Thursday, January 07, 2016

Ladies Shoes

So far, I’ve given you some fairly decent stories about my times as a paperboy, a blackjack dealer, and as a barker on a walking charlie. I’ve still got some good stories to tell you about being a musician, a security guard, a dishwasher, a cab driver, and a – horrors! - drug dealer. I’ll be reprinting some wonderful stories concerning my stints as a gas station attendant and as a garage cleaner – if you haven’t read them already, you’ll enjoy them, and if you have read them already, I’ll ask you to pretend that you’re enjoying them again. Today, however, I’m going to regale you with stories concerning my history as an employee of a shoe store.

Believe me when I tell you, there is almost nothing interesting about working in a shoe store. Feel free to skip down to the end and leave some sort of generic comment that lets me know you care about me even if you didn’t read the whole thing. I’ll appreciate the sentiment and you won’t have missed much.

I began my first “real” job (the first one wherein the government took taxes out of my paycheck, while promising to give part of them back to me if and when I retire) just prior to my senior year in high school. I was 16, it was August of 1973, and for some reason or another I decided that loafing around was NOT preferable to working. If I knew then what I know now, I would have kept loafing. My entire life since that time has been spent in a fruitless effort to recapture the indolence of my youth.

You know what? I can’t even remember how I came to be employed in the shoe store. That’s how boring a story it is. I don’t know if I answered a want ad, or someone told me about the job, or even if I might have been shanghaied by footwear pirates. All I know is that I ended up in the stockroom of Wilbar’s Shoes on Tremont Street in Boston, receiving the princely sum of… Well, I’ll be damned if I can figure out, from looking at this pay stub, how much I was making an hour. Let’s call it $2.38.

For that money, I pretty much hung out in the stockroom drinking iced coffee, smoking Kools, eating donuts and cinnamon rolls, and listening to Brother Louie by The Stories on the radio, which seemed to be in rotation on WRKO once every fifteen minutes. Occasionally, a shipment of shoes would arrive and I’d unpack them and place them on the shelves. Once a month, I took a sloppy inventory. If the store was very busy – which it rarely was – one of the sales clerks might ask me to check stock for something a customer was requesting.

I worked – if you can call it that - on Tuesday and Thursday after school, and on Saturday mornings. I held this job for about eight months.

It was a decent enough way to earn a few bucks, I suppose, but I had my heart set on becoming a musician. I had joined a band around the same time I started the job at the shoe store. I also still worked the odd night as a blackjack dealer and got as much for four hours of doing that as I made for the three days combined at Wilbar’s, so that didn’t contribute to making me grateful for the opportunity to stack shoes.

After about six months of putzing around in the stockroom, I was given a part-time “promotion” to the sales floor. Despite my experiences dealing cards and barking, I was still pretty shy. I much preferred staying in the stockroom ALL of the time and reading The Real Paper. I truly didn’t relish the idea of feeling up a bunch of strange women’s feet while fitting them for shoes. In addition, I would have to wear a tie and not smoke. There was no raise in pay, although there was a vague promise of some commission. That wouldn’t kick in until after I had made something like $500 worth of sales in a week and I had my doubts about selling ANYTHING, let alone that lofty amount of sandals and pumps in two nights and one Saturday morning per week.

The picture below – God help us all – was taken for my senior yearbook at Boston Tech, but it’s a fine representation of what I looked like while on the sales floor. That vacant expression was pretty much my regular look.

(And, yes, I liked that shirt. It was my favorite. I wish I still had it, no matter what cruel jokes you’re at this very moment formulating concerning it.)

My supervisor was a nice fellow by the name of Rick. He was probably 24 or 25 years old, although he seemed much older to me at the time. Rick would see me standing off to the side, waiting for someone to approach me and ask for help. He’d sidle up to me and say, “Jim, you're supposed to offer the customers some help, not stand there waiting for them to talk to you. Walk around the floor a bit instead of standing there like you’ve got a Popsicle stick up your ass.” He said it with a smile.

I don’t think I made more than five or six sales in the month or so I was on the floor. They never had to worry about figuring my commission.


In recognition of his having done such a stunning job of making a salesman out of me, Rick was promoted to the main office, situated on the floor above the store itself. A man named Jonathan replaced him as sales supervisor. He was not promoted from our sales force, but was hired from the outside. As a result, there was a bit of resentment among the sales force towards him. He put me back in the stockroom full-time. The sales folk thought I should be pissed about this, so they commiserated with me about it and I played along with them, but I was secretly relieved - at least until I found out what Jonathan had planned for the stockroom.

He intended to reorganize the whole shebang and he hired another person to work with me while doing so. His name was Seth and he was a couple of years older than I was. Thus, by dint of my shyness and youth, I was not only demoted back to the stockroom, but I was also now more-or-less under Seth, too. And doing a job I found absolutely no need for doing.

I had been working the stockroom for about seven months. I knew where everything was. I had my systems for getting the work done quickly. And now Jonathan wanted to tear it all down and rebuild it from scratch under an entirely new system.

I tried. I really did. I worked with Seth for about a week, taking every damned box off of the shelves, moving the shelves, and then putting the boxes back onto different shelves than they were originally on and in different aisles. I sweated and Seth sweated, but Seth seemed to enjoy sweating a bit more than I did.

