I occasionally take photos (read: I set up and run a picture booth) for a chain of upscale department stores. It’s not quite Saks 5th Avenue upscale, but it’s fancy enough that someone named Theodore Penningtonsworth might shop there for a good shirt to play polo in. Let’s call it Froofy Doop.
An average, run-of-the-mill event for Froofy Doop typically happens mid-afternoon. Their junior’s section brings in a DJ and small catering team to serve hors d’oeuvres and hip, glass bottles of boysenberry-lime soda. To my knowledge they don’t actually hold a sale; it’s a trick to make people feel so good that they laugh and say, “Oh, why not?” when asked to pay $34 for a scarf made in Indonesia. While these events make little sense to me, I enjoy working them since Froofy Doop always pays attention and communicates well.
Besides – their customers are better than reading Running With Scissors for the first time.
Last week I worked two Froofy Doop holiday events. Every year, a few of the Froofy Doops invite their top percentile spenders to a special holiday themed shopping party. Servers canvass the store in search of shoppers to accept their offerings of tiny pies, finger foods, beer, fine liquor, and single serving bottles of champagne. The DJ cranks up the holiday remixes and Froofy Doop employees gather round the front doors to clap and cheer in the shoppers as a buzzer goes off. I had only seen this kind of forced, unbridled enthusiasm for retail up close and personal once – and that was when I worked a new product launch at the Apple Store.
Before the event even began, I observed their demographic in play. An older couple walked by a section devoted to an upscale teen brand. The man pointed to a sweater – a plain, grey sweater – and said, “What about that?”
His wife giggled and said, “Oh, Edward!”
Edward flagged down a salesman.
“You there,” he called, “Can you put that on the bill, too?”
The salesman nodded.
“Edward,” his wife laughed, playfully slapping his shoulder, “You’re going to spend us out of house and home!”
“Oh, stop,” he replied, and then to the salesman said, “Just bill the account.”
The music cranked up right at 7pm. The Froofy Doop employees cheered, screamed, and hollered as Laguna’s finest paraded down the line, most with the kind of leisurely stroll that suggested they had never known the vicious and *deadly competition of getting into a Best Buy at 12:01 am on Black Friday. Though the parade was peppered with the occasional customer who raised an eyebrow at the idea of getting blitzed to buy things, most took the champagne without a second thought. They drank and shopped and drank and drank and drank and drank and took lots of pictures. Who wouldn’t want to take home photographic proof that they spent enough money at Froofy Doop in 2016 to warrant an invitation to spend additional money at Froofy Doop?
One of the best parts about working the booth at an event like this is the endless flow of characters who pay me no mind and unknowingly provide a crystal clear view into their lives. People pay good money to watch fictional versions of the dysfunctional elite on premium cable and I get observe them in their natural habitat for free. I think I met pretty much every single Orange County Housewife that Bravo didn’t use.
Then I struck gold.
I heard a man’s voice say,
“If you want to grab a drink, we can get another drink.”
An older couple and their daughter step in front of the booth. The couple looked nice enough; the man had a sweater tied around his shoulders and his wife looked like a mom in a Talbot’s ad. The daughter had a shrewish demeanor and could have been the long lost twin sister to Angela on The Office – assuming you could take one hundred Angelas and condense them into a single person.
“You said you wanted to do this, so we’re doing it,” she hastily replied. She then turned to me and waved her hand to start.
“OK,” I said, “I need you to look up into the lens and smile in… three, two -”
“What?” asked the mother, three glasses of chardonnay into the evening (and possibly thirty years of not having to use her mind into life).
“She said look at the lens.”
“I’m looking at the lens.”
“No, you’re looking at yourself. Look up there,” she pointed to the lens. She motioned for me to try again.
“Alright,” I said, waving my hand above the lens the way I would normally do for babies and animals, “in three – two – hold – GREAT JOB!”
The mother wasn’t looking at the camera, but the daughter pursed her lips and decided to roll with it.
“Now you get to drag and drop these little props onto your picture,” I said, demonstrating how they could drag hats, candy canes, and other holiday cheer onto their picture by touching the screen. The mother’s hand floated toward the screen as she tried to get put a candy cane on the image. It failed to register that she had to keep her finger on the screen in order for drag-and-drop to work. She poked the booth a few times before her daughter whispered, quickly and forcefully:
“Stop it, mother. Stop it.”
Her impatience and rage came through loud and clear even though she spoke in hushed tones.
Her mother, with the same glassy and vacant smile, tried to touch another icon.
“Stop it, mother. Stop. Just stop it,” the daughter whispered again, this time more violently.
“What?” her mother asked again.
“If you want something, we can just…” the daughter dragged some antlers onto the picture. The antlers are meant to go on someone’s head, but she haphazardly dropped them off in a corner.
“They should be on your head,” said the mother. She reached back out, but the daughter slapped her hand away.
“Oh my god, just stop it, Mother.”
“Should we just do another one?”
“Oh, it will be fun,” said the mother, “But I still want this one, too.”
The mother tried to get the antlers one more time.
“STOP IT, CAROL. JUST STOP IT.”
It went from Mother to Carol in under a minute.
Like this. Except bottled up inside forever.
Carol’s hand reached out to the screen a few more times and, every time, the daughter swat it away with a violent, “Stop it, Carol. Carol. Stop it, Carol.”
I don’t know where the hell Father was this whole time; off in his own little world, I suppose. When he finally suggested they just print the picture and move on, the daughter turned to him and whisper-screamed, “You would suggest that. This is all your fault!”
She pressed the print button over and over in rapid succession and them walked off.
The Father and Carol, whose glassy eyed smile never left her face once during this entire exchange, followed her off into the Froofy Doop night.
The dysfunctional nature of relatively or blatantly wealthy families never ceases to amaze me.
*The 2016 Black Friday Death Count: 10 fatalities