the friend level.


i went into andaluz, looking for something to buy my friend for her birthday. andaluz is a very girly store in columbia city which sells clothes, candles, books, jewelry, and a whole lot of knick-knacks. i flipped through some books and finally decided on one. then i stood around looking confused, so that the cashier would help me choose something. she was an attractive girl, mid to late twenties, and i assumed by her hipster fashion sense that she'd be able to help me find something nice. "can i help you find anything?" "yeah," i said. "are you shopping for someone else?" no, i'm in andaluz looking for some purple thongs and scented candles for myself. "yes. for my friend," i said, "she's turning twenty-six." "oh okay," she said, "so, you're just at the friend level," and then she moved her hand back and forth to illustrate what the "friend level" looks like. i nodded.

"well, what's she into?" she asked. "is she really girly, or is she into sports?" "no, not really. she likes art. and music." "oh, okay. so more of the artsy type." "yes," i said, "oh, and she's into environmentalism." i had no idea what i was talking about, but i was suddenly afraid this woman was going to make recommendations that i knew my friend wouldn't want. at all. she started looking through the books. "well, here's one, if she's into art. does she have any pets?" "yeah!" i said, "two dogs." "okay. here's one. it's really cool." i flipped through it. "i think she'll like this one," i said. then she handed me a pack of playing cards with 3-d dogs on them. "here's another kind of funny one, since she has dogs." she smiled as she said this, knowing fully well that nobody was buying these dog playing cards. at this point, i was cradling a stack of books and some other random things in my arms. it was an awkward position to be in. i didn't want to offend the saleslady's judgment or taste.

"it's also scarf season," she said. "here are some scarves." i looked at the scarves. i could actually see emily wearing one of those. "and there are more up front," she said. i thanked her, and when i was ready to buy, i brought the items to the register. "are you ready?" "yes," i said. she had a round face, and really short, blonde hair. it was a fro-hawk, i guess you would call it, and the very top of her hair was frosted an even lighter color. "you work at pcc, too, don't you?" i said. "yeah," she said, "good eye!" "cool," i said. "yeah. i work part-time there, and part-time here, keeps it interesting." she didn't frown or express the slightest resentment of having to work two retail jobs. i admired her for it.

"you live around here?" she asked. "yeah," i said, "in those apartments above the starbucks." "oh, off rainier." "yeah." "cool, how do you like it?" "i like the neighborhood a lot. i'd come here every now and then to eat at tutta bella's, so i kind of knew the area a little bit." "nice." "what about you? are you down here or up by seward park?" "capitol hill, actually. i drive down here for work. yeah, i love the hill. it's my favorite neighborhood, and i've lived everywhere. the u district, the central district..." "oh, the c.d. yeah, i lived there, too." "yeah, i'm over by group health now." "oh, on 15th. yeah, i was gonna live there, but the girl never called me back." she frowned. "well, thanks for helping me out," i said. "yeah," she said, "see you around."

a more suave person wouldn't have hurried out of that shop. someone with more self-confidence would've said, when do you get off, and would you fancy a drink. one cousin once told a younger cousin, "why didn't you make a move? you should've asked her number, put your arm around her. something." to which the younger cousin replied, "i don't think that's how it's done." the older cousin scoffed at this know-it-all response. "you tell me how it's done, then." "i don't know how," he said, "but i don't think that's it."

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