Professor Monroe Street
Interpretation is portrayed through different perspectives or viewpoints regarding a specific event or situation. I chose the story “Exercises in Style” by Raymond Queneau. This short story talks about a man entering a crowded bus where he then has a confrontation with another man while on that bus. Then has his friend fix the button on his pocket. I will be using this story as an example or reference point because of the style and adapt this style into a personal experience of mine. I will be interpreting the two perspectives of my mother and a Middle Eastern Store worker at a beauty supply store. In summary, My mom and I entered our neighborhood beauty supply store because my mom needed to buy more relaxers for her hair. She’s been coming into this specific store for years. We live in a primarily black and Hispanic neighborhood in the Bronx, New York. Shortly after my mom enters the store, one of the female store clerks asks my mom if she needed help with finding any items she needed. After my mother says “no”, the female store clerk continues to follow us through each aisle of the store. My mom notices and quickly gets infuriated and we both leave the store. These two perspectives will portray how non-black store owners view black and brown people in the neighborhoods they sell to.
The Store Clerk
It was a slow Saturday afternoon, and I just finished stocking the shelves for my boss. There was only one other pale-Spanish lady near the front counter. She was looking at wigs and asked my boss, who was sitting by the register, to retrieve a stylish shoulder-length wig with nice bangs. I was sitting on a stool in front of the counter, waiting for shoppers to come in. We’re used to the slow afternoon crowd since there’s not much foot traffic during this time of day. I then noticed a middle-age black lady and her black child walk into the store. I noticed her purse was open as she slowly walked up and down the aisles. I asked myself, “Why wouldn’t she have her purse open?”. I calmly walked up to the lady and asked her if she needed help with anything. She said “No”. Judging by her body language, I knew she was lying. She obviously needed something, or else she wouldn’t be in the store. Why would she let me help her? If I had helped, she would’ve been able to buy the item and leave. Why waste time looking for something she obviously has no idea where to get it from.
As I reflected upon this situation, I came to the conclusion that this woman was stalling for something. In my mind I said “Maybe she’s trying to steal. That’s why her purse is open. She wants us to believe she’s a normal shopper, so when we’re not looking she can slip some products into her bag”. It was clear to me now. I’ve seen plenty of her kind ,day-in day-out, try to steal from stores in this neighborhood. It’s not right, so I’m going to put a stop to it. I need to get her out of the store, so I came up with the perfect idea of keeping a close eye on her. She thinks no one is watching, but I am, from afar. Whichever aisle she went down I stayed at the end of that aisle. I knew she was trying to steal because as soon as she noticed me down an aisle at the back of the store behind her, she became agitated and aggressive as she stormed out of the store. I was glad to have once again stopped another black thief from stealing . I can’t stand working in these neighborhoods. Why can’t they just work for a change and earn a decent living instead of taking from people’s hard earned money. Business would be so much better if we were in a better neighborhood.
My Mother (The Black Lady)
“Damn! I forgot to get my hair relaxer from the beauty supply store.”
She exclaimed in the car.
“Okay, let me drive up and park in front so I can get upstairs and cook dinner.” She said to me. “Come on son, give me your hand.”
“Mommy just needs one more thing and we can go home.” She said comfortingly. “Mommy just needs her relaxer.” She said, taking me by the hand.
“Oh come on!” She said angrily.
“They moved it again?!” She said, feeling confused.
“This is the third time they moved it. It’s usually in the middle aisle of the store.” “Hmm, lets see. Is it here in the front aisle?”
“Nope, gotta keep looking.” she said with a determined look in her eyes.
Is it here in the middle? No again.” *Sighs*.
All of a sudden a lady asked me, “Miss do you need help”.
I said “No, I’m okay”. “I just got here.”
“Haven’t even been in the store two minutes, and she’s already asking me if I need help.” “No, I don’t need help.” she said speaking through her thoughts with an impatient tone. “They always do that.”
“Thanks for the offer but if I needed help I would’ve asked.” she said replying in her mind without uttering a word.
“Okay, where was I?.” she said to herself. “Oh yeah, Relaxer.”
“Maybe it’s back here somewhere.”
“Sure enough, it’s right here.” she said with certainty.
“Wait, isn’t that the same lady that just asked me if I needed help?” she asked as she reflected. “Yep, her again.” speaking with disappointment.
“She thinks I didn’t see her following me the other two times.” she said feeling increasingly annoyed.
“Let me just see if they have the relaxer with the olive oil in it, but I don’t know if they have it. Let me just ask the store owner.” she said after attempting to ignore the clerk.
“I looked behind me to make sure I put the other box back and I saw the same store clerk down the aisle I just passed.”
“She was looking directly at me.”
I Decided to ignore it, but when I saw her again at the end of the aisle I couldn’t take it anymore. In all of my frustration I put the box of relaxers back where I got it, and proceeded to walk out of the store with my son. The moment before I stepped my foot out the door, I told the clerk and the owner:
“If you’re going to follow me around the store, then you don’t need my money.” she said, talking sternly to both the owner and employee.
“I’m not gonna give my money to any establishment that suspects me of a thief.” she said getting increasingly agitated.
“You think I didn’t notice you following me and my son, step-for-step, Nah?!” she said harshly. Giving all of her focus towards the suspecting store clerk.
“You’re so busy watching me because I’m black rather than paying attention to the Spanish chick that probably steals from you more than me.”
“But because you think all of us are gonna steal, you don’t need my money!” she said with an unforgiving tone. Angrily, I left the store.
As she collected herself and focused more of her attention on me she said,
“Son, remember, if any business racially profiles you or assumes you’re stealing, they don’t deserve your money.” she said to me sternly.
“Take your business elsewhere.”
“I go there all the time and they treat me like that?!”
Honestly, writing from the perspective of the store clerk is quite difficult because I had to assume, based on her actions, that she was racially profiled but mom and I. Another difficulty was writing through the interpretation of my mom. Back then I was just a kid and it was ironic how vivid this memory was to me. From writing these two interpretations, I learned how each individual’s interpretation is different and unique even if both people witnessed the same event. Different styles of language portray different messages to readers because it affects how we interpret who’s being affected by the situation. Language also allows us fluidity and flexibility on how easy or difficult is to interpret. Similar to the human brain, Interpretation is affected negatively and positively by nature versus nurture.