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By Erin O'Briant
San Francisco. December, 2001
"Oh my God, I am totally kicking your ass in glitter spray sales and this is a very high-traffic area and that is just ridiculous." Tiffany, the counter manager, flounced Gloria's way.
Gloria nodded politely but could not smile. She pulled back her shoulders to ease the clench in her chest. Gloria hated being a Beauty Advisor.
"You've got to pull every customer, ask everyone to try the glitter spray. There's no reason for your sales to be this low. Also, your lipstick looks weird."
Gloria marveled, as she often did, that she worked for someone ten years her junior. Gloria, who had been courted by Harper's and the New York Times Magazine, now sold glitter spray for a living. Worse still, she worked for a cosmetics line so tacky and obscure that the sales people had to hustle their customers. Surviving work each day was a hard-won triumph over humiliation. And sometimes she lost.
While she worked, she repeated a silent mantra: "I'll only stay through Christmas. I'll find a new job at the beginning of the year."
Gloria checked her make-up in one of the many mirrors and fixed her lipstick. Good: the zit that had appeared on her forehead that morning wasn't showing through the layers of concealer.
Gloria resumed her post four feet in front of the escalator that deposited Macy's Christmas shoppers near the splashy pink and yellow Bourjois Cosmetics counter. Techno music blasted over the speakers, drowning out the Christmas carols playing in the rest of the store. Two other Beauty Advisors were spaced evenly on either side of Gloria. All three wore the regulation prune-colored V-neck shirts and gold lamé chokers with rose-shaped appendages. The shirt was too short for one girl, who was long and thin, but it fit the other's tiny body perfectly. Gloria's was a little tight.
Shivering in the draft from the open doors, Gloria held the can of spray in her hand and kept her index finger on the trigger. She hoped no one she knew would see her . To each woman who stepped off the escalator, she inquired, "Would you like to try some glitter spray in your hair?"
Gloria couldn't see the women on the escalator until they were about halfway down. When they came into her line of vision, she smiled at them. Their shoulders stiffened and they averted their eyes. Only the crazy or the uninitiated smiled back at her--some out-of-towners didn't know that if they tried some glitter spray, they would be cheerfully forced to buy it. Beauty Advisors could be brutal.
The shoppers marched out into the streets. They'd do anything, it seemed, to get away from glitter-mongering Gloria. She understood the customers' reactions--she avoided panhandlers herself--but it hurt to spend the whole day being avoided.
All morning she repeated, "Would you like to try some glitter spray?" to each customer. To relieve the boredom, Gloria began asking customers, "Would you like to test some glitter spray?" She hoped the word "test" would sound more clinical and offici al than "try." It didn't work. "Come try some glitter spray," she ordered several women. The imperative didn't draw them, either.
Tiffany rolled her eyes at Gloria and grabbed a can of glitter spray. "Watch me." She jumped, grinning, out into a particularly dense throng and shrieked, "Try some glitter spray! It's fun!" Tiffany was always this enthusiastic; it was annoying and amazing. Her supervisor's youth might be some explanation, but Gloria wondered.
She watched as Tiffany paused, ducked her head, and quickly rubbed each nostril with the back of her left index finger. Then she sniffed. No wonder she can't stand still. The gesture felt familiar; she'd probably seen Tiffany do it dozens of times without really noticing. Come to think of it, she'd seen the other Beauty Advisors sniffing and wiping their noses, too. Gloria looked over at the empty tissue dispenser on the counter. So that's why we're always out of Kleenex. I work with a bunch of druggies.
Tiffany straightened up and resu med her cry. "Try some glitter!" A couple of blonde teenage girls stopped. Tiffany sprayed them and then fawned over their sparkly hair. "It's so cute on blondes," she told them in a confidential tone, raking her acrylic fingernails through the yellow extensions in her bleached hair. "I just love mine for parties."
"How much is it?" the girls asked.
"It's $18 for the can."
Gloria knew Walgreen's had a similar product for $1.50. "You get 500 sprays per can. I think you definitely need some of this, you look great." Tiffany smiled, or something like it. Her eyes flitted about and the stench of aerosol lingered.
Gloria looked back at the escalator as Tiffany led her customers to the cash register. Just then an especially insensitive customer shouldered Gloria into the gift sets. Gloria staggered back against one of the tall makeup chairs and snagged her tights on a rough spot. She looked down at the new fist-sized hole the chair had ripped in her stocking. The sight of her pale skin through the jagged edges of black nylon was one degradation too many, and the tightening that was usually a prelude to tears clogged her throat. As Gloria tried to swallow them, Tiffany finished the sale and sidled over.
