In 1989, I was eighteen, and I worked in my first real job as a watch salesperson at a fancy jewelry store. I could spot Longines at 500 paces and silently judged you for your choice in an electric blue fake snakeskin band.
With my first real pay check, I bought a Filofax, and a Perri Cutten silk shirt, because Tess McGill from Working Girl was my spirit animal, and I was having a tepid affair with the store manager.
It all seemed very exciting and cosmopolitan then, until I remember now that I was being paid $8.25 an hour and the manager was a balding, angry man, who liked to do a martial arts using sticks, called Kendo.
I once watched him from the inside of his house, as he made noises with sticks and wore white pj’s in the backyard of his parents house. He made me stay inside as though I might be injured from his stick skills. He wasn’t particularly good at it, and I wasn’t particularly interested in watching, but it’s all grist for the mill, and so here we are.
Working in the city was a thrill, and having a good friend work at the jewelry store opposite meant we would wave from the window displays every morning, and she would take me to eat sushi at lunchtime. Sushi was a big deal, and she knew about such things because she had travelled overseas with her boyfriend, and had sushi on a train in New York? Or did the sushi come on a train? I was never sure and not confident enough to ask, even though I was wearing a silk shirt, and a green blazer from Esprit, and our lunch date was confirmed in my Filofax.
I was a good salesperson when I tried, which was seldom, because, what was the point? There was no commission. My job was secure, thanks to the Crouching Manager with Sticks, and I was planning on world domination soon, it was marked in my Filofax, so it was definitely going to happen.
I went exotic stores, and bought earrings shaped like silver planets, and read Slaves of New York, and wrote essays in my down time on Woody Allen films which I would eventually show to no one.
I went to jazz clubs and drank Mateus Rosé, and then burned candles in the neck of the bottle, the wax, dripping down the side like a sacrificial offering prop. I was, after all, a slave to
New York, Melbourne, wasn’t I?
One day, an elegant woman came to looks at Longines watches with her partner. She had a blowout, and was the Katherine Parker to my Tess McGill, wearing in camel-haired coat, and smelling of Chanel No. 5. Then she smiled, and I saw a pubic hair in between her front teeth. I couldn’t look away and I couldn’t wait for them to leave.
Across from me at the jewelry counter, a less glamorous couple than my hairy toothed customer were looking at engagement rings and discussing the size of the stones. The jewelry girls who served them were a step above everyone else in the store, because they wore a loop around their neck and could pick out a flaw in a stone or a person at twenty paces. They were trying to add their expertise to the mix, but the male kept saying, ‘You don’t know shit about stones, ya bitch,’ when he then grabbed the tray of rings, and ran from the store, his fiancé following swiftly behind him.
Sensei Stick Man was furious. With whom, I wasn’t sure? One of the loop girls started to cry, and soon the police had arrived.
I watched them, in my silk shirt, cleaning above the omegas and pulsars, ensuring there were no pubic hairs on my counter from the previous encounter.
‘We’re closing the store,’ Sensei announced grandly. This was exciting, I thought. An actual thing had happened that I could go home and discuss over dinner. Would I have to give a statement? What had I remembered about the couple? Years of Trixie Belden’s advice came back to me and I mentally ran through the details but my mind couldn’t keep focussed.
The couple with the camel coat and pubic hair kept interrupting my recall. Had she just had a sneaky sexual encounter in a laneway? Did it happen at work? Why didn’t she check her teeth when she left wherever she had been? Why didn’t he tell her?
By the time the police came to my counter, I had nothing to give them. I had own mystery that needed to be solved.
‘Why wouldn’t he tell her?’ I asked my friend over maki and sake later in the evening.
‘Maybe that’s their thing,’ she said with an arched eyebrow.
I didn’t know if she meant the sexual act or the wearing of the hair like a trophy in her teeth, but I didn’t ask. She knew things I didn’t. She had lovers. I had a Filofax.
The next day, the loop wearing girls guarded the ring trays by holding onto them tightly, their frosted acrylic nails, weaponlike when they showed a couple their future in a stone on a tray.
Sensei Stick Man brought a stick to work, ready to strike at any moment.
And I brought dental floss and kept it beneath the counter. The last thing I needed was raw fish between my teeth. I couldn’t think of anything worse.
Actually, I could. One can never be too prepared.