On Top of It #10 by Lisa Martens
Last year, I sold jewelry at the holiday market in Columbus Circle. This involved standing in the freezing rain with a heater at my feet. My hands and head cold. The soles of my shoes melting. Inching forward and back to wrap necklaces with a bow. Trying to convince people not to place custom orders.
I pretended to know about birthstones and their healing properties, but I can barely tell topaz from an emerald. I don’t actually know the difference between gold-plated and gold-filled chains. But I could fake it, especially for commission.
At the holiday markets, the best bosses give their employees heaters and occasional breaks. Shifts overlap so you can eat snacks instead of just watching everyone with their hot cocoa. The people behind the counters are usually students, the business owners themselves, or people who are not U.S. citizens. They work the longest hours for not a whole lot of pay, and sometimes ask to sit by the heaters of their more fortunate neighbors. If you work the holiday market and need to go to the restroom, just don’t. You could go to the Whole Foods across the street, but then you would need someone to watch your tent while you’re gone. You can lose sales. You can get robbed.
So just don’t go to the bathroom. For ten hours.
The market is magical for tourists and locals, who walk around and get to feel like they’re supporting local businesses, like they’re getting a genuine New York experience. But their incessant demands for customized pieces drain most of the profit. No one walks into a clothing chain or a bookstore and expects the clothes or books to be customized at no additional cost . . . but people visiting holiday markets do. They want this chain with that charm with that animal instead of this animal . . . they want personalized service from this person standing in the cold, not realizing (or not caring) that, hourly, this “local business owner” is making $5 or less an hour off this sale.
So please, as the holiday season enters panic mode, be nice to the retail workers. If you have a lot of gifts, buy some paper and wrap them yourself instead of making someone else do it. We don’t do it better than you, so please don’t make that joke as an excuse. If the shop is busy, tip us for giving you customized service. If you don’t want to tip, then don’t ask for anything special. Do not bicker with guests who are ahead of you in line because you only want to buy one thing and they have an armful of presents. Do not argue with the line—you are not more important than anyone else. My melted shoes and burnt toes agree.
Lisa Martens (Episode 22) currently lives in Harlem. In her past 10 years in New York, she has lived in a garage on Long Island, a living room in Hell’s Kitchen, the architecture building of CCNY, and on the couch of a startup. She grew up in New York, Costa Rica and Texas, and she’s still not sure which of these is home. She completed her MFA in Creative Writing from CCNY. Her thesis, What Grows in Heavy Rain, is available on Amazon. Check out her website here. Follow her on Instagram here.