A Spy In The House of Stuff

James O'Brien

By Anonymous as told to Jim Walsh

I work part-time at the Pottery Barn Kids at the Galleria in Edina. I'm working next Friday, the day after Thanksgiving. We had a meeting about it Sunday night, and it's going to be a madhouse. People with that frantic look and a list, just running around because they have to get everything done and wrapped that day. It's the kind of people who have their Christmas tree up that day--because it came out of a box, or their decorator bought it.

We sell furniture and bedding and toys. There's lots of crib stuff, lots of baby toys. It's all very high-end sort of cutesy things. It's hugely expensive, and people spend ridiculous amounts of money on stuff their kids don't care about. There's lots of accessories for kids' bedrooms and toy rooms. A lot of it is really ghastly.

The customers are unbelievable. Some are wonderful, but then there's these women who come in dressed to the nines in shoes that cost more than I make in a month at 10:00 a.m. on a Monday morning with their kids in outfits that cost more than my mortgage. Perfectly dressed for the Galleria and what I call The Edina Shopping Syndrome, where you have to be better looking to go shopping on a Monday morning than you are on a Saturday night. If you're coming with your kids in the morning, you have to wear an expensive jogging suit, although it's switched recently from jogging to yoga. Ghastly.

There's one woman who's into a lot of pink leather. Perfectly manicured nails, perfectly done hair, perfect infant--I don't know who got the kid up and ready--and the most expensive stroller, and the most expensive baby clothes. Everything is sort of the way I picture parts of Texas, but not Edina, or the [metropolitan] area. We have to put their ZIP code in before we finish the purchase, for demographic [purposes], but I can tell certain people by what ZIP code they're going to say before they say it: 55424 (Edina), 55436 (Edina).

One day this father and son came in. The dad was sort of well groomed, but nothing out of the ordinary. He bought an entire bedroom set, including bed, mattresses, sheets, comforter, pillows, a desk, a chair. He spent about $6,500 in about 15 minutes without batting an eyelash: "Yep, yep. We need that, we need that, we need that, we need that." And the kid just stood there, didn't seem all that excited about any of it, picked out some things and his dad just nodded at me. I put it on the list and ran and got it. They were so blasé about it. I just do the scenario in my mind, must be a divorced dad who's making up for whatever by making his son's room magazine-perfect.

There was a pink princess who reminded me of Veruca Salt. She walked in front of her mother the whole time and just pointed at things while her mother ran behind her, taking things in her arms, and things were just tipping and falling: "I want that, and I want that, and I want that, and I have to have that." She and her mother had a showdown about a pink telephone. She said, "I have to have a pink telephone!" And her mother said, "No," and she said, "Yesss!" Her mother ran and got it. Sixty-nine dollar telephone. For a six-year-old. She's the one I had to glare at behind her mother's back. She just glared back at me; she looked annoyed to be there in the first place.

There are some definite Veruca Salts. It's mostly six- to nine-year-old girls who stare at their mother with that icy stare until their mother gives in. And it works. And it makes you want to kick them, and it makes me worry about what they're going to be like when they grow up.

There are people who redo their kid's bedroom every year or two, and have to have it all matching. The one I always think about is the woman who was just having a fit because she had to have her baby's room completely done this weekend or she was going to lose her marbles. I said, "How old is your baby?" And she said, "I'm just pregnant. Seven weeks." So that leaves you 33 more to obsess about your child's room.

I love my co-workers. We talk about the customers all the time. There are some who only certain people in the store can handle. They'll call and make an appointment, and the rest of us just stand aside. There are some salespeople who are much, much better about trying to sincerely not laugh in their face or be polite with the condescension, which is unbelievable. We're there to serve. And if you offer an opinion, like "Try this color," sometimes they sort of smile at you, like "Just do your job."

I call them the Edina Vaginas. It's not original; I've heard it from other people in Edina, which--did you know?--means Every Day I Need Attention. Some women come in with their husbands. They lead them around the store, and the husbands pay and smile at me wincingly and keep on going to the next store. They're like sharks. They circle and leave. Or they come in with their kids, who are not happy to be there, and they're like, "I'm buying this for you. You should be happy."

It's incredibly materialistic. You don't need it. There are kids a mile from here who don't have a blanket, and then there's kids who have the finest flannel sheets and the finest cotton blanket and the finest down comforter and they're three years old. It's made me give away tons of stuff and made me realize how much I had.

I took the job for the discount and I've bought very little there, because 40 percent off of the perfect sheet set, who cares? They're just going to sleep on it. I'm a social worker and I'm going back to it. I did mostly medical social work with women with high-risk pregnancies--preemies and adoptions and crack babies. I won't be here next Thanksgiving.

Is a perfectly coordinated purple and yellow room going to make your daughter smarter or more popular? It's competition. I don't think the kids care nearly as much as the mothers, showing off the rooms: If you have a perfect showroom-bedroom, you're a good parent. Sometimes they'll be really apologetic to me and say, "Well, we know this is a little obsessive." And I just sort of smile sympathetically and take their credit cards.


Jim Walsh can be reached at [email protected] or 612.372.3775.

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