FIT FOR RETAIL DUTY
DETERMINED TO PUT HIS BEST FOOT FORWARD, INFORMER BEGINS HIS CINDERELLA STORY IN THE MOST UNLIKELY OF DEPARTMENTS
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Back then I decided that pursuing qualifications through education towards a lucrative career was a foolish and outdated concept.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.”