Monday, February 07, 2005

The Bag Balm Is on the House

In an effort to break free from the English major straitjacket that dictates that all my blog entries must be detailed essays of no less than 500 words, complete with introduction, body, and conclusion, today I’m simply going to report on a puzzling experience.*

I finished work at 4:00 PM and took a walk to get some much-needed exercise. I came home by way of a shopping district that is going upscale at a very alarming pace. Every time I pass through, there is another new shop that sells nothing but items that no one actually needs. The hallmark of gentrification. I went into one of these shops to see what it was all about.

The shop is a small, converted nook-and-crannyish house. There was already one other customer in there who was ooohing and ahhing to the owner, a middle-aged man. The merchandise was vaguely European, but there wasn’t anything there that I hadn’t seen before. In fact, the first thing to catch my eye was a framed vintage coffee ad. Hadn’t I just seen the exact same thing at Target for $9.99? I had to find out how much it cost at this place.** Just as I was ferreting around for the price tag, the owner scooted over to me and announced, “This is hand lotion, it will keep your hands from drying out. It’s going down to 30 tonight.” Huh???? Then he grabbed my right hand and squirted a blop of viscous, sticky white stuff onto it. "This must be what bag balm is like," I couldn't help thinking.

I wandered into what had obviously once been a bathroom but was now given over to displays of vegetable seeds from Italy. As I tried to rub in the glorified bag balm, I pondered the man’s peculiar behavior. I am well aware that I don’t look particularly prosperous when I’m out for a walk, dressed--appropriately enough--in fleece jacket, jeans, and running shoes. It’s Portland, and everyone dresses like that. Well, not everyone. I took a moment to compare myself with the other customer who could still be heard rhapsodizing and fawning over the owner’s exquisite taste. She was tall, wraith thin, and dressed in plaid (gack!) trousers and a suede jacket. It was quite obvious to me that she had driven to the shop in a Ford Excursion (or similar). Was tazing me with gloppy hand cream just a ploy to make sure I wasn’t trying to pinch a fistful of gourmet pot pourri?*** I don’t think the wraith got the same treatment.

I made for the door but was once again accosted by the owner. This time he had a quaint little basket on his arm that appeared to be filled with quail’s eggs. “This is mint hand soap!” he barked. He picked up one of the little soap lozenges as if to hand it to me for closer inspection. But he wouldn’t let me take it. Instead, he slowly raised the little soap up to my face until it was right under my nose. WTF? I was forced to sniff it. Sadly, my nose wasn’t quite up to the task of separating the mint scent of the soap from the cigarette smell of his fingers. But then he put two of the little soaps in a zip lock bag and handed them to me. A gift. "That’s so nice of you," I sputtered. I left within 30 seconds.

What am I to make of all this? Did the guy feel sorry for me? Did he think I would benefit from more frequent bathing? Did he think he could guilt me into buying something? Was he still worried I was going to boost something and thought that giving me a token freebie would prevent it? Was he just being nice? (No. It couldn’t be that!) I figured it out when I got home. He gave me the soap so I’d be able to wash off the deluxe bag balm, which was still greasily refusing to absorb into my skin.

* Straitjacket escape attempt unsuccessful. English major proclivities still intact. This entry weighs in at 683 words, not counting title and footnotes.
***Did you know that in French pot pourri means, literally, “rotted pot”? I find that highly amusing.


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