As assistant manager in training, my beat was the basement of the Newberry’s Department Store. By basement, I mean we were underground, not a window anywhere. Above florescent lighting, below linoleum over concrete. As a non-union, salaried, administrator I sometimes walked that floor, if they needed somebody to fill in, for 12 hours at a time. Back and forth, up one aisle, down another, straightening this and organizing that: towels, bathrobes, pots, pans, wash clothes, draperies. For ten, twelve hours at a time, with breaks running the cash register if we got backed up, which was very rare, or arguing with somebody who wanted to return a dress with huge sweat stains in the armpits (this was in the day before the consumer was always right), or going around with my trusty sticker gun and putting prices on things, or chasing around after a customer to tell him his fly was down because one of the worker ladies said it was down, and he should be told, or running a credit card and saying to its owner, “Onan, your name is Onan! My that is an unusual name! Onan, I mean.”
I mean who the fuck would name their male child “Onan.”
And one night when I was going to do the late shift, the real assistant manager sidled up to me and said that the Manager had said that I should fire Suzi, the young woman who worked from 4 to 8, because she wasn’t doing her job. So keep your eye on her, he said, and when she is screwing up, fire her, OK. I thought that was pretty fucked. I didn’t know if Suzi was a screw up or not because I didn’t usually work her shift. The guy was passing off the nasty firing stuff to me, I expected.
I walked around all evening, circling Suzi like a vulture, for a moment when I thought she was really screwing around. What the hell constitutes screwing up in a nearly empty store? There weren’t any customers to be rude too and the stuff in her area was straightened up and neat. Was I going to fire her for standing there looking so bored she had gone gaga? So I didn’t fire her, and felt that right there my career in retail was over because I didn’t have the right stuff for firing people. I was cool though the next day when the guy asked if I had fired her, “No,” I said, scratching my head, “I mean I never could find a time when she was messing around. I just couldn’t find a moment to pounce, you know.” And made a little pouncing gesture.
One morning the crazy woman over in draperies and shades takes out two little American flags on wooden sticks and begins to wave them around and to blow one of those kazoo things like on New Year’s Eve when the ball comes down, and she launched into a version of God Bless America. She had a little storeroom where she hid a lot and had a radio back there and had heard that they had just signed the Paris Peace Accords. The war was over.
I didn’t know what she was going on about. I guess she figured we had won that war although I couldn’t see how anybody could believe that. But many people think we won the cold war and I don’t see how anybody can believe that either.
I was learning though. In the fall, I was one of a couple of million Americans who voted for McGovern. What did he win? One state? I sat in the break room with the old ladies who worked there, most on Social Security, so they could work only limited hours and still get their government money. I was outnumbered. They seemed to hate McGovern and the only reason they gave that I could understand was that he had a squeaky voice and sounded like a preacher.
I mean, good golly, gee whiz, but when a guy’s got a squeaky voice who gives a shit about his views on foreign policy?