May Prostitutes Only Take Cash
I can no longer go shopping. I own enough suits, jackets, slacks and shoes I’ll never wear. I can no longer go to malls, can no longer get my haircut. I own enough hairspray and hand cream. My nails look just fine. My hair will never be unhealthy again. I didn’t need any of it. I didn’t want any of it. But I bought it and own it and will buy it all over again unless I just stay home forever.
There are too many things for sale, too many sales people, too many men with cool clothes and stylish hair. Too many foreign women with caressing touches and rolling tongues—each willing to stand too close and look into your eyes, never blinking, telling you how nice your cuticles could be.
They see me trying to look away. I’m looking for an exit but the shoes that they’ve taken from the back of the store are right there and they really want me to buy them. They’ve worked so hard after all. They’ve done exactly what their job was, nothing more. Their service wasn’t all that great but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be rewarded, right?
So I buy them. They barely fit but screw it, they’re right there, right now, in the box waiting and the salesman is on his knees lacing up the left shoe to make sure I like that one as well. Unbeknownst to him, I don’t like the right shoe. There’s little chance of me liking the left. He doesn’t know this, of course, because I’ve not said so. I’ve only nodded and agreed with him when he pointed out that one-ten isn’t all that much for a shoe like this.
He’s right. One hundred and ten dollars isn’t all that much for a pair of shoes I have no need for. A pair of shoes that doesn’t fit all that well and can only be worn with about four percent of my clothes—though I’m going to Macys after this. Who’s to say they won’t have some outfits that match these shoes perfectly? And that’s just it; they will or they won’t, but I’ll buy them anyway because a salesperson just like him will tell me to.
I’m not rich. In fact I have little disposable income, but credit cards were created with people like me in mind. Some genius psychologist realized one day while shopping with his awkward son for corduroys that his son was the ultimate spender because he couldn’t say the simplest word—no. He just didn’t have the capacity to break the hearts of so many sales people by telling them those corduroys are too tight and too blue.
Seeing this, and assuming there are probably thousands out there just like his son, who simply needed the financial means to say yes to everything, the entrepreneurial analyst created plastic money.
It’s worked miraculously for I was able to buy that suit from Celio, which the salesman, in all his courtesy, couldn’t have hemmed for me in three days time. Never mind that the pants were too long. Never mind that I was the only customer in the store—something I now avoid entirely—and was spending six hundred dollars. Never mind I had to fly Paris and take a train to Bordeaux, to buy the unnecessary suit in the first place. And now, because of that ingenious credit card creator, I can buy these too-pointy leather boots at my feet.
I find solace that this salesman, the one-ten isn’t all that much salesman is at least refraining from pitching the suede cleaner or leather protector or shoelace sanitizer. He seems to be a merciful god and is letting me off with just the ill-fitting boots, which look terrible with the jeans I wear a majority of the time—a point he chooses to ignore.
It all started in Palm Harbor, Florida where I spent the latter two years of high school. After having worked for a couple months at Target I decided it was time to treat myself to a few things. First of those things was a new pair of sneakers. On my day off I drove to the mall and went in Foot Locker.
Growing up, all shoe shopping was done at large warehouse sports stores—the ones with common first names such as Bob’s in Milford, Connecticut—whose collection of sneakers were a year or more old. This was my grand opportunity to shop where all my friends from childhood were able to shop. Where everyone else bought their basketball shoes, their Nike Airs and Reebok Pumps, while I strutted around in LA Gears and British Knights.
I entered Foot Locker with a full head of steam, of freedom and opportunity, but quickly became disconcerted by how expensive the shoes really were. I was making $5.50 an hour and each shoe I was interested in cost a weeks’ wage. And though I enjoyed working with Joe, the fat, gay cashier addicted to pills with bleached hair who offered to give me a blow job in the bathroom before I went in for my first interview, I wasn’t sure spending it all on shoes was worth it. But as I was about to leave, as I was whispering apologies to my dad for complaining about being forced to choose from the lower racks, from the racks near the back, the racks without a display, I was slapped from behind on the shoulder. And the blow, though slight at best, woke me from my daydream of guilt.
He was a blonde guy about my height at the time, probably 5’9”, and wearing the referee uniform of Foot Locker. He wore an earring and several rings, all silver, which didn’t seem to set his confidence back any and though a puka shell necklace was tight against his active Adam’s apple, he spoke without impedance.
“What can I help you with, Chief?” We were off to good start. He had already referred to me as dominant figure of a mostly extinct people. “What’s your name?”
