And so it begins: I stand around trying to look inviting. This is hard because, on a typical day, I often try not to look inviting, as the consequences—solicitations from strangers of every kind—are mostly unwelcome. But today I've arranged my face (or I think I have) into an expression that says something like, "How can I help you?" A lovely middle-aged woman approaches. She's dressed for a day off, in casual pants and shirt. "Hi," I say, "and what brings you to Bobbi Brown today?" She tells me she's looking for a lip gloss and a foundation. I'm about to pluck a gloss from the display to offer it to her when she says, staring at the glosses, "They're telling me I have to wear makeup." "They are?" I say. "Yes," she says, a little bit morosely, still focused on the glosses. "And who are they?" I ask. "They" are the people she works with; she's a nurse on a cardiac unit. "Well, they have some nerve," I want to say, "you look perfectly great without makeup," but then I remember that I'm supposed to be selling makeup. And her comment seems, even to me—not the most natural salesperson—an unusually propitious opening.
I choose a deep mauve gloss, which she eyes suspiciously. "This is pretty," I start to say, when Tia swoops in, holding a gloss in a lighter color. "What's your name?" she says. It's Phyllis. Phyllis likes Tia's choice, tries it on, and immediately admires herself in the mirror on the counter. Like a gracious hostess, Tia says, "Would you like to sit down?" (In the split second before I realize she isn't speaking to me, I'm relieved. I've been on the floor for only a half hour and already I'm exhausted. But it's Phyllis who gets to sit in a tall chair, balancing her bag and her packages on her lap.) I love Phyllis's face; she has wide-set eyes and the gorgeous, engaged smile of a genuinely happy person. I do see though, that, happy or not, she could use some eyeliner. Tia agrees, and before I could ask where to find it among the many drawers of products, she's applying a coffee-colored pencil and explaining why she isn't using black (less subtle). Tia hands Phyllis a mirror. "Oh my goodness!" Phyllis says, obviously delighted. "May I apply some blush?" Tia asks. Phyllis's eyes flutter closed as she presents her face to Tia; when she opens them and looks at her reflection again, she makes another delighted cry. "They won't recognize me!" she says. "I'm going to stop and look at myself in every mirror and window I pass!" As Tia assembles her purchases, Phyllis sits waiting excitedly. She was beautiful without the makeup. Is it her increased happiness or the blush that makes her look more beautiful now?
Back at the gloss counter, I hang around making like a Venus flytrap, scanning the floor for customers. Ah! Here comes one now! Cute, in her 20s, she's buzzing along, looking a little hungry, as if she wants something. So what brings her to Bobbi Brown today? I'm about to compliment her on her glasses, when she says, "Arf fogush bren ahsado en pink freitshummer." I lean into the counter: "Excuse me?" "Arf fogush bren eyeshadow in pink freit shimmer," she says. "Right away!" I say. "We've got that right here," I say, pointing at a pale rose shadow. "No, no, no, no," says the woman definitively as she slides away sideways, like a crab. "Freit shimmer!"