contact information, should he wish to receive the copy I offered to send him by way of appreciation for his fine work. I look forward to hearing from him, and will be delighted if that happens. David, if you read this, you have my card...