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April 24, 2010

The Perfect Fake and the Real Deal

The Perfect Fake and the Real Thing

By Elaine Viets

Retail offers endless opportunities for rudeness. I should know. I’ve had jobs in shops on and off since I was 16. I’ve worked with customers – and for bosses – who inspired me to craft murderous tales where they died horribly.

But retail isn’t always nasty. Occasionally, I see incredible acts of kindness.    Fashionista

I did the research for "Half-Price Homicide" at Hibiscus Place Emporium, a Fort Lauderdale designer consignment shop. When I was there, the store was owned by Manny Lopez, a young man from Ecuador. Manny taught me that real Panama hats are actually made in his country, not Panama.

Manny also possessed amazing tact. Hibiscus Place sells designer purses on consignment. Many of these purses cost $500 to $3,000 new. To me, anything that costs $3,000 should have wheels and a motor, but I’m not a fashionista.

Hibiscus Place clients would bring in expensive designer purses that were barely used – sometimes still in the original boxes – for consignment sale. They got half the selling price and Manny got the other. It was a good system. Many women will not leave the house without a purse sporting a designer logo.

But designer purses are easy to fake. Manny saw a lot of those, too. He refused to sell them at his store. His customers could tell the subtle differences between the genuine article and the imitation.

One afternoon, I watched Manny with a sweet-looking older woman who wanted to sell two fake purses.

The purses were fake – even I could see that, across the shop – and there was nothing subtle about these imposters. Their dull metal trim and poorly matched print fabric were two of the more obvious giveaways.

But the fake purses had been gifts from the woman’s son, and she treasured them. She had no clue they weren’t real designer bags. She wasn’t trying to cheat anyone.

The scene with Manny and the woman was so amazing, I wished I’d taped it. Instead, I put it in my ninth Dead-End Job mystery, "Half-Price Homicide."

In the novel, the fictional store owner is named Vera and Helen Hawthorne is working yet another dead-end job at the designer consignment store. Here’s the scene from "Half-Price Homicide."


Grandma  A short, sturdy woman entered the shop. She looked like the perfect grandmother. Her blue pantsuit had a tabby cat on the front. She had fluffy white hair and a sweet smile. She opened a plastic grocery bag and brought out a purse wrapped in a white towel.

Perfect Grandma carefully peeled away the towel and said reverently, "This is a genuine Louis Vuitton."

Helen could tell it was a fake and a poor one at that. The classic brown monogram Vuitton bag had missing stitches on the leather handle tabs. The brass fittings were dull and the nylon zipper looked cheap.

"Was it a gift?" Vera asked.

"Oh, yes," Perfect Grandma said. "My dear son Edward and his wife brought it home from their Caribbean cruise. They bought me two designer handbags." Her face was pink with pride. "I wouldn’t sell this one except that my Social Security doesn’t stretch as far as it used to. And I have my Gucci." She patted another obvious imitation.

"The Louis Vuitton is a beautiful purse," Vera said. She held it up and pretended to admire it. "I wish I could buy it, but we’re overstocked right now. But thank you for bringing it here."

"Maybe later," Perfect Grandma said, and swaddled the purse like a newborn.


Manny had no retail reason to be kind to Perfect Grandma. She couldn’t even afford to buy his real designer purses at Hibiscus Place. He let her keep her pride and her illusions.

She’ll never know what Manny did for her. I hope nobody tells her the truth about sonny boy’s gifts. Half-Price_250

"Half-Price Homicide" will be in stores May 4. To order your copy go to www.elaineviets.com. If you’d your copy autographed, choose Mystery Lovers Bookshop from the three stores on my home page.


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Civility is an increasing rare commodity these days. The funniest ones are those who complain about the coarseness of the current political debate. Then, the next words out of their mouths are, “Republicans are stupid, homophobic, racists Nazis” or “Liberals are unpatriotic, decadent, baby killer Commies.”

Apparently the appreciation of irony is in short supply as well.

