Thursday, May 30, 2013

Real Talk: Awkward Thrift Store Encounters Edition

Good morning!

I was brainstorming what to tell you guys about today, out of the breadth of my human experience, and the first thing that came to mind was the weekend before last's Friday shopping excursion. As a library employee, I am mercifully allotted every other weekend a Friday off for the Friday half-day and Sunday day-shift I worked the previous week. This means, as you may well have guessed as even a casual reader of this blog, more time to hit estate sales or the thrift stores. I was at Southern Thrift out in Donelson two weeks ago as of tomorrow. A wonderful location, btw! Huge, huge place with lots of wingding, miscellaneous things you never knew you needed. Conveniently located in Donelson Plaza , a little to the far left of where this photo was taken:

So I was trying on dresses there the other day, and had the good fortune to find three different vintage dresses (I find vintage inspired department store dresses often enough, but very rarely old things). The cobbled-together-from-Gmail-chat version of the story I told Kelsey and Sus the other day went like this:

"Imagine me trying to go around in the world, shopping at the Southern Thrift. No dressing room mirrors at this location, you have to go outside the room to get a look at your prospective duds. So I find a couple actually really old fifties' dresses and I'm trying them on, trying not to look conspicuous...because you don't know once you've stepped out there if they're like, completely too short or too small or whatever else...So I come out in my little black hat and my black tights and this fifties' dress and I'm looking at it trying to see if it's too short mainly--when I hear somebody go, "You'd be a fool not to get that one! You look absolutely stunning in that!"

I turn around and there's this tv preacher/guy in a car lot dude. Not particularly creepy, just like somebody you'd see at bible study, in a double breasted blazer. About fifty, blond. Looks a lot like John Tesh.

Me: Um, well, wow! Thanks! I was just--

Guy: You should get that. You really look gorgeous in it. And that hat, too. Was it the dress or the hat you were trying on?

Me: Uh, the dress.

Guy ((earnestly)): Well that hat is great. That's a really great look, all of it.

Me: Oh, thanks! I appreciate that, man. Thanks.

((scurries back into dressing room))

And your mystery date is...John Tesh!
So I try on my other stuff without leaving the dressing room, and then I kind of walk around the store and try and avoid him (I'm not trying to be weird, but this is feeling weird! And I'm by myself, and I have no cell phone)

Finally, I'm like, all right, let's bounce.Go up to the cash register. Stand in line.While I'm in line, the guy comes up in the same blazer he was trying on like 10 minutes earlier

Guy: "Excuse me, miss, but since you got my opinion earlier, I was wondering if I could trouble you for yours. What do you think about this blazer?"

Me: "Um, that's nice! And it looks like it fits you pretty well."

Guy: "You think so? Really?" ((kind of preening, arms out a little bit))

Me: "Yeah! And it's $4.99? I'd get that."

Guy: "And these pants are on sale for $2!" ((gestures at the khakis he is wearing))

Me: "Yeah....uh....yeah!" ((trying to be cheerful))

((he retreats))

The cashier woman: Did you know that guy?

Me: No. No I did not.

Cashier woman: I think he came all the way up here to talk to you. Must have been checkin' you out or somethin' when you were walkin' around the store!

Me: Uh, maybe. Sure. Yeah.

Cashier: And you're probably not even interested, you're like, I'm WAY TOO YOUNG FOR YOU!

Me: Um, I guess?

me: ((pays, takes bag, walks purposefully but does not quite run to car))"

I got my stuff, but I was still left with this lingering feeling of "How could I have done that less awkwardly? Was there something I did to make this dude make my shopping experience THAT weird?"

What the movie of my life would be called, minus the implicit sauciness of some interpretations. Or maybe "She Could Say No, But People Wouldn't Take a Hint, Either!"

Now, this story is not meant to illustrate some kind of Valley Girl horror at the idea that a fifty year old man would be trying his luck on a stork-like librarian in her late twenties' (I'm flattered!), nor, if the guy was reading this, would it be meant to embarrass him. My thoughts here are-- what is it that makes people think it's reasonable to go up to a complete stranger and initiate conversation? Especially the kind of awkward, insistent conversation that often take place in thrift stores? I've never had an Ethan Hawke circa 1995 lookalike wander up to me over the electronics and ask me for about my taste in coffeemakers, but I can't TELL you how many times I've had weird, uncomfortable tête à tête's with just random people while hot on the track of my vintage treasures.

