In the beginning my part time job was enough of a challenge to make it interesting. Recommended by a high school classmate, I had been hired by a local department store to repair damaged costume jewelry. Working in a tiny, windowless, basement space, I nonetheless got a kick out of figuring out how to put broken jewelry pieces back together without the repairs showing. But there wasn’t enough repair work to keep me busy, so I was moved into sales on the basement floor which included a peculiar conglomeration of merchandise: home furnishings mixed in with pricey boy’s clothes. It was quickly apparent that discussing the finer points of curtain rods, mattress covers and boy’s socks with housewives wasn’t high on the thrill list of my 16 year old self. So what I remember most about those days was crisscrossing the narrow aisles between puffy piles of pillows and sheets in an attempt to walk off the boredom. The odd thing is I don’t recall making a single sale, but I must have, because I somehow lasted a few months before the store owner caught on to my sales unsuitability and said, “Sayonara, kid.”
Even though retail sales and I were not sorry to part company, I still felt embarrassed by being booted out. True — I was a lousy sales person and relieved to be released from repeating tedious transactions over and over again, but I was not used to failing and it wasn’t a pleasant feeling.
I had no intention of repeating the experience. Then later in art school I suddenly found myself with an empty wallet and Christmas fast approaching. I had two choices — either giving no Christmas gifts or toughing my way through a part time holiday sales job for the necessary cash. Because it had a non-frenetic Christmas atmosphere, I chose B. Altmans in NYC (a defunct department store) for my second foray into the retail sales world. After a brief training session, where we were instructed to dress in dark clothes so as not to upstage the oh-so-precious store merchandise, I greeted my first customer in the better sportswear department.
From the beginning the problems I encountered were of a different stripe than my earlier retail adventure. Unsettled by some of the unflattering costumes customers tried on in the fitting rooms — discordant pieces that didn’t go together, clothes either too small or that emphasized figure faults and colors that fought their skin tones — I hated to be asked for my opinion of these unattractive get-ups. It was a tough line to walk: trying to be honest, and steer customers toward more flattering duds, yet doing it in a diplomatic way when they clung so hard to merchandise that worked against their looks.
I remember a young husband who showed up Christmas Eve looking for a blouse to complete his wife’s gift — a vivid red ensemble. So far he had bought her red velvet pants, red satin shoes, and jewelry with lots of flashing red stones. How about a white silk blouse, I suggested. No, no the blouse had to be red too, he insisted. And that’s what he got. I’ve always wondered about her reaction when she unwrapped her eye-popping scarlet raiment.
One constant that did remain with the job, however, was Boredom with a cap B. My own shopping expeditions were speed trips, designed to get me in and out of stores as fast as possible. Not much interested in shopping and buying stuff, I was even less interested in selling it. The boredom was so bad that I actually looked forward to trekking back and forth to the scruffy stock room supposedly to check on merchandise availability, but actually to escape having to pretend interest in yet another customer’s slow motion, outfit search. When I was abruptly axed, I walked away with a thoroughly learned lesson. Retail sales and I could never play in the same ball game.
Have you ever come across jobs that were poor fits for you?
Jobs during Younger Years:
- When does an Internship become a slave ship?
- Hey Mom, Guess What – I Got a Press Card!
- A Flub, a Fare-up and a Firing!