“Tyke? Cool name dude. I’m Hunter. So whaddya do, Tyke?”
From there rolled the standard round of salesman questions to make a potential buyer open their door so he can casually send in, as if by messenger pigeon, the idea that whatever it was he had, would certainly improve upon anything I had.
His girlfriend used to go to East Lake High School just like me. “You just missed her, Man. She graduated in ’93.”
Not willing break down the validity of his use of the term “just,” it was 1997 after all; I gave in to his best friend, big brother demeanor. “That’s awesome.”
He continued his barrage of just-about-there commonalities.
“And by the way, Dude, don’t tell anybody this, but I stole an Xbox game from your Target a couple months back.” He laughed and nudged my shoulder as if confiding in me the fact that he also sucked on Karin’s breasts in the woods on our eighth grade field trip. “But hey, let bygones be bygones right?”
“Ha, no I won’t say anything,” I politely joked back.
“Awesome, Man. It’s all good, right?”
“Oh yah. Totally. Definitely all good.” As the words were coming out of my mouth I could feel something happening to me. I could feel myself losing all control of my actions, both words and movement. I was losing control of my feet as they walked towards the “basketball” section, losing control of my eyes as I scanned the sea of shiny patent leather high tops. I couldn’t have wanted a pair of shoes less but there I was getting right in there for a close up. I was picking up, handling, a pair of And 1 brand shoes. As far as I knew they only made t-shirts with faceless mannequin like figures whom, also wearing And 1 gear, were dunking or shooting or, most importantly, talking trash. The only player I knew who’d even had their shoes was Xavier McDaniel whom I despised since he played for the New York Knicks.
“You like them? They’re pretty sweet shoes. I’ve got a pair just like ‘em. Use ‘em when I play ball over at Countryside.”
Before I could even respond, before I could remember how much I truly hated Xavier McDaniel, how treasonous this purchase would be to my Bulls, I was nodding and agreeing. “They’re pretty damn comfortable.”
Soon after I was agreeing that about ninety-five dollars, after taxes, wasn’t all that much to spend on a good pair of basketball shoes. Never mind the fact I had come in to purchase a casual pair of low tops so I could have a little confidence to meet new people at my new school. Goliath style footwear with a zipper and a stitched man dunking on the ankle didn’t seem the most conspicuous way of introducing myself at still foreign lunch tables. There were only so many more days I could handle hearing the two freshman’s obnoxious laughter that were my tablemates.
“You wear a size ten too? That’s awesome, so do I,” he said coming back from the secret recesses of the Foot Locker back room. He kneeled in front of me and laced up the right shoe for me. I stared and wondered how I was going to pay for these bastards of footwear. I only had sixty dollars, leaving me about eleven hours of work short, after taxes.
As all the misfortune of the broken mirrors would have it, they fit astoundingly well. His thumb, pressing against the end of my big toe, proved this. “What more could a guy ask for?”
At that moment, I didn’t have any idea how to answer that question. There was very little, if anything, a guy could ask for in the world besides fitting footwear.
After Hunter had them wrapped back up in the box and in bag on the check out counter he grabbed a white spray bottle from beside the register.
“You know what this is?” Hunter asked as if a spray bottle was oft confused with a billion dollar NASA tool and not something a toddler could master. “It’s leather protector,” he continued before I had a chance to say anything. “Check it out.”
He grabbed what I assumed was the designated “test shoe,” also known as the unassuming low top I had hoped to purchase. He sprayed it a couple times and looked up at me.
“Just spray and you’re done.”
“Done with what?” My pride in finally speaking up showed too wide in my eyes and breath and he took back the lost ground immediately.
“Done with cleaning your shoes. Done with buying a new pair every four months because the leather’s ruined. Spray the shoe once over, every six months or so, and guess what?” As if I had any intention of speaking up again. “Your shoes will last forever. It’s really an amazing thing. You don’t have scrub or anything. Just spray ‘em and you’re out the door.”
“Cool.” I had unknowingly chosen to speak monosyllabically from that point on.
“For sure. And its super cheap for what it does. Only seven bucks and you’ve just saved yourself a hundred or more dollars in replacement shoes. You know?”
So you want me to add that to the order.
Not to leave any men standing on the battlefield he casually mentioned how socks were on sale. Could he ring me up a pack? “Three for a measly twelve bucks. And they’ve great support for your game.” Presumably my basketball game, which I guess I was going to resurrect in the upcoming tryouts. I hadn’t any intention of it. Then again, perhaps it was just because I didn’t have a new pair of basketball shoes.
