Standing up at Reggie #1, wishing the Handsome-and-Potentially-Heterosexual-Male-Customer in line would notice me, I can’t help but wonder: is this what it feels like to be invisible? Mr. Handsome-and-Potentially-Heterosexual (H-and-PH for short) is all smiles. He smiles as he steps in line behind and elderly woman. Smiles, even, as she counts out $7.49 in quarters and nickels (which is mathematically impossible without pennies and it takes her a few millennia to realize this).
Nonetheless, HandPH positively beams as he lays his basket of Manly Items down on the counter (wood glue and spray paint) and I think to myself: well now, this is a good sign! It’s Monday, and as such, I’m feeling rather refreshed. I’m wearing my nice earrings (as opposed to the usual, boring mid-week pairs, which fail to convey my flair for fashion). I’m even wearing eye liner… and speaking of eyes, HandPH’s eyes are gorgeous.
“Hi,” I say. “How are you?”
HandPH grins, and really, this comes as no surprise. Opening lines are kind of my thing, especially opening lines of the monosyllabic variety (ie. “Hi,” “Hey,” and in the context of spilled drinks, “Oops!”). After four months of repeating, “Hi. How are you?” approximately six thousand times a day, I’m especially well-versed in the first of these and it seems to do the trick. In response to my question, HandPH says, “Good thanks, and you?”
“Good,” I reply, not wanting to seem too eager by plunging ahead into multisyllabic territory.
When he hands me his credit card, however, I notice HandPH has an unusual name. And when faced with an unusual name, I decide to pull out all the stops. “Clete?” I read. “That’s a name you don’t hear every day!”
“No,” he replies, “I guess not.”
Our conversation could have blossomed into a thing of beauty here: he could have informed me that “Clete” was a family name, and dazzled me with tales of his youth in the Scottish highlands (or wherever people named “Clete” come from). Or, he could have glanced down at my name tag and asked, “And you… Kat. Is that short for something?” I could have told him that my mother named me after a prostitute from an 80’s soap opera (although she is always quick to point out that my namesake was a reformed prostitute) and we could have continued the conversation over chai lattes.
Not that there are any decent coffee shops even remotely near The Shop. Come to think of it, there are none at all, decent or otherwise, which is why I generally spend my lunch break wandering around the parking lot or sitting in the break room, trying desperately not to inhale—but that’s all besides the point. The point I’m trying to make is that Clete was definitely not keeping up his end of the conversation.
As I bag his Masculine Items (stupid wood glue, stupid hope-inducing spray paint!), I suddenly realize that I’m invisible to Clete. I’m just a Sales Associate. He probably hasn’t even bothered to read my name tag, and even if he did, he still wouldn’t notice me.
I used to get noticed all the time at The Old Shop (where I worked in London while finishing my MA). Of course back then, I had a few things working in my favor. First was my American accent. As an obvious foreigner, I must have done something worthwhile with my life to warrant a visa. I’d get a fairly standard set of questions. “You’re American then?” (Yes). “What brings you to London?” (University). And what are you studying? (Dance Anthropology). “Is that an undergraduate course?” (No.) “Postgraduate then?” (Yes). “So you’re a clever girl, then.” (Well…). “Is this your first time in the UK?” (No, I spent a year at Oxford). “Indeed, you are a clever one!”
Sometimes my conversations at The Old Shop deviated from the above—sometimes (four times, to be exact) they even resulted in the offer of an HandPH’s phone number— but without fail, people noticed me.
I suppose this might have also had something to do with my rather liberal interpretation of The Old Shop’s dress code. A black or white blouse with black trousers? No problem. I wore cute black cardigans, plunging v-necks with funky Primark necklaces, and chiffon, polka-dotted tops. I also “interpreted” my way from trousers into skirts (on account of summer heat, you understand, because London, as we all know, has fabulous summer weather… for about 48 hours, which is just long enough to buy an ice cube tray, make ice cubes, and then realize it’s gone cold again and you don’t really want ice cubes after all). I wore fitted skirts, outrageously wide belts (also Primark) and, on the evening of my first drink with a particularly promising HandPH, a strapless black dress with black fishnets. Granted, that last ensemble might have been a bit over the top, but my boss was out of town and, as I reasoned with myself, it was black at least.
But I can’t wear fishnets as a Front End Specialist and my accent is no different from anyone else’s here.
I recently read a book in which the protagonist, a quadruple-chinned overeater, spent the majority of her days just dying for the HandPH in her life to notice her. She felt that he had never seen the real her—the compassionate, intelligent and fun-loving woman that lie beneath the quadruple chins.
Having been blessed with only one chin, I didn’t understand the protagonist’s despair but then, as Clete simply smiled and reached for his bag of Masculine Items, it hit me. He had no idea what lies beneath my oversized polo shirt! No idea that if he were to invite me for a chai latte that I would have something interesting to say, something other than, “Would you like me to double bag that for you?”
The fancy earrings make no difference. To the rest of the world, I’m still just a shop girl.