Plastic eye sticks

The sales assistant at the sunglasses shop has her sales pitch ready for people who visit the mall in their lycra.

I was clad like a sausage because I had to make a last-minute dash to the shops to buy sunglasses after a gym class. My sunglasses had broken, and I’d been wearing an old pair rescued from my kids’ dress-up box that were scratched like an Instant Kiwi ticket. Sunglasses shopping was urgent.

There are two stores devoted to displaying sunglasses in my local mall, in central Auckland. One shop is more high-end than the other. Both employ one salesperson who keeps busy cleaning lenses. I have never seen a customer in either of these wall-to-wall sunglasses stores. Not even a mannequin.

It was a “50% Off!” sign covering the window of the expensive store that lured me in to the last bastion of sunglasses shopping. I’d covered the familiar turf of womenswear shops.

I was the only customer and I browsed alone as the sales assistant manned the counter, having tired of cleaning lenses. Left to my devices, I had time to find three pairs of sunglasses in my price range. One was an awkward shape, another mirror lenses, the third looked okay – even in lycra.

The sales assistant was an arm’s length away, and I asked her to show me some sunglasses that fitted my budget. “Oh to be honest, I don’t think you’ll find any sunglasses here for that price,” she said, “have you tried Farmers?”

I wasn’t born yesterday – I’d already been to Farmers, which is New Zealand’s homegrown department store and the first stop for a barometer of affordable indulgence. There was nothing at Farmers for me, so I had moved on with my war chest.

I showed the un-assistant the sunglasses that I had found in my price range, that I had until then quite liked. She seemed tongue-tied and retreated behind the counter, not interested in trying to sell me a pair.

These shoeboxes of glistening glasses must surely be some kind of tax evasion scheme. The shop assistant practically told me to leave, she didn’t want to sell any sunglasses (it wasn’t because of the lycra).

I wandered up to Kmart and browsed their selection of sunglasses, nestled among the headbands, sunhats and hairclips. Having by now given up on buying myself a pair of new sunglasses, I picked up a pair for my daughter, and saw the barcode description; “plastic eye sticks.”