Monday, April 24, 2006

With The Fishes.

So my new job. Catherine Malandrino, a French clothing designer. Her SoHo store, the one I work at, is at the corner of Broome and Greene. I stand just inside two enormous bay windows; one window faces Broome, the other Greene. I wear white Converse All-Stars. I wear a form-fitting crew-cut, long sleeved, also white. Finally, the pants: white, straight cut, cotton. I have to wear white boxer briefs, or you'd see, upon a glance, my blue boxers and the blue dolphins printed there. Or, if I wasnt wearing any -- well.
My job is to stand just inside those big bay windows, a row of mannequins behind me draped in the season's latest, and usher in, or out, the patronage. Old ladies, young girls, single women Of A Certain Age. All rich. My job is to beat them to the door handle, pull it open before they get a chance, impress (somebody) with my speed, and greet them, either with a look or a word, to the little boutique.
A girl, 18, came in twice. Walnut hair, chopped bangs, hooked nose, round brown eyes. She stood still in front of the mirror as her friends commented on the dresses, straps or strapless, past her knees or above them, white, or black. And then she would turn, and her voice, husky and violent and short and rich, would command, dictate, diffuse any other opinion in the room. I watched her from the door, in the mirror. When she stood there, silent, at her most beautiful, that was when she saw me. As they left, the doors open to the cab they flagged, she turned back to me, phone to her ear, asked, "Sir, what time do you close?" I cleared my throat, "Seven," I said. She put the phone to her mouth, "They close at six," and smiled, held her eyes on me, stepped in the cab. This was the first time.
The sun cast just enough light on me from behind the buildings now, at five, for me to check my reflection in the bay window facing Greene. Should I stand with my hands in my pockets, or with my arms tucked behind me, one in my back pocket? Which pose looks more at ease, which is more SoHo? Should I stand up straight or coolly slouch, let my belly kick out the front of my crewneck?
She returned, the young girl, but this time, with an older man. Her father. The same hooked nose. Rimless specs, white hair pushed straight back. He wore a quiet but respectable leather jacket, and a tasteful collared shirt. His lips, though, hinted at a sneer. Like he might cry or spit at any moment.
He sat, quickly, in a low, green, swivelled chair at the center of the boutique. She returned to the dressing room, to the pieces she'd held aside, and, one by one, appeared to him as he spun the chair and tossed aside the pages to the fashion magazines on the coffee table, there. Each time she came from behind the white sheath of the dressing room, he would squint, sit back on the green chair, let the magazine collapse on his chest, and twist up his lower lip.
"What?" she'd say, and her shoulders would drop, and before he would utter a word (several times he didn't), she turned back, flung the curtain around her, and slipped into something else.
Finally, she appeared (for the third time) in a white dress, plunging neckline, gold straps, and sandals that clicked when she walked. She stood in front of the mirror, her father just behind her, slouched back on the chair. I caught her eyes again, in the mirror. She held my gaze. Her eyes, in that look, under whatever pressure, had the same, striking effect as her voice; I looked away.
Her father squinted, again. "A social is a respectable event," he told her.
"Fuck that. This is nothing," she said. "This is prude. I'll be like that girl with the big red A on her tits."
"Hester Prynne," He said, leafed through his magazine.
"Right," she said. "Believe me, dad, this is nothing."
Her father looked up. "You'll need a scarf or a sweater. Just a little something." He turned to the salesgirl, "Get her a little something. A little sweater, one that ties around. I don't care. Just something that covers her up...there."
The salesgirl opened a drawer somewhere, dug around, and found a sweater. The Girl With The Violent Voice let her weight fall on one foot, kicked the other out, rolled her eyes and wrapped herself in the sweater.
"Great. Yeah. Hey dad. Hey dad, wow. Fuck."
He snapped the magazine shut, dropped it on the table, turned to the cashier, "I'm done. She'll take what she's wearing."
She clicked across the floor. "She'll take the shoes, too," he said, and drew his wallet from his jacket.

I held the door as they approached. I sought eye contact. She rebuked me with a simple, unadorned, "Thanks." He did not look up as he left. I shut the door. Off the steps, on the sidewalk, not so much as a glance, and I was left in my tight whites, hands behind my back (decidedly, the Most Hot Pose), counting how many minutes I could stand without a single twitch, flinch, or muscle spasm. Four. Four minutes.