And I'm not even unfriendly! In true Southern form, I would honest-to-God rather chop off my own hand than make somebody feel uncomfortable-- my problem is that the reverse is almost never true of other people! There's something about someone walking into your space and demanding your attention, or an interaction, that bothers me, especially if you politely try to intimate that you're just there to look for clothes and 1960's bullfighting paintings. Remember in reading pre-1920's literature or in watching Masterpiece Theater where people would not dare APPROACH a person without an introduction? I'm not a dowager empress, but I would really appreciate it if total strangers didn't have an open option on my time the way some people feel that they do.

I don't envy them their life-expectancy/likelihood-to-die-of-cholera-or-in-childbirth, but the manners! The manners, people! (source)

Am I awful? Have you been in a retail situation lately where you've felt like, come ON, PLEASE leave me alone, but didn't have the heart to tell your hapless interloper that their continued attentions were unwanted? Am I just a wimp for not turning on my heel and ignoring the mannerless? What's your go-to strategy in unwanted conversations? Any weird encounters in thrift stores lately? Let's talk!

That's all for today. I'll see you guys back here tomorrow for Photo Friday! Til then.


  1. I feel ya, sister. I sometimes think that it's the kind of people...guys especially...who frequent these places. I mean, don't get me wrong, WE frequent these places too and we're not weird....or are we?
    Imagine my situation. I WORK in an antique shop. And it's right next to a flipping pawn shop and liquor store. IN EAST TENNESSEE. I can't count the number of 'good ole boy, too old, too young, toothless, meth head, baseball cap wearing, saggy pants, southern drawl so heavy I can't even begin to understand half of what they said' guys that I get unwanted attention from. And, while I'm not conceited, I find myself---in my mind, of course---going all Clueless..."Ugh, AS IF!!" Outwardly, of course, I'm nice as pie but try to avoid eye contact.
    In London, my friends and I used to play the 'creeper' game when out together. The girl who collected the first 'creeper' advance got her drinks covered by the rest of us for the duration of the night. I was never the 'creeper' girl. But back here, well, let's just say I'd be a raging alcoholic!

    1. Man, how many free drinks I would have won on that creeper game. It's like wearing vintage clothes puts a target on your back (on top of being a girl, of course)! I love the "AS IF!"

  2. There are a lot of people who are socially clueless and I suspect do not read body language and facial expressions all that well. And then there are lonely people and flat-out creeps.

    I don't feel very obligated to talk to strangers when they talk to me. It really depends on what they say and how they say it. I walk downtown as part of my workweek commute and am often surprised at people, mostly men, who will talk to me when I haven't made any eye contact with them at all. No invitation! If they say hello or good morning, I usually reply. But if it's hey baby or something, I am deaf. Once I was crossing an intersection and the man crossing in the opposite direction really aggressively said HELLO! It was not friendly. I didn't hear him.

    I think you did OK in the thrift store. I generally want to reply politely but not have a long conversation with strangers.

    This week I was sitting on the concrete walkway at the Madison Library eating a snack and a woman said it was a shame I had to sit on the ground like that. I agreed, and we both noted that there used to be a bench but it had been removed. Then she starts badgering me to complain about it, several times. OK, lady, now your bossiness is turning me off.

    1. See?! That's what I'm talking about, that INSISTENT conversation long after the friendly exchange of pleasantries. I sure don't want to be rude to someone, but sometimes it seems like anything short of "LEAVE ME ALONE." is not getting through to them. And I don't mind exchanging a hello or acknowledging someone else's presence, but some people (like your Madison gal) take it too far!

  3. I get WAY more creepy attention from the 50-60 year old category of men than the "Ethan Hawke" variety, I find it very weird. I used to think men my age were uncooth and too be avoided (im 38), but I'm beginning to revise this opinion.
    Love your blog. Thank you for writing!

    1. I guess the 50-60 years olds have less to lose/ subscribe to the "nothing ventured, nothing gained" philosophy? I have had some we-e-e-e-ird encounters with that age group in thrift stores. I thought it was my vintage look, but now I think it's just dudes being weird dudes way past the age range where they should.

      Thanks for reading and commenting! :)

  4. I get a lot of random strangers wanting to tell me their troubles/ life story when I'm out and about. I think I just have my shrink "tell me all your problems!" face on at all times. :/ As for men, well, sometimes I think they're just hopeful!! ;) Also, loved the John Tesh mystery date game!! LOLOL

    1. Haha, "Open the doooor, for your mystery daaate...who is, unfortunately, John Tesh..." :)

      I am so glad to hear I'm not the only one getting these over-sharers, over-impositioning people! I thought maybe I was being too sensitive.

