Last weekend I blew through Freeman Hall's very breezy, very readable, often quite funny memoir Retail Hell: How I Sold My Soul to the Store. It was the nonfiction equivalent of eating a box of Russell Stover (or insert your favorite candy brand there; I'm cheap, so Russell Stover it is) chocolates. Hugely enjoyable and decadent going down, but not real good for you in the long run. But that's okay. Sometimes you need to be a pig with a box of chocolates*, and sometimes you need a good fluffy weekend read.
Hall worked for many years in the handbag (dear God, don't call them purses!) department of a major department store (he refers to it throughout as The Big Fancy, but he's talking about Nordstrom**). As a new arrival and screenwriting hopeful in Los Angeles, Freeman found that he needed a day job and applied at The Big Fancy, hoping for a generous employee discount and the chance to end up in the Men's department measuring men's inseams. (Hall freely admits that as a gay man, he was drawn to the retail world by interests in both fashion and cute men.) Something goes terribly wrong and he ends up in the handbag department.
If you've ever worked retail, you'll be able to guess what ensued. Customers take advantage of return policies. Customers steal. Co-workers do anything to cut you out of a sale and commission (except for a friendly and hilarious group of saleswomen who befriend Hall and show him the handbag ropes). Management is either clueless or evil. And yet? Somewhere in the middle of it all Hall became really good at his job, and I actually found the chapters where he discussed both his most difficult and most lucrative customers to be the most fascinating.
But don't worry: he still ended with a chapter that involves fitting rooms, women's swimsuits, and massive amounts of pooh. Yes, you read that right.
So: the weekend's here. Looking for a way to spend it that would be cheaper than actually going handbag shopping? Consider picking this memoir up instead. (Hall is also the founder of the blog Retail Hell Underground, but that site kind of freaked me out--if you visit it you'll see what I mean--and I much preferred the book.)
*Come to think of it, why didn't I eat a box of chocolates WHILE reading this book? That would have been awesome.
**When I was in college I went to the Mall of America with some friends, and we visited Nordstrom because it was supposed to be so fancy. They had phones in the dressing rooms (I was in college a million years ago, before the advent of cell phones)! This farm girl was out of her league.