Commission sales get ugly when foot traffic is slow. Grown adults edge each other out to stand near the door. Sleek smiles mask desperate intent. Kind faces morph quickly to mean ones. The quarry is all, and it’s in short supply.
A new salesperson, in this situation, is always resented. It’s rarely shown overtly. As I have more than once been on the “giving” end of such resentment, however, I know it is there. I am the new wrench in the works, my very presence taking sales away from other clerks. And this leads to a dilemma. If I lay back I will be better liked, but will not make my sales plan. If I sidle forward faster than my peers and snare the man walking in the door I may make a sale. But I am painting a target on my back. In Tiffany blue, perhaps. But a target nonetheless.
Such is the way of high-end retail sales. My co-workers and I display grace, kindness, and prowess, much of it real, to the clients we help. Beneath these, however, co-exist thick veins of fear, spite, and competitiveness. Each sale made by another is a blow to our chances. You win? I lose. The system is rigged for ill-will.
My advice? Whenever you meet a salesperson who is working on commission, know one thing up front. They are lying. Or call it acting, if you prefer. I don’t care how sincere they seem. No matter how genuinely they furrow their brows when you tell them of your troubles, how brightly they smile at your recent promotion, or how assiduously they offer you water or tea. They are plotting the whole time. They’re out to get you. You are a meal ticket. You are prey. To even the best, even the kindest of them. They cannot help it.
This is the world I have rejoined. A far cry from the playground, one might say.
In the midst of this, for lunch, come MJ and Mike. I have asked them to make the trip, after a heartbreaking parting this morning. Suddenly, here is humanity again. My co-workers smile at the presence of my kid, her exuberant squeals of delight at the “fancy things,” her shy grins at the security guards, her red lemonade, (“it has cucumber!”), her skipping gait across the pale carpeted floor. Isn’t it nice? We’re all a family here, right?
My actual family and I retire to the back, and for an hour I am a mom again. Myra-Jean has been to the Natural History Museum, and brings a new matching game with a bug theme. It is multi-pieced and impossible; we play it happily on the small break-room table, amidst piles of old newspapers and leftover chips.
“I like your nice kitchen,” MJ says to no one in particular. She’s nuts. The place is a dive. But whatever.
“Thanks, honey. You can have lunch with me here any time you want.” It isn’t true, of course. This will probably never happen again. School will start, and anyway, Pasadena is a hike from where we live. But I can say it. After all, I am a salesperson. I can sell a bit of hope.
When we are done eating I tell MJ it is time for me to clock back in. She looks at me, uncomprehendingly. “What’s clock?”
“I have to go back to work.”
“But you’re coming home.”
I twist my lips regretfully. “I can’t.”
The effect is immediate. Her smile reverses itself, cheeks flush, and tears begin to flow. Loud ones. Lots of them. My manager, making copies nearby, looks over briefly, then turns away. She’s a mom. She’s not mad. Still, this is less than ideal, and we both know it.
“I want to stay with you!” Myra-Jean screams.
Commanding myself not to cry, I attempt silliness. “But you can’t work here! You’re too little!”
The joke is a flop. This is getting bad. There are about to be two of us in total meltdown, and one of us will not improve her performance evaluation in the process.
Under my breath I mutter to Mike “You’ve got to get her out of here.”
He nods. He knows. He probably saw before he came here that this was exactly how it would end. Me and my brilliant ideas. “Take your daughter to work day.” And fully traumatize her. Nice.
We rush MJ to the front door as I try to distract her with my face, my keys, the “magic flowers” on the countertops, anything I can think of. Her cries grow louder, sailing over the heads of shoppers and workers like little kiddie drones. Duck!
To make matters worse, small bits of tortilla chip, which MJ had started chewing right before I’d broken the bad news, drip from her weepy mouth. They’re going everywhere. They’ll ruin the rug.
“Get her outside,” I whisper urgently to Mike, then turn to the security guard: “Sorry.” I gesture to the floor, which looks like a taqueria. “I’ll clean it up in a second.” He looks down politely, then shakes his head. It’s fine. Just get your banshee kid out of here. Please.
The last I saw of MJ– through the big glass doors–she was attempting to hurl herself out of Mike’s arms, reaching her hands back towards me, tears sheeting her face. “Goodbye, Mama!” she keened. “Goodbye.”
And then they were gone.
For a moment I stood there. Holding. Holding. Then, stooping over carefully, I picked up my daughter’s chips where they lay, damp and listless, in the entranceway below. Slowly I rose, cleared my throat, and walked, head down, towards the back. Punching in my code, I barged the door open and fled to the break room. And breathed. And breathed. And did. Not. Cry.
Walking to the table, I picked up my daughter’s lemonade, now sweaty, pale, and nearly empty. Lifting it grimly, I took the last sip. No cucumber. Sigh.
As I turned to go back to the sales floor a co-worked entered and breezed past me. “Your daughter is so cute,” she said over her shoulder. Then she was off to the manager’s office. Probably celebrating her latest sale. Asshole.
“Thanks,” I said after her, forcing a smile.
Then, tossing MJ’s leftovers into the trash, I headed out to the floor. Four more hours to go.
Let the show begin.