Hunter smiled big, happy to have helped me spend twice as much as I had planned. Smiled that is, until I opened my wallet and admitted I only had sixty bucks. But my escape was not meant to be. Hunter knew the lay of land too well. He’d been raised in these jungles. He could navigate the canopy rivers blind folded.
“Ah, Tyke don’t worry bout that. You can just charge it.” He pointed at, almost touched, a teal MasterCard next to my license. If I took another second to react I believe he would’ve simply taken the card out himself and finished the transaction without me—sign my name and all.
“Oh.” I had never used the card before. I only had it for emergencies. You know, in case I was driving in the Everglades and lost a tire and I had to pay a tow truck to get me out of there before the alligators could feast on another stalled motorist.
“We take MasterCard,” Hunter, ever the gentleman, informed me.
And that was it. Moments later I was signing my name to my first charged item in my life and moments after that I was leaving Foot Locker with a pair of shoes I never wore once.
Upon leaving I took a seat near a large fake plant in a giant terracotta pot. Next to it was a kiosk selling baseball caps. A young guy with brown spiky hair looked over at me. I must have looked terrified. I must have looked like I lost my house in a game of poker, lost my child to the black market, because my opponent had pocket cowboys.
“Can I help you with anything?” he asked, ball cap in hand.
I looked up wide eyed and out of breath, then fled without answering, nearly forgetting the shoes, and ran all the way to my white Chevy Corsica. When I got inside I wondered how my dad was able to purchase such a mediocre car eight years prior. Not an automatic thing on it. And aside from realizing that I was a weak and pathetic boy, I also realized my dad was a true man. He didn’t want to spend a week’s wage on heated seats and headlight wipers, on the newest and coolest shoes for my three brothers and I. After all, he still had to buy the gas.
I threw the bag into the backseat and drove off in disgust, vowing to never set foot in a mall again.
That was ten years ago and I’ve broken that promise time and time again, and time and time again I’ve spent money on things I didn’t actually want. I’m breaking that promise right this very second.
I have theories as to why I’m like this. The first is founded in guilt. It’s based on the fact that these people, these sales people, are just trying to make that money, just trying to pay those bills. When they speak to me, I’m hardly paying any attention because I create whole worlds for them, which always include dire financial straits. A world in which the money they’ll make on my purchases’ commission will be able to pay the electric bill, will allow them to warm their houses for one more desperate week. This is also why when I’m asked upon checking out if anyone helped me I always point someone out even if by some miracle no one actually spoke to me.
Another theory is that I have a subconscious desire for everyone to like me, even complete strangers whose only interaction is script and rhetoric. This causes me to do any number of unnecessary and probably equally unnoticeable actions. When I’m in any store, even those that sell items obscenely out of my price range, I’ll still look at things as if I might purchase them. There might not be a soul around, but not to seem poor, to seem undesirable, I’ll look a sport coat over, casually regarding the price tag and audibly saying things like not bad while acting as if I’m even at all considering its purchase.
How this acting looks I can only guess. I don’t have access to any of the closed circuit cameras but I believe it usually involves: feeling the fabric, lifting the arms, checking the cuff links, smoothing the inside of the collar, and saying, nice over and over.
In my head I want these people to see me as someone capable of buying such an item but even though I seem to be infatuated with it, I don’t. Presumably, I’m interrupted by a phone call and have to leave the store when in actuality I’m talking to an inanimate electronic.
The danger, of course, is that with such fake interest I risk the chance of a salesperson coming up and speaking to me, which leaves me further in debt than I was moments prior when I didn’t feel the need to buy a velveteen suit or cashmere scarf i.e. the Celio scene mentioned above.
When I get home I put the only one-ten pointy boots in a closet that’s already full of boots, already full of filling hangers. I go to the bathroom and see that the drawer is full of hair products and hand products, sprays and shines, butters and bath salts, never used and never thrown out. I’ve shaved my head to avoid the uber hip barbershops with their boutique products. I’ve sewed pockets and safety pinned shirts and shorts to avoid department stores with their endless swarm of complimentary women. Closing the drawer I pray I never come across an equally complimentary prostitute and if so, may she only accept cash. I’m tired of making that scheming psychologist so rich.
About the Author
Since Tyke Johnson can't live up to the expectations of Christ, he does his best to live up to the expectations of his dentist. So far, no cavities. He's been published by The Los Angeles Review, Ducts, Opium Magazine, Unlikely Stories 2.0, and Lowestoft Chronicle, among others. He lives in Los Angeles California where everyone complains about the parking at Trader Joe's.