Thursday, October 6, 2011

CAN'T TALK, GOTTA WORK

      It was never optional - having a job - in my youth.  Perhaps, when I began high school, and began needing, then wanting 'things' like dance lessons, an enhanced wardrobe, a slush fund for movies, snacks and such, and it was my dual-working parents were doing their intrepid dandiest to provide the mere basics, I lock-stepped into the vast marketplace provided by New York City and got me one - or two during summers.  My high school - two subways and a bus from our Brooklyn apartment - was convenient, thanks to this same transit system - to 'the city' or Manhattan.  Mid freshman year saw me filing applications in large department stores where the harried staff was less likely to over-scrutinize forms/notice the applicant had indeed NOT achieved that magic, legal hiring age of sixteen.  Consequently, I was hired the second evening I ventured across the East River. 
      Macy's - the main Herald Square, 34th Street store - occupied an entire square block, reaching eleven stories into the hazy heavens.  That year, some plucky sales exec made the seminal suggestion of selling cigarettes by the carton only - at very competitive prices - on the Eighth Floor. The genius of this plan would be realized when sales increased on the entire floor, dedicated exclusively prior to this inclusion of this addictive, oh-so-nicely-priced, plentiful and wide assortment of brown flora, to china, earthenware, flatware - silver and stainless - crystal, glass and "special event" Gifts. And how fortuitous for the young, hungry, needy needing-a-job student.  Doubtful such luck would befall today's student, marching business to business seeking employment.
      (Au contraire, if the media gets even a glance from THIS writer, dear reader, she is met with marching students, to be sure.  They seem to come in two main stripes - those in need of work and those in need of 'walk'.  The latter are 'demonstrating' on Wall Street and the Brooklyn Bridge - above the very same East River crossed by yours truly so many decades ago - seemingly rebelling without a cause. Now conceptually, demonstrations are useful, often effective, historically relevant -sometimes FUN even.  Lest you think that ALL of my ventures into the 'city' were serious, arduous tasking, please sit corrected.
      There was that memorable Sunday in 1960, having told my parents that I was going with some school chums the The Cloisters - an historical, beautifully-maintained monastery where one could hear Gregorian Chant concerts on Sundays - in Upper Manhattan, we somehow found ourselves in Greenwich Village, standing right under that famous arch.  And we were among a throng of like-minded young people, growing quickly to mob-size.  This because, what with Viet Nam brewing, guitars were strumming to greet Joan Baez, coming to lead us in - you guessed, I know - a DEMONSTRATION!  The thrill of it all.  Joan wafted into the crowd; crowd locking elbows in solidarity; and, with flowers in her hair, she's leading us in singing, "If-the-Cops-Get-In-Our-Way-We're-Gonna-Roll-Right-Over-Them,-Roll-Right-Over-Them-Roll-Right-Over-Them.-If-the. . . ."etc. to the tune of, what else, "His  truth goes marching on".  Then, flushed but two hours later, home by six.  And joining my parents in watching the news.  Who knew?  There I was.  Suffice it to say, Mom took a somewhat dim - nay fascistic - view of fibbing and flower children.  But we had a REASON.)
      Macy's was to serve the dual purpose of lending a major assist in the build-up of the college fund as well as providing something of an education as well.  On the evenings I did not work, I took dance classes at a studio recommended by a fellow worker.  The instructor, a very talented but crazed Russian immigrant, gave discounts to Macy employees, showing his approval for our work ethic.  We were diligent and punctual and in that we also worked all day on Saturdays, we were something of a ubiquitous fixture on the Eighth Floor, my friends/co-workers and I.  Therefore, our track records were soon rewarded and mid sophomore year, I was selling china - a commission department to boot.  No more dealing with the grubby little old street person who, EVERY Saturday at noon would amble up to the counter, lean on an elbow, toothlessly request, "Ships o' da desert, shweetie" then howl at his "joke".  He smoked Camels.  I sprayed Lysol.  Only in New York. 
      I now boned up on the history of china and earthenware;  learned to be patient, suffer a different brand of fool.  "No Ma'am.  Johnson & Johnson makes band-aids.  Johnson Bros. make the Blue Willow pattern you're thinking of."  Or spending almost three hours with Nancy Sinatra, helping her select her formal pattern.  In the end, I convinced her to get Richard Ginori - "It's Italian!" - the most expensive Macy's carried.  I got the best commission.   The groom got the worst deal when his bride's boots walked six months after the nuptials.  Didn't work out.
      But we were working.  Now, young people have the same tuition loans to pay back but are losing the means to pay them.  They have MB A's and Smart phones but are vacating their Wall Street offices at the behest of their former employers, whirling through those brass revolving doors for the last time only to hit the streets where they have to first get past unruly crowds of demonstrators before they can begin to pound the pavements, looking for a new job.
      (Fortunately for me, having achieved my goal of going to college, I had elected to study nursing.  During those summers I was back in NYC, the Holy Trinity of the alphabet for THIS abecedarianLexington with a college friend whose parents owned the place but "summered abroad".
      Meanwhile, many of my counterparts were "Marching on Washington", protesting the war.  Sadly, young men - the same age as those 'sitting in', who served in the National Guard, had the unhappy assignment of forcibly removing kids with whom they should have been playing tag football from the formerly beautifully-manicured malls of D.C.  It must be pointed out, these demonstrators ALSO believed in their cause.  They were acolytes of national believers who desperately wanted the killing to stop.)
      Now, all lettered up and graduated, I was still able to work.  I returned to my 'city' and developed my specialty while paying education debts and saving for a wedding pattern. 
      (The element of common denomination, it seems to me, about people who can wear that coveted 'name tag' - "Intelligent, Working Person" is they ran into Mr./Ms. Opportunity.  If that's YOU, 'demonstrate' it.  HIRE 'EM!) 
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