It doesn't really take much effort to be compassionate, especially if you put yourself in the other person's shoes. Manny's approach not only didn't cost him any more thank kindness, but kept that woman's perception of her son intact. Bravo.
What his approach does take is the realization that other people have feelings, that they need to be treated with respect. Period. We all like to be treated well, and we're quick to voice our opinions when we aren't...only when the shoe is on the other foot, we can fail miserably if we're not careful. It's as simple as "do unto others..."
Off to an early shift with brownies in hand. Have a great Saturday, and thanks Elaine :o)

Like Elaine, I've been on both sides of the cash register, and I try very hard to always always be nice to the clerk. As I mentioned yesterday about courtesy and manners, being polite to a store clerk can change their whole attitude, and it's a nice feeling to think that perhaps you were the only nice person they dealt with that day. My maternal grandfather drummed into my head 'Please', 'Thank You,' 'Would it be possible?' are powerful, magical words.

And they're in short supply these days....

It is truly amazing how rude people can get and think nothing of it. It has been a while since someone was so impolite on the phone at the pizza store that I hung up on them, but for a while I just wanted to say, "You do realize I will be putting my hands in your food in the next 30 seconds. Are you sure you wanted to call that?"

But there are some real gems. I have had customers send tips back to the store for the pizza maker, send cookies back for every one, and occasionally, very nice cards. The gems make putting up with the (little princess are reading over shoulder so word is missing).

What a sweet story, Elaine. I love it. I've been on all sides, too, and I learned very quickly that the more upset/angry/irritated you are (or the other person is) the more productive it is to be kind, polite, and friendly. A simple, "Hi. How are you?" before launching into an "issue" can make all the difference. Also, nothing takes the wind out of someone's argument like a genuine, "I'm sorry."

I just read somewhere that the new trend in handbags is: simple. No extra buckles, studs, zippers, tassles or whatnot. Just a clean-looking bag in a nice leather with no LV or Coach or Chanel logos all over it. Also, I was looking at department store handbags recently and noticed a definite increase in the number of small bags--really small ones that you wear on a long strap across your body. How convenient! And lightweight! Could the fashion industry be paying attention?

No, wait--those hideous Spartacus sandals with the gigantic platforms. Nevermind.

What a lovely story, Elaine!

I worked in retail for a while and I loved it.
I liked meeting the people because they were buying clothes and jewelry and it made them happy.
Many jobs are just downright boring but I enjoyed it. Even the rude people were interesting because it gave me a challenge and I usually had a way to handle their rudeness.
One late Saturday evening a man came in with seven women and directed me to ring up many items for him. It was near closing time but it never occurred to him that I might want to close up the store.
However, the customer is always right,
I try never to be rude. I figure if I can make it easier for the clerk we are away ahead of the game.

I am very excited to read your new novel.

I worked retail as my first 'real' (nonbabysitting) job and I think it's something everyone should do, just for the experience of being on that side of the counter.

Now, because I try to shop local as much as possible, I get to be friends with most of the retailers.

At the big department stores, I always have at least one person (usually at the Clarins or Clinique counter) who I befriend and drop cookies during the year and little gifts at the holidays. These people don't make much money and are delighted to see a friendly face - in return, I always get the heads-up on sales and promos throughout the store.

Being polite is not only the nice thing to do, but the smart one.

Now I am off to Little's - our local shoe store - to get new shoes for my teenage son who grows overnight and say hi to Jerry!

Save a brownie for me, Maryann.
Nancy, I hope you're right about smaller purses. I got out of the habit of carrying big ones when my chiropracter weighed my purse. I was carrying 30 pounds on a strap and wondering why my right shoulder hurt.

What a sweet man! . . . and yes, why ruin her happiness with an unhelpful truth?
We used to face that dilemma sometimes with students who would express a desire for a career far beyond their abilities -- doctor because they loved watching E.R., for example. We mostly agreed that there was no harm in dreaming, and if it motivated them to pass remedial science, it would help them along whatever path they did finally choose.
I made calls yesterday to arrange hotel (Warner Marriott - Woodland Hills) and airport shuttle for L.A. July 29 - 31 . . . After talking with sweet, helpful, friendly people, I am even more looking forward to the trip. We need more nice people!!

Thrown into the land of retail I came across some very interesting characters.
On a slow Monday morning there were the usual senior citizens..men who would dawdle for hours looking at Timex watches obviously needing attention and TLC.
Transvestites perusing the dresses and shoes were fascinating.
An older man asking me if I saw his wife's hairpiece on the floor. After searching the aisles one hairpiece was retrieved.
Working diligently with security and giving the code when needed.
Women with children in a stroller near smothering a child with many items on top of them. Wanting to alert security when no apparent baby was to be seen.
Selling a huge diamond ring to a guy to impress his girlfriend only to be returned shortly thereafter..the loss of the commission hurt.
Yes, these were the stories of a woman educated to go on to greater things in life but none so interesting.