  5. Yeah, there is something about thrift stores (and auctions and flea markets!) that tends to attract weird folks. I remember once when I was about 17 and out thrifting, this older middle-aged guy first told me he liked my shoes, to which I was all "oh, thanks!". Next he was complimenting my hair, and then he reached out and touched my hair!! (!!!) I was so, so horrified. And I also think having retro/vintage style makes people think you're kind of a public attraction they can query. Once I also had some guy act creepily insulted with me when I refused to let him take my picture (again, WTF people?!). I like to talk to strangers sometimes, as you never know what interesting stories they have, but man, when I'm alone and older men start talking to me, it just unnerves me! I am pretty good at getting my cold-shoulder Garbo act on though ;)

    1. There's something about dressing vintage that makes people think "Oh, why not trample ALL OVER the boundaries of personal space/ polite conversation, after all, she's wearing a square dance dress, this must mean she wants to be manhandled or talked about in public, right?" I need to do a whole other post about that some time. Emma from Fiercest Lilliputian was JUST mentioning this on Facebook the other day, and it struck such a chord!

      I, too, try to be as polite and friendly as I can in public, but in the face of the kind of stuff you mentioned in your comment? The patience of Job would be tried! I need to work on my Garbo, I just get flustered and frazzled.

  6. I've gotten hit-on by a lot of older men. It's so weird and awkward. This was weird and awkward. Poor thing. I bet it left you feeling out of sorts for the rest of the day.

    1. I went to my car with my bag of stuff going "How could I have handled that better? WAS there a way to handle that better?" :( I need to take things less seriously, but it IS so unnerving!

  7. if i cant ignore them i grin like a tv-preacher and talk to them in a friendly but very strong voice. this helps with the most. never show fear, it´s like with dogs.
    and i don´t take it personally - it´s not your fault - THEY have a crack in the teacup.

    1. I love "never show fear". Well said!!

  8. I too long for the days of manners, chivalry, and BOUNDARIES. Maybe someday they will be popular again. Maybe schools of etiquette will become fashionable! Women are the ones who who chipped away at our protective bubble so we could be more "equal" and free (like Bionce'?) Now we are all expected to be good sport. Eww. Bring back the old days. And creepy men should maybe be reprimanded in a prude mom sort of way. Maybe that would work. Naw..probably just turn em on.

  9. I go to church downstairs from Southern Thrift, and I love thrift stores, but the one time I went in there I was completely overwhelmed by all the stuff they have. Good to know there are treasures to be found within. Maybe I'll brave it again one of these days!

    1. You have to go back! I've gotten some great stuff there before.

  10. Gee, I LIKE maniacs! I've worked in mental health (and ER, which is pretty close)all my life. Nutty people are very familiar to me, and well, I'm kinda nutty myself. A few weeks ago my girlfriend and I were at a Pannera just off the Plaza in KC. It's nice there, and the staff lets oddball street types with the price of a cup of coffee hang out. An older guy came up and said "Madam, your hair is beautiful!" I said "I agree! But it's a dye job."
    He said, "Nevertheless! You are magnificent!" AND he gave may hair a little stroke. What can I say? The man has TASTE! I did notice he had on two different shoes.
    So, my buddy was horrified that I wasn't horrified. But! He was courtly, and gentle, and like, when's the last time I was told I was magnificent?
    When we finally packed up to leave, he and his cronies were outside sitting at a table. He said "Madam, the sunlight makes your hair even more beautiful!"
    My girlfriend yells, "Hey! What about MY hair?" and the bum just gives a shrug.

    1. HAHA, Mrs. Leapheart, my hero. I feel bad for your friend going, "And what am I?! CHOPPED LIVER?!"

  11. Um YES! I used to get a lot of uncomfortable convos when I worked at Victorias Secret after college. I specifically asked to work in the body care section to avoid interactions...but I still had a handful of weirdo guys who would make uncomfortable inuendo to me and I had no way of escaping...because I worked there. You have to be nice to customers even if they are significantly creeping you out.

    1. Oh man, talk about awkward. I hate people who keep you hostage at your work, taking advantage of the fact that you can't be rude to them because you're, ahem, AT WORK. I need a manners police!

  12. Wow, that guy sounds like a chatty Kathy for sure. I totally know what you mean! The other day I had what felt like a million odd conversations with people about what I was wearing. I also understand what you mean about never wanting someone to be uncomfortable or to think you're rude. I always want to be pleasant and nice, but sometimes I just want to go about my day without loads of people talking to me or commenting about what I'm buying/how I look. And it does always seems those people don't get the "I'm feeling a bit awkward here vibe" and just continue to talk and talk. Haha. Oh peoples.




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