Well, we got fired from the shoe store.
They didn't cite any specific reason; an assistant manager just nervously blocked the doorway and assured us our help was no longer needed.
I could see the rows of shoes over his shoulder, stretching away for what seemed like miles.
They glittered in the fluorescent light: Sketchers, Fergalicious, Dr.Scholls.
Nine years we gave them, nine. And not so much as a set of free laces or complimentary can of shoe deodorizer.
I kicked the dust from that place off my sandals and walked two store fronts down to my new assignment: the fabric store.
It's a cramped and gloomy shop, with a lingering, distasteful smell in the air.
For the record, I don't like the smell of home and garden stores either; for some reason, their odor of potting soil and new rubber hose makes me feel stifled, like the 1970s are flattening me with a giant packet of Burpee Marigold seeds.
The fabric store smell is different. Someone has hidden the entire olfactory experience of Christmas beneath a musty buckskin hide.
As we walked past rows of character-themed fleece, one of the students next to me began to shout.
"OH MY GOD! They have Monster High fabric!" She held it to her face, snarfling deep into its folds like it was some exotic Chinese silk. "Feel it," she commanded me.
It was vaguely scratchy, sort of cheap.
"Think about the stuff you could make with it. Pillows, blankets...." she trailed off. Then she gripped my arm. "Oh God, Betty Boop!" She yanked me over to a roll of fleece plastered with images of that classic animated floozy.
The girl laid one corner of it over her head, almost like a veil.
"It's beautiful," she murmured.
As she put the fabric back in place, she quietly spoke of the death of Betty White.
"I can't believe she's gone."
"I didn't know she was dead."
"That's what people tell me...."
I could kind of tell how she got from one Betty to the other, but it didn't matter. It was time to get to work.
One plus side to the fabric store is the scenery. It's pretty haw-haw-hot, like so many fine ladies up in that business. Many of them are looking for the right fabrics to use to make things for their grandsons.
I'm a regular cock in the hen house, strutting around with my pink hearts notebook, saying things like "Buttons? Your best bet for buttons is aisle 9, or maybe that end cap there off of 10."
Actually, I can't find anything in that place.
A nice old man with impressive, kootchie-koo eyebrows asked me for help one time, and I was useless.
"I want a cuff button just like this one." He swung his wrist right up in front of my face. What was that scent- fresh rain? Dental floss? "I've been wearing this same brand of coat for thirty years. You can't get the buttons anymore. You gotta go to Germany to get them. Well I'm not doing that."
As volunteer workers, vocational trainees, we are not supposed to interact with the customers unless necessary. But I was feeling bold, as if all the eyes of all the grandmothers in that place were fixed upon me, and the moment was mine to seize.
After leading him down through the kid's crafts and stopping for awhile by the scrapbooking supplies, I gave up.
"Let's find someone that actually works here," I said, which quite obviously confused him. "They're wearing green aprons."
I passed him off to the grumpy lady manning the cutting counter.
"I've had the same kind of coat for thirty years," he began, as I returned to my students.
Ideally, the kids work at the store independently. I am supposed to remain distant, aloof, but always watching.
It's called "shadowing".
Some of our wonderful staff fall asleep in those shadows, or text their husbands, or stroke the spreading jelly of their aging chins.
I'm sure I have been guilty of all of the above, at one time or another, but my main problem is that I get very restless when I shadow students, and I tend to wander off.
Even if I manage to stay put in the fabric store, I still find it hard to keep out of trouble.
The aisle where all the modeling clay is arrayed can be a problem. Those little squares of individually wrapped Sculpey, with exotic color names like "Lagoon" or "So 80's", all in such satisfying little rows.
I often have a strong urge to bite into them, right through their tight cellophane covers.
That would be considered bizarre, I assume, so I clench my jaw and content myself with subtle squeezes of their polyform meat.
It's possible that a similar preoccupation of mine, with the memory foam in the soles of women's cross-trainers, lead to our dismissal from the shoe store.
I couldn't help it. The way that remarkable material closed around my pressing thumb; I could walk up and down the aisle and get a tiny hug from every shoe.
Our students also clean a bowling alley/restaurant combination.
The scrutiny is rather intense there, so shadowing is not an option. We have to get right into the mix and dirty our hands.
A red Kleen-Pail bucket, half-filled with greasy looking water, sat on a table between me and several of my students.
I winced as I dipped in to retrieve a washrag.
"You have to wring it out," I tell them. "That way, no puddles on the tables." When I twisted the rag with an Indian-burn motion, a spastic shot of water hit me square in the face.
"Ewwww!" one of the girls said. "Did you get dat bucket from over there? Dats doo-doo water!"
I received that previously unknown piece of information with great calm, excused myself, and walked slowly into the bathroom. No panic here.
The second the door shut behind me, I flailed in the air, stifling a repulsed shriek.
The BM particles of a hundred bowlers might be settling into my skin, my eyelids, deep in the fibers of my brow.
There was no way the water from the foot-pedal operated sink would be hot enough to scald away the tainted top layer of my face.
One time, I accidentally sprayed gasoline on myself when I leaned down too closely to the pump nozzle and squeezed the trigger.
It was a smart and dead sexy thing to do; the act of a person secretly convinced he is way cooler than anyone else in the world around him, including his two-year-old son watching from the back seat, terrified by the vision of Daddy screaming and running blindly towards a worried looking Pakistani gas station attendant holding out a tiny paper cone of water.
As agonizing as that gasoline baptism was, there was something deeply cleansing about it too.
Like, not only would I never have any blackheads on my nose again, but the pores themselves had been seared away.
I needed that gas pump there, in that bowling alley bathroom.
I needed the kind of clean where you can see bone.
"I was wrong," the girl told me, when I finally came back out. "The doo-doo bucket is the green one."
"No big deal," I told her.
I dropped into an empty booth and waited for the shaking in my hands to go away.
After awhile, I forgot what I was even doing in that place, and I wandered off to the library to look at the DVDs.
In case you are interested, (how could you not be?) I have written about the shoe store before, like here and also here.
As always, thanks so much for reading.