I was walking quickly in the rain today on my way to a store I know that sells only fountain pens, wax seals, and strangely shaped envelopes (octagonal, triangular), when a stout middle-aged man in a store called out to me.
“Excuse me miss! I have a question! Perhaps you can help me.” He was on the phone, but he held it away from his ear. I stopped, and he waved me closer, into his store filled with leather coats.
“How would you like it if I made you a gift of a free leather jacket and you will wear it to do some promotion for the store?” he said.
I’d just been cursing myself for bringing only a heavy winter coat to this unfailingly rainy and 60 degree city, so even though the New Yorker in me sensed a scam, I said, “Well, I would like it if you did that.”
“Great, great,” he said, “you are young, you are pretty, you must have friends who like coats,” and he beckoned me over to a desk where he pulled out a business card and wrote down my name on it and “from NYC.”
“How old are you?” he asked, “20?”
I wish I’d said, “No, but not old enough to need to be flattered about it either,” but instead I said, “25.”
“Good, good,” he said, “and do you have a boyfriend? Are you engaged?” I laughed.
“I’m only asking so that I can know if I should think of a coat for him as well,” he said, “but now, see, I can think only of you.”
“I am a little naughty,” he said, and laughed. He asked me what I was doing in Paris, when I got here, where I was living. I thought about lying but instead answered vaguely and truthfully.
He got up, chose a short black leather coat off the rack and handed it to me. I put it on. It fit like a glove. I was admiring myself in the mirror when he walked over to the door and closed it in the face of a young man outside. The young man pushed inside anyway and smiled at me. He was gangly, with a pointy face and a goofy smile.
“As soon as there’s a pretty girl in the store, he locks me out!” he said, “So, you’re going to do some promotion for the store?”
“Um,” I said, “well, I’m not going to buy a coat, so I suppose that’s what I’m here for.”
The young man came over to me, and peppered me with the same series of questions. When I looked around, the older man had disappeared.
“That coat looks very nice on you,” he said, “now if you could have a second coat, any one, which color would it be?”
“I’d like a brown one,” I said.
“Brown? No. What about red?” he said.
“Sure,” I said, “ok, red.” I began to take the black jacket off as he turned toward the rack for a red coat
“Let’s see how you are,” he said, bending sideways at the waist to look at my body. “Ok, very chesty.” I laughed.
“I mean, I must look just to see what will fit you! Try this one, but wear it open.” He winked at me and handed me a short red leather jacket and I put it on.
“Stunning!” he said, “How old are you, 20?”
“25,” I said.
“Very good very good. Now, if you buy one of these coats, I will give you two more for free.”
“I can’t buy any coats,” I said, “I just told you – I just moved to Paris, and I don’t have any money.”
“Ok, ok,” he said, “but if you could have a third coat, any one, would you want a long one or a short one?”
“A short one,” I said.
“No no,” he said, “a long one is better. Here, a brown one this time.” He handed me a tan leather trench coat. “This one is 800 euros, but I’ll give it to you for 150 euros,” he said, and smiled and winked again.
“If you buy just one coat, you can pay it in little installments,” he told me, “and I will give you the other two for free.”
“I really don’t have the money,” I said, “seriously.” He turned to look at me in the mirror.
“You look ravishing in that brown one…” he said, “If I weren’t gay…” he smiled and winked again.
“Really? Me too!” I said, taking off the brown coat.
“You prefer women?” he said.
“Yes,” I said.
“Yes, a woman is softer, no? Not like a man, blech.” He made a face. I laughed and began to gather my things.
“Come back when you’ve earned money,” he said.
“I won’t,” I said, “but I enjoyed trying on all your coats.”