When I was 16, I got my first job working behind the jewelry counter at JCPenneys. Despite the fact we had to wear pantyhose and heels, it was my first true introduction to the dark world lurking just outside my middle class uber conservative upbringing. I worked with girls who’d gotten knocked up, were getting wasted at parties, and wore sunglasses to hide their black eyes. It was positively scandalous.
The job was just as you would expect—I convinced people to buy expensive hairpins, arranged peridot earrings, and could straighten a distraught bin of clearanced handbags like nobody’s business. It was important to be quick about it, because the sooner the store was clean, the sooner we could all go home.
Assuming there weren’t any lingering customers, of course.
On a slow weeknight, I could have every errant price tag tucked away within minutes of closing. One such night, I was just about to close my cash register when I realized there was a man still lurking in the corner of my department, browsing the pantyhose. He’d been there for quite some time, wandering about in his red plaid shirt and khaki jacket, head bent low in concentration. I’d hoped that ignoring him would make him go away, but it was 9:15 and he was still reading the backs of pantyhose packaging.
I decided it was time for an intervention.
I came out from behind the jewelry counter and crossed the sales floor. The lights were dimmed as a gentle reminder that we were fucking closed, so he was standing in semi-darkness when I reached him.
“Hi,” I said, “is there anything I can help you find?”
He looked up shyly, a touch embarrassed.
“Yes,” he said, “I need to buy pantyhose for my girlfriend.”
His voice was quiet, almost stammering.
“Okay… do you know what color she needs?”
He gestured at the half-nude models hanging above our heads. They were wearing nothing but sheer black pantyhose but their bodies were contorted in such a way that you could technically call it modest.
I flipped through a ring of pantyhose samples until I found two black options.
“Which of these do you think?”
He took them from me, holding them gingerly before plunging his hand deep within the hosiery, grasping it and clawing his fingernails against the insides. I took a step back as his eyes lit up.
“Yes,” he said, “this one is good.”
I moved down the aisle to find it for him.
“Okay, do you know what size your girlfriend wears?”
He grinned at me sheepishly and shrugged.
“Is she short? Tall?”
He looked lost for a second, then looked me up and down.
“She is like you.”
I handed him the right color and size.
“Alright, here ya go. I can check you out right over here—“
“I need two pair.”
I turned back around, moving to grab a second package.
“I want my girlfriend to wear these,” he began, “and only these.”
I stopped dead in the tracks of awkward.
“No other clothing,” he emphasized.
His voice was still soft, but he was speaking faster. His eyes looked feverish and his upper lip had started to sweat. It was covered in tiny whiskers like a teenage boy, though he had to be in at least his 30s.
“That’s nice…” I said, not wanting to be impolite.
“And then,” he went on, “I will… I will rip them.”
He held his hands out, eagerly pantomiming the act of ripping the crotch out of his girlfriend’s pantyhose.
“And then, I will do this.”
Standing in the hosiery section of JCPenneys, this grown man began to hump the air, thrusting and making wild passionate love to his invisible, pantyhosed girlfriend.
I took another step back.
“Okay, I can check you out over here—“
He moved towards me.
“The thing is…”
His voice trailed off, and I waited. His upper lip was even shinier now, tiny droplets of sweat congregated amongst the whiskers.
“I don’t actually have a girlfriend.”
In a slow motion moment of horror, he met my eyes and slowly smiled.
“You can wear the pantyhose?”
My jaw dropped.
“And I can do this.”
He began thrusting the air again.
“No, no, no…”
I looked around for help, thinking maybe this was a joke and a bunch of frat guys were about to jump out from behind a corner. It was so dim, I could barely make out the other departments and there was no one in sight.
“Please,” he said, stepping towards me. “I need to.”
I kept shaking my head politely, an epic battle of “the customer is always right” and “this is why people carry rape whistles” waged in my mind.
“I need to.” He said again, “You have to help me, I need to do this now. I never lain with anyone, I never kissed…”
He was counting his statements out on his hand like some sort of sales pitch to distract me as he closed the gap between us.
I kept telling him “no” and walking backwards, a part of me still worried about offending him.
“Please,” he kept repeating, “Please. Do you know anyone who will wear the pantyhose?”
He’d spent ten minutes beating around the bush while subtly ascertaining my size but he was quick to replace me with anyone willing to join in on his pantyhose thrust fantasy. I shook my head one last time and beelined it back to the jewelry counter, hiding behind the glass display case until he eventually wandered off.
When my manager came to check my area I tried to describe what had happened but she was in a rush to get home and wouldn’t listen. For the next few nights I kept a lookout for the sweaty-lipped thruster but he never came back.
It was one of my first truly helpful learning experiences. I learned that “no” means nothing to someone who is determined to have their way. I learned that people do not want to hear what you have to say unless it is convenient for them, and I learned that we aren’t doing girls any favors when we teach them that they must always be polite.
What did YOU learn at your first job? Has anyone ever propositioned you for a fetish-fantasy or just some good old fashioned sex? At what point do you think you stopped being naïve?
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