You've learned how to entertain yourself at work, Marie. A valuable skill. Retail can be a fascinating mini-theater. Too bad it's usually so underpaid.

The money or lack of it forced me to leave retail and go into banking..a much more confining and stressful occupation.
The skills that I learned in retail indeed help me sort out the even stranger customers.
A older man accusing us of thinking he was a gangbanger. An older couple who constantly fought at my window and he later admitting that he got even with her in bed..oops!
Customer demands on Christmas eve..a woman making tamales at home and instructing us to have two thousand dollars worth of travelers check when she returned later.
My supervisor and myself found ourselves so overwhelmed that we sat on the floor of the vault and laughed hysterically as we were trying to sort out the ordering logistics on such short notice.
And last but not least being the victim of a takeover robbery and then appeased by an order of Kentucky Fried Chicken.
Ya..those were the good old days of customer service.

Sorry, this is a little off topic, but a friend just brought my attention to this video, in which James Brown teaches us how to dance.
Irresistible if ya gotta move. Qualifies as one of the category 'the real thing', yes?
Also, apropos of recent discussion of Straight No Chaser and Double Shot, check out www.musicload.com for emerging artists, courtesy of Gregory J. Chamberlain, truly nice guy.

Looking back at my job choices I had to convince myself that I was doing it for the children..my children who needed cars, insurance, school fees etc.
What got me out the cocoon of my household nest were jobs such a Lottery booth attendant owned by one of President Ford's sons, and a bookkeeping job using DOS on the computer..what a joy that was.
I was offered a crossing guard job but I knew that one could be easily distracted and I feared getting myself or my charges killed.
I tried selling Avon door to door but was scooped out by ambitious sellers assaulting people at their workplace. A lot of women sought jobs during the early feminist era.
Working helped me to make the transition more easily when the kids left home. The girls were managers in retail for a while and then became professionals. I hope that I served as an example for the work ethic no matter what the job entailed.

Elaine, what a wonderful story--and how lovely was Manny! I always pray I'll find the right words when someone needs to hear them.

When I was in the field, people watching us dig assumed either we couldn't hear or understand their remarks, or simply weren't human. I heard comments about my nails (sorry, lady; manicures don't last in archaeology), about the fact that we were most likely a prisoner work program, and speculation that we (all women) were probably prostitutes (that one, I never understood). It's pretty funny, until you extrapolate that behavior to, and those assumptions about, everyone the thoughtless speaker might meet.

Elaine, what a sweet story..and how well I know about the number of knockoff bags out there. (Of course that's what AIR TIME is all about.)

I got a couple of emails from readers saying they liked the book, in fact, but they had a hard time understanding why people would care so much about designer labels, and why somone would actually pay so much for a real designer bag.

When you try to explain that--and I'm certainly guilty of deisgner clothing lust--there's nothing that comes out as really very convincing.

And Nancy--I'm so with you! Those gladiator sandals..are hideous.

Sidebar: Thanks for the dancing video, Laraine! Very educational..but no way I can do it. Especially the robot. Amazing. (Did you see Glee this week? It would be such fun to dance like the girls did in their suits and bustiers...)

Liked the video, Laraine. Unfortunately, I dance too much like my German ancestors. Maybe if James Brown had a tuba, or an accordian.

Hank, I read "Air Time," and loved it (of course), but all I could think about was the time I went to the Coach store at the the San Marcos, TX outlet mall. They were the real thing, and some of those ladies were going nuts! And the clearance corner! Oh Dear Lord! You'd get trampled if you weren't careful. Of course, I bought 2 bags and a scarf. My one shot at high fashion. :-) But I will say the cashiers were very nice.

What impressed me most about Manny was that he stood to gain nothing by being nice to the woman. She would never be a customer and neither would her son. I don't see many acts of selfless behavior.
Michelle, I've been to Coach sales. Those are contact sports.