Finally, I just got fed up with the whole thing. I went up to the office and complained to Rick.

“Rick, this guy is tearing down everything for no good reason. I just can’t take it anymore. It’s pointless work.”

Rick asked me if I had tried discussing this with Jonathan.

I said, “Sure, but he can’t give me a good reason for doing it. He actually said he didn’t need to give me a good reason. I could give him a few good reasons for not doing it.”

Rick said, “Well, he’s the boss now, Jim. There’s nothing I can do about it. About the only choice you have is to do the job or quit.”

I said, “In that case, I quit.”

And that was that. I thanked Rick for his time, walked downstairs, and told Jonathan I was leaving.

I probably wouldn’t have lasted much longer, anyway, even if things had stayed as I liked them. My first band – World’s End – was just about to play its first gig. I thought it was only a matter of time before I would be touring and have a recording contract and be making humongous amounts of money.

Next time: No touring, no recording contract, and no humongous amounts of money.


joeh said...

The original Al Bundy.

Suldog said...

Joe - The odd thing was there were something like five or six guys from my neighborhood all working in shoe stores in downtown Boston at one time. I ran into one of my old friends at the wake of one of those guys, about a year ago, and he told me he was still in the business of ladies shoes. He seemed happy and I was happy for him, but if I was still in a shoe store now I think I might be tempted to drink arsenic.

Jackie said...

"I was 16, it was August of 1973, and for some reason or another I decided that loafing around was NOT preferable to working."
OK. When I read this, I thought the entire piece was going to be a pun...beginning with 'loafers'....but I was surprised.
I enjoyed reading about your job as a shy young man working in a shoe store. People are generally surprised to find out how shy someone really is when he/she seems to be gregarious and the 'life of the party.'

Anonymous said...

Wait a minute. You were drinking iced coffee back in 1973? I didn't appreciate it until about 10 years ago. You are so much more sophisticated than me! By the way, I would have quit, too. I hate busy work.

Absolut Ruiness said...

"....shanghaied by footwear pirates..." Laughed out quite loud at this. I once quit my job because my Boss wanted me to work overtime without giving a justification! He had the gall to say, "..because I'm asking you to." I just walked out saying,"..sorry Sir, that's not a good enough reason."
(I didn't just randomly copy paste something from your post to act like i had actually read it with hungry eyes.)

Jenny Woolf said...

Haha! all this sounds so familiar, with the names and details changed. I'm sorry for kids now to have to take a job in the likes of Amazon warehouse where they're meant to run everywhere, not chat with anyone and get nervous breakdowns when they don't meet their targets. No room for building experiences and memories, except, I am told, awful ones. Or that is what I hear.

Tabor said...

You have paid your life's dues. I do wish I could remember the names of those I worked with in my minimum (or less) wage years. I remember what I did and what they were like, but not most of the names. This is why I wish I had kept a diary or that we had FB back then.

Hilary said...

Not the most interesting job, true.. but you can write a fun read out of everything.

(not necessarily your) Uncle Skip said...

I had college classmates who worked at shoe stores, mostly on commission.
They also seemed to relish the idea of waiting upon female customers... and, when the opportunity arose, dating them.

Of course that was a few years before you were in the shoe business.
In HS I had a friend who pretty much did what you did in the shoe business.

Yogi♪♪♪ said...

I love your story.

I worked for a while in my college bookstore. We had a high old time with the job and got some work done every once in a while.

messymimi said...

Before the nutjob decided to ruin it by changing things, it sounds like a great first job for a kid.

It' said...

Oh, these are so enjoyable! They give a little kick start to memories when I worked at a department store, although I really didn't last very long, perhaps a few months. I arrived all dressed up assuming I was working on the sales floor only to discover I was hired to work the warehouse. I was unhappy at first until I realized that I was privy to all the new merchandise, and knew exactly how much everything was too. I did draw the line at costume jewelry (it seemed the necklaces were always hopelessly tangled) and the perfume (something always leaked or was broken, so a nice little headache came with it).
OMG, you still have the paystub? What does your closet look like, Sully?????/

Daryl said...

you and toonman have something in common - besides me - his dad worked for ASBeck and opened new stores throughout the SE of USA ... and one of toonman's first jobs was working in a shoe store ..

Kenny Bourbeau said...

I was the manager of Wilbar's on Tremont Street in the early 70's
I Googled Wilbar's tonight because it was my favorite job ever.
Selling high fashion women's shoes by day, Boston music scene by night.
It sure beat being a cybergeek in my basement in NH which is my gig now.

Anonymous said...

Jimsuldog or kenny bourbeau... A long shot... But I'm trying to see if anyone remembers anything about a certain style of shoe that Wilbar's carried for several years during the late '60s and very early '70s... They were not pumps. They were more like very hip loafers... They came in different versions. One was like a loafer another had straps across the top with a pretty high instep. They all had a very strange shaped toe box. Instead of being a perfectly symmetrical oval that goes around your toes, the part by your big toe was more prominent. And then the shape angled down to the baby toe. Very different, very fun, and like I said, there were a few different versions on that theme. Any recall at all? Best, MJ

Suldog said...

Sorry to get back to these comments so late. I rarely come to my own blog now that I've (mostly) stopped posting new stuff. I'm afraid I can't help insofar as the style of shoe. I worked there, but have only the vaguest memories concerning the actual shoes!