"You're going to have to do better than this."
As hard as she tried not to care about the job, her lagging sales made Gloria anxious. She liked to tell people at parties that she was a "recovering perfectionist," but she hadn't recovered much. Even with an emaciated, underage speed freak as her boss, even when an average day at her job was so awful that a hole in her stocking could make her cry, she wanted to succeed.
"I'll try, Tiffany." Gloria resolved to look as welcoming as possible.
"Would you like to try some glitter spray in your hair?"
"Would you like to try some glitter spray in your hair?"
"Would you like to try some glitter spray in your hair? It's really cute for parties." No one answered.
Finally a fifty-something woman wearing an angora sweater and a gold c ross pendant agreed to try the glitter. Relieved to have a few minutes' break from the repetitive question, Gloria led the customer to a chair and spritzed the tiny metal flakes onto her hair. "Do you like it? I think it's really cute on you," Gloria lied.
The customer turned her head from side to side as she smiled at herself in the mirror. "It does look nice, doesn't it?" She sat up a little straighter.
Gloria looked at the wrinkled skin around the customer's eyes, her gold wire-rimmed glasses, the gray half-inch at the roots of her hair. Gloria's grin muscles began to twitch. "It looks fantastic. Sparkles are so flattering."
"Okay, I'll take a can."
"Great!" Gloria tried not to act surprised. "I'm sure you'll enjoy it."
The woman turned away from the mirror and squinted at Gloria intently.
Gloria's heart thudded. Shit. Does she know me?
"You could be really pretty, you know."
Thank God. Just the usual insults from a well-meaning older woman--Gloria could han dle that. The woman continued, "Your face is a little round for that short hair, but you have nice eyes. I just love green eyes. Have you thought about growing your hair out? Are you a natural redhead?"
Gloria smiled. "Who's a natural anything these days?" She dashed off to ring up the sale before the customer could change her mind. After the woman left, Gloria wrote "$18" on the otherwise blank sales log under her name. She experienced a shallow, fleeting combination of satisfaction and relief.
After the relative excitement of the sale was over, Gloria realized how tired she felt. She leaned for a moment on the counter. Should I grow my hair? No, the in-between stage would look worse. Gloria looked up to see Tiffany glaring. "If you have time to lean," Tiffany sometimes told the Beauty Advisors, "you have time to clean."
Gloria walked back to the front of the counter. After all, she didn't want to get fired. Again.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
In December of last year, former Noe Valley Voice writer Erin O'Briant debuted her first novel, Glitter Girl, in a most modern way. Instead of putting out a paperbound book, she made the novel available free as an audiobook podcast on the website Podiobooks.com.
"I'd had some difficult dealings with the publishing industry, both in trying to publish this novel and some nonfiction work, and I was tired of waiting," says O'Briant of the unconventional route.
She first learned of online audiobooks from one of her San Francisco City College colleagues (she teaches full-time) and immediately liked the control it gave her over the publishing process.
"Publishing Glitter Girl this way gave me a sense of power, and the confidence that people actually do want to read this book," says O'Briant, 36. "Now, every time I check my email, I have another message from a Glitter Girl fan. It's such a thrill. It makes all those years of working on my novel worthwhile."
Subscribers to Podiobooks can download half-hour "episod es"--which sometimes include more than one chapter--onto their computers or MP3 players. O'Briant says she had some coaching before recording the book herself.
Glitter Girl is the story of two sisters, Gloria and Angie Soren, who at first seem as different as night and day. Angie is a born-again Christian and anti-abortion activist living in Georgia. Gloria, a San Francisco resident, is a lesbian and freelance writer who has committed a cardinal sin: plagiarism. Unable to find work in her field, Gloria settles for selling glitter spray at Macy's.
Is the story autobiographical?
"I was a glitter spray salesgirl in 2001," O'Briant confesses. She had returned to San Francisco after a stint in Atlanta, and couldn't find a job. "[Selling glitter spray] was a nightmare. I kept myself sane by writing down bits of dialogue."
O'Briant points out that she, like Gloria, is also gay, "but I'm not a plagiarist!" she says with a laugh.
A former resident of Noe Valley, O'Briant now lives in Brisbane, Cal if.
To download Glitter Girl or to find out more about O'Briant's work, visit her website at www.erinobriant.com. You can also become a fan of Glitter Girl on Facebook.com or follow her on Twitter.com at @erinobriant. There's also her good, old-fashioned email address: e_obriant @ yahoo.com.
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