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Book Excerpt: Retail Hell


Whenever I was forced to talk about what I did for a living, I often got strange looks from people. You'd have thought I told them I sold body bags, barf bags, or bags of pot. Regardless of how I defended myself to those who couldn't wrap their mind around the idea of a guy selling purses, it always hit me hardest when I was out at a bar trying to score and the conversation got personal:

Hot Dude: "So, what do you do?"

Freeman: "I work in retail." (I always tried to be truthful at first, but vague.)

Hot Dude: "Cool. Where do you work?"

Freeman: "Umm . . . at The Big Fancy." (Here's where I'd place my prayer request to God and beg to let the "what I do" question end there.)

Hot Dude: "Expensive store. What do you sell?" (Prayer request denied. God went straight to my shit list.)

Freeman: "Umm . . . handbags."

Hot Dude: "What?" (They always said "what?" like I was speaking in tongues.)

Freeman: "Ladies' handbags. You know, like purses." (Humiliation ensued.)

Hot Dude: "You sell purses to women?" (Laughing. They always laughed.) "That's fucking bizarre."

Handbag emasculation complete.

My balls had shrunk to my neck, where they proceeded to choke me. (Handbags are not a topic of interest to a crowd of muscle men at a leather bar.) Technically, I should have been telling everyone I was a screenwriter -- and I did many times -- but what always went down after that was, "Have you been produced?" followed by me saying, "Not yet," which usually led to the question, "What do you do for your day job?" And that would bring me back to dialogue that ended in handbag emasculation and ball shredding.

If I was drunk, horny, and wanted a fast hookup, I would completely lie; the job questions usually ended after I proclaimed myself a software developer, accountant, or veterinarian. Early on at The Big Fancy, I also received my share of skepticism from women customers:

Customer: "How are you going to help me? What do you know about bags?"

Freeman: "That's what I've been hired to do."

Customer: "But men never work in this section."

Freeman: "One does now. And men have been selling shoes to women forever. No difference really." (This was always my big line for customers questioning my gender-based abilities.)

Customer: "I suppose you're right." (Of course I am. The customer is never right.)

Thankfully, society has moved past the shock of men selling handbags, just as they have with women being allowed to tackle and Taser some asshole on the run. Thousands of my brethren are out there right now helping women find trendy totes big enough to hold their Chihuahuas in.

Handbags have become status symbols and fashion statements, and because of the truckload of techie gizmos we carry around on a daily basis, guys are also dragging them around. Those are called manbags. But when I moved to Los Angeles, way back when, men weren't selling handbags. I didn't own a handbag -- I mean manbag -- and the word was no more a part of my vocabulary than the word menopause. I thought I was going to be selling screenplays. Not handbags.

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