Love the story about Manny. Such acts of kind compassion are exactly the sort that inspire greater warmth and trust in all who are privileged to be witnesses.
When I was a lowly adjunct professor at USC, I was driving an ancient Mazda GLC tied together with string and baling wire. Each time I made it successfully through traffic to campus, I would sigh, take a moment to catch my breath, straighten my well-worn skirt and suit jacket, and walk into the classroom to face 23 students whose handbags, Versace shirts, blouses, and ties, etc. combined would have bought me several luxury cars. Most of the time, I just tried to make sure they had opportunity to absorb the superb education offered them, but on one memorable occasion, a reasonably conscious young woman asked how much I was paid to teach the class--I mentioned the monthly figure, which was at that time around $500--she gasped and said, 'My purse cost more than that--that's just not fair!'

Laraine, I drove cars that required pushing through intersections to get to job interviews.
What I admire about you and other professional people including teaching since my girls are involved in that profession is the true dedication that you give to your students.
There is something very noble about a person who aspires to help students attain their potential even though they may seem unappreciative.
My daughters see children who might be disadvantaged at home but with unspoken grace and abilities they are there to make a difference to them.
Hats off to you and all people in the academic profession.
I suppose at the end of the day all that matters is what you brought to the table of life.


Laraine, a friend who is a shrink was given a loaf of holiday bread by one of his (rich) child patients. He thanked her and she said, "Mama makes that for all the help."

My aunt has just called to say that my brother's journey has come to an end. He was happy at their home, was able to go sit outside except for the last two days. I thanked her for doing that for him. If there is a life after this one, he will be seeing our parents soon. If there isn't, he spent life as he wished . . . left on his own terms.
While he loved to play the role of "aggravating little brother," he was a good father to Jill, and honored me by trusting that she "would always be safe and happy" when in my care.
(Copying hug . . . from my friend Holly (((((((Bill)))))))

Mary, my heart is heavy and lifted st the same time for you.
Such love between a brother and sister cannot be matched for all the stars in heaven.
My condolences go to you and your family and be assured that you are truly loved and treasured and I feel privileged to know you.
Take care...

Mary, I'm so sorry for your loss! Thinking of you this evening.

Thanks so much, my friends, for the kind words. Marie, these

"I suppose at the end of the day all that matters is what you brought to the table of life."
"Mary, my heart is heavy and lifted st the same time for you.
Such love between a brother and sister cannot be matched for all the stars in heaven.
My condolences go to you and your family and be assured that you are truly loved and treasured and I feel privileged to know you"

go on my list of "Good Quotes for Bad Days"

OMG, Elaine, 'all the help'!! It's astonishing how clueless some people are. One of my patients who is young and has great wealth has made a point to listen to clues from the parking lot attendant, and gave him a pair of tickets for a Dodgers game recently, just because he understood this was a big deal for the guy. I want all rich people to be like that!
Marie, you're right about educators--my life was molded and shaped forever by my first, second, and fifth-grade teachers, and by the phenomenal man who taught us civics, history and world history in high school. I can't even imagine what they had to put up with, as some of my classmates were definitely spoiled, selfish, careless. I was so meek and shy as to be invisible, but those great teachers drew me out and gave me confidence in my skills with language and social sciences, thank goodness. So glad your daughters are adding their goodness to the mix.

Mary, rest as much as you can amidst all that is to be done in these days. Know we're thinking of you and your family and Bill's daughter.

Mary, thinking of you this evening.
Thank you for the kind words.
All the best..God Bless!

Laraine..I hope that all your future endeavors are satisfying for you. I feel blessed to have my girls and knowing you makes life better for me and everyone.
Take care..

It's great to hear from you and see what you've been up to. All of the projects look great! Thanks!

From a FB friend re manners:
from former American politico and presidential nominee Wendell L. Willkie: "THE TEST OF GOOD MANNERS IS TO BE ABLE TO PUT UP PLEASANTLY WITH BAD ONES."

Laraine, you were most certainly the kind of student who keeps a teacher's morale high. I would look around the room, and the eyes focused on me and the lesson would assure me that it was not in vain. With particularly difficult groups, I would sometimes tell the individual students who were my lifeline, so we could consciously work together to keep education happening . . .
Thanks for your kind words, also.

Oh, Mary. So very sorry.

Mary - you and your family are in my prayers.

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