I didn’t think she thought I was cute or, like, wanted my phone number or anything, but the next thing she said cemented my suspicions.
“You’re cute,” she said. “I want your phone number.”
At the Nordstrom-flagged shopping mall on Michigan Avenue, where luxurious, high-end chocolatiers and salons mingle with tawdry mall fodder Panda Expresses and phone case hawkers, I had wandered past a cosmetics kiosk staffed only by the beautiful.
A dark-haired woman in a form-fitting and low-cut black dress almost straddled a middle-aged white guy in a grey suit in a chair. She leaned over him and touched him and laughed at things he said.
It was a corner-of-the-eye notice for me; I didn’t break my slow, exploratory stride until a woman with mid-length blonde hair, a shy yet beckoning smile and eyes the color of the northern sea on a foggy dawn slid up to me in her own form-fitting low-cut.
She held out a free sample of some beautification chemical, but flicked it away when I reached for it.
“I can tell the redness bother you,” she said in a fetching Russian or otherwise E. European accent and tracing a finger along her own cheekbones. “Come, I want to do something for you.”
A few seconds later, I was the one in the chair getting slathered and swabbed with little ice cream sample spoonsful of exfoliants, lotions, aftershaves and doesn’t that smell nice, sweetie? See this? That is all dead skin, you can see difference already.
A lean, a touch, a smile, eye contact, reaching for something behind me for the purpose of leaning admittedly masterful cleavage in my face.
Teasing, goading, complimenting, insulting. She can tell I do something to get my great skin. She can tell I need to do more for my wide pores and redness. Enough flirting to make me feel handsome and wealthy (I can get this product); enough prodding to make me feel ugly and poor (I need this product).
You can’t afford this? You use a little amount, will last you 24 months. How much is that? Two years! You can’t afford for two years? No? No? OK, I like you, sweetie. I’ll tell you what I will do, sweetie. For Christmas I sell this at lower price. You get this [puts down cube-shaped box] and for same price I give you this [puts down more rectangular box] as well. I do this because I like you, sweetie. You don’t tell anyone, OK? You just when people ask about your skin send them my way, OK? OK, sweetie?
During this all, I volleyed back. No, I can’t afford this. Yes, $160 seems expensive for a jar of hand cream. Yes, $59 also seems expensive, even with the more rectangular box thrown in. No, I can’t afford this. No, I can’t afford this. Yes, it does smell nice. No, I can’t afford this.
Then suddenly, it landed. She took a step back, dropped the gentle leaning, touching, big wide eyes, the smiling, the flirting about cuteness and phone numbers. She withdrew from a transaction that was clearly a non-starter.
“OK, just have a great day,” she said, instantly grim and bored.
“You too,” I chirped, hopping from my chair to wander on, chuckling about what I had just seen.
What made me chuckle wasn’t the woman. I’ll never fault anyone for using what they’ve got. Morally it’s no different than when I flash the big puppy eyes and the smile that says “Trust me.”
The word that springs to mind when she does her act might be one letter shorter than “Trust,” but life’s too hard to get judgmental on how others make their way.
What made me chuckle happened during the “You can’t afford this?” slather-swab-sweetie barrage, which in real life was about five times as long and included many more touches, several additional “sweeties” and a hand-holding pinkie swear promise I would tell no one of the great deal she was offering only me because she liked me so much.
While I was in the chair being poked, prodded, straddled, flirted, touched, complimented and forcibly cleavaged, the suit-wearing man I had seen getting the same treatment from the other woman wandered past.
He carried three things. The first was a look of hatred directed solely at me.
The other two were bags of $160 hand cream.
No, sweetie. No.