FIT FOR RE­TAIL DUTY

DE­TER­MINED TO PUT HIS BEST FOOT FOR­WARD, INFORMER BE­GINS HIS CIN­DERELLA STORY IN THE MOST UN­LIKELY OF DE­PART­MENTS

The Gold Coast Bulletin - Gold Coast Eye - - INFORMER EYE - WORDS: MICHAEL JA­COB­SON

Have you seen the new Bruce Beres­ford film, Ladies in Black? A charm­ing tale about depart­ment store em­ploy­ees in Syd­ney in 1959, it struck a chord with Informer be­cause I too was once such an em­ployee, al­beit male — os­ten­si­bly — and in the mid-1970s.

Given the film, I sup­pose the ap­pro­pri­ate term for male re­tail em­ploy­ees should be Gen­tle­men in Black. How­ever, and as I say, it was the 1970s and I was best de­scribed as Teen in Pais­ley.

Back then I de­cided that pur­su­ing qual­i­fi­ca­tions through ed­u­ca­tion to­wards a lu­cra­tive ca­reer was a fool­ish and out­dated con­cept. As my mother shook her head and my fa­ther con­tin­ued to sleep sprawled over the din­ing table wear­ing only his un­der­pants, Informer an­nounced that I was leav­ing col­lege to en­ter the work­force.

What’s more, I was en­ter­ing it in the big­gest, flashiest depart­ment store in town — eight lev­els of re­tail splen­dour start­ing with menswear and sport­ing goods in the base­ment, be­fore tak­ing the es­ca­la­tors to cos­met­ics, cam­eras, LPs and watches on the ground floor, and up­wards through ladies fash­ions, manch­ester, the beauty sa­lon, hab­er­dash­ery, home­wares and toys, un­til ar­riv­ing at a top floor cafe­te­ria that sold the best tomato sangers this cor­re­spon­dent has ever tasted.

Of all the ap­pli­cants who turned up for the job in­ter­view, to this day I can­not fathom why the em­ploy­ment man­ager chose me. Nor have I ever un­der­stood why he thought it a sound no­tion to launch my re­tail ca­reer in the ladies shoes depart­ment.

Not women’s shoes, mind you. Women didn’t ex­ist back then. Not in re­tail. Men did, but our chro­mo­so­mal coun­ter­parts were al­ways ladies. Ladies shoes, ladies’ hair, ladies lounge, ladies’ fab­rics and so on — apos­tro­phes op­tional.

The ladies I dealt with were mostly OK, but you could hardly blame some for be­ing put off after they’d come in to try the new Jane Deb­ster kid leather strappy san­dal or San­dler pa­tent leather court shoe or Footrest suede comfy walker, only to have their feet fon­dled by a feck­less 17-year-old ranga who’d just crushed or sliced through a cou­ple of toes be­cause he couldn’t wield the cast-iron mea­sur­ing de­vice.

Then again, while the old adage says the cus­tomer is al­ways right, spend a week toil­ing in re­tail and I think you’ll emerge with a firm grasp of just how of­ten the cus­tomer is wrong. Picky at times too, and var­i­ously petty, en­ti­tled, snobby, snooty, rude, vile, ghastly and gross. The worst in my ex­pe­ri­ence were those well-to-do moth­ers, the ones my daugh­ter says have that “take me to the man­ager” hair­cut. Deal­ing with them — and their rot­ten kids come new school shoes time — meant my ten­ure be­hind the counter was al­ways doomed.

After seven months, one day I swore at a cus­tomer, ac­ci­den­tally farted very loudly on a crowded shop floor, got sacked, re­turned to col­lege a few months later and even­tu­ally fluked a ca­reer writ­ing rec­tan­gles.

Go and see the Beres­ford film. As well as be­ing en­ter­tain­ing, it may pro­vide some in­sight into what was a hugely in­for­ma­tive ex­pe­ri­ence for Informer, and one that in­stilled a life­time of for­bear­ance for all so­called ladies and gen­tle­men in black. Re­tail, eh? Where as much as you may know what’s in the store, you never know what’s in store.

“TO THIS DAY I CAN­NOT FATHOM WHY THE EM­PLOY­MENT MAN­AGER CHOSE ME.”

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