15 October 2010

excerpt from Carpet Store Diaries

Please enjoy my humble offering, this excerpt from my new book, Driving a Rental Car in Heels. Like it?  There's more!  Order now!  

Monday, June 5, 1995

I need a job.  I am calling this “family-owned and run” carpet store because it does not involve fast food, small children, or getting dirty.  I do not really have that rigid of a list of deal-breakers, but these are all things I generally dislike, and it seems like it would be nice to avoid them.
I call the store and speak with the owner.  At first he seems a bit evasive. “Hi, is Joe there?”  “Uh, I don’t know.  Who is this?”  “My name is Nicole; I’m calling about your ad for clerical help.”  “Oh, I’m Joe, yeah.”  Uncomfortable silence.  I hear small, high-pitched clicking sounds.  Is he trimming his nails?  “Sooo, have you filled the position?” “No.  Do you want it?” “Yes, I’d be interested in coming in and meeting with you.”  “OK, can you come tomorrow morning?  We open at 9am.  Okthanksbye.”  Click.
The conversation is so abrupt that I sit for the next several minutes wondering if I have a job interview for tomorrow.  I want the job (if it pays money and not root vegetables, I will take it), so I eventually decide that I will show up and, if he didn’t mean for me to come, he might feel pressured into taking me because I am standing there in front of him.  I am not proud.  I am slightly behind on my rent. 
It also occurs to me that I do not know where this place is, because the name of the carpet store is not even listed in the ad: “Joe” and a phone number, that’s it for information.  I really don’t want to come off as a dope or one of those people who asks too many questions, though.  Hoo boy, this is awkward.  I know!  I will just call and ask for directions to the store!  I won’t identify myself–what are the odds of Joe answering again when he seemed in such a hurry?  I will pose as a potential customer.  I won’t even have to say this–it will be understood.  Add problem-solving skills to the resume.  “Hello, can you give me directions to your store?” “Yeah, is that you, Nicole?  I wondered if you knew where we were.  Take Cicero to 57th, North on 57th, West on Wolf.  We’re next to the 7-11 in the strip mall.”  Click.  I wonder if he will remember what an idiot I am by tomorrow.

Tuesday, June 6, 1995

I arrive five minutes before the store is supposed to open and no one is around.  The place is completely dark.  I sit in my car and start to feel like a stalker.  At 9:02 by my clock, the lights come on, but I see no movement towards the front door, where I need to be let in.
Then a woman in her 50s (60s?) approaches with a warm, generous smile to let me in.  She is very petite and seems to be wearing a lot of gold jewelry.  Also, her hair is a strange kind of hay color.  She opens the door and beams up at me (up–she might be the first adult I have met who is taller than me) and says “Are you Nikki?  Joe’s waitin’ for ya!”  I have not been “Nikki” since I was perhaps nine years old, but now is not the time for such petty concerns.  They can call me a two-bit whore (which I am not, by the way) if they want to hire me. 
This little pistol is named Carol, and she is Joe’s mother.  She is talkative and smells slightly of wine.  When she takes me back to the break area (not a room, but a section which is partitioned pretty thoroughly from the rest of the store) I see why.  Everyone is sitting around an open bottle of Riunite burgundy with Styrofoam cups in hand.  Huh.  Carol explains that they don’t usually sit around drinking, “at least not till noon!  Ha!”, but they are celebrating closing a very big deal with a housing development.  They will be installing the carpet in every new house that goes up.  That is exciting.  I am offered wine, as well.  Not unfamiliar with a morning cocktail and not wanting to look aloof, I accept. 
Joe is a small and jittery man.  He slicks back his dark, wavy hair, but it is uncooperative.  The result is a greasy mess which is mostly smoothed to his scalp, but with the occasional half-curl forming little wings that stick out from various surprising places on his head.  He has several gold rings, and each seems to be some kind of band with a large hunk of something in the front–a gold plate with an initial, a cluster of small diamonds, and in one case, a literal hunk of unformed gold.  He is also wearing two thick gold chains: one has a cross, and one has an Italian horn hanging from it.  He is probably in his early 30s, but his outfit could have come from my dad’s closet: faded jeans, not in the purposeful, cool way; button down shirt with vertical stripes; slightly worn but very clean white leather tennis shoes. 
Joe shows me to a desk and starts explaining what I will do.  Apparently there is no job interview; I have been hired.  I will not sell carpet, of course, because I know nothing, but I am encouraged to watch the others and should “speak up” if I decide I would like to go that route.  Right now Joe, his mother Carol, and his father Joe Senior (divorced from Carol) sell the carpet. 
I will sit at a desk near the back of the store, direct people to a salesperson, answer phones, and oversee the installers.  The warehouse manager should be the one to send the installers on their jobs and make sure they get their jobs done, but he is apparently inadequate in this area, as Joe informs me “He just smokes doobs all day with them”.  So, now I will have to be the bad cop and make them do their work.  I have no management experience, but I do have experience in being an unlikeable drag, so I feel qualified for this. 
I proceed to sit at my desk and laugh uncomfortably at mildly sexist jokes for the rest of the day.  I meet Joe Senior (he is the only one who calls me Nicole instead of Nikki, because he can tell I’m “classy”.  He sort of says it like, “Nee-call”.  He is from America, however.).  I also meet Al, Carol’s husband, who calls the store “a total fuckin’ clusterfuck” and wishes me luck, and Sue, Joe’s lovely bride.  She completely ignores me, but I do not take it personally.  She only seems to notice Joe, actually.  She complains about various irritants in her life and then leaves.  I think she just misses him.  She has left their 14-month-old daughter at home to stop in and “get out of that friggin’ house”.  I am unsure what to make of her.