Acid Heroes: the Legends of LSD

November 18, 2015

My life in the Lady’s Shoe department

Filed under: Backwords from Ace — Ace Backwords @ 12:14 am
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Then: The Bamberger's at Garden State Plaza was rebranded as a Macy's store in 1986.

When I was 19 I moved back into my parent’s house for a couple months.  Which was weird.  Sleeping in the same bedroom that I had slept in as a child, only now I was an adult man.  But at the time I was going through a phase where I wasn’t sure what direction to go with my life (a phase that lasted approximately 40  years and counting).  So this gave me the opportunity to assess my options in life.  I basically had three options at that point:  a.) Go to college.  b.)  Hit the open road and have adventures.  Or c.)  Get a job and go to work.   I had already spent a year in college, and I was bored with that.  And I had already done a cross-country hitch-hiking trip, and I had realized that the adventures on the open road could get pretty fucking weird.  So I decided to give that work thing a try.

So I got a job working in the stock room of the lady’s shoe department at Bamberger’s department store, this big store that was a part of this huge mall located in the middle of this interlocking maze of freeways in up-state New Jersey.  I figured, maybe I could start out in the stockroom and work my way up to the CEO of Bamberger’s, Inc.  (stranger things have happened).

This guy named George was the assistant manager of the lady’s shoe department, and he showed me the ropes.  My main job was to put boxes of shoes on the shelves (a task I quickly mastered).  George was probably only around 60, but he seemed really old.  Everything about him was gray;  his hair, his face, his manner.  When George walked up to you, it was like he was engulfed in a gray cloud or something.  He had been working for Bamberger’s for 30 years.

My stockboy partner was a guy named Chuck.  And he showed me the real ins-and-outs.  Namely: what you could get away with, and what to watch out for.  “This one time I was up on a ladder reaching for a box of shoes on the top shelf,” said Chuck.  “And I lost my balance and fell off the ladder.  The ring on my finger got caught on the metal shelf.  So I’m hanging there by my finger.  Man!  That hurt like I bitch!  I was screaming like a motherfucker, dangling there in mid-air.  Finally George came by and rescued me.  But my finger got all mangled up.”  He showed me his mangled ring finger.  “But at least they didn’t have to amputate the motherfucker.”  (PS:  I don’t think I’ve worn a ring since that day).

All the saleswomen envied us stockboys.  Because we could hide back there in the stockroom.  Whereas they had to deal with the customers.  And boxes of shoes are a lot easier to deal with than people.  It was funny watching the saleswomen dealing with the customers.  Always big smiles:  “No problem!  I’ll be right back with your shoes!”  And then as soon as they got into the stockroom their smiles would drop and it would be:  “THAT STINKING CUNT!  THIS IS THE 30TH BOX OF SHOES SHE’S ASKED ME TO LOOK FOR AND SHE STILL CAN’T DECIDE WHAT TO BUY!!”

Complaining about the customers was a big past-time in the stockroom.  “I hate it whenever we have a big sale,” complained one saleswoman.  “The women all get so excited that they fart like crazy.”

Another odd thing the women customers would do.  They’d often try on 10 pairs of shoes that were a size too small.  Before they finally gave up and bought a pair of shoes that was their size.  I filed that information away in the back of my head, figuring it might reveal something important about the female psyche.  I didn’t know hardly anything about women at that point in my life.  So I was sort of studying the women in the lady’s shoe department in the hopes of figuring them out.

Another part of my job was this:  “Take all these boxes of shoes and write $20 as the price on the boxes,” explained George.  “Then cross out the $20 and write $9.99.”  That way, the customers saved a cool 10 dollars and one cent.  And that was a little eye-opening.  Because it had never occurred to me that stuff like that happened in the real world.

During our coffee break we’d hang out in this big lounge area, drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes.  The men would mostly talked about sports and sex (often in graphic detail).  I don’t know what the women talked about.  They rarely went into the lounge room when the men were in there. And I remember gray, ole’ George would  always sit in this one chair and he’d immediately fall asleep, his head slumping down on his chest, and sleep during the whole break.  And somebody would wake him up when the coffee break was over.

The story on George was:   When the boss of the lady’s shoe department retired, George figured — as assistant manager —  he was next in line to take over as the boss, because of his 30 years of loyal service to Bamberger’s department store.  But the corporate higher-ups at Bamberger’s decided they needed to infuse some fresh blood into the lady’s shoe department.  So they by-passed George.  And hired this hard-charging, up-and-coming young guy named Ken who had been flying up the corporate ladder.  So that was a big humiliation for George.  Ken was half of George’s age, but he was now making twice as much as George.  And  Ken got his own private office (where he’d sit and ogle the lady’s shoe catalogues all day).  While George puttered around with the rest of us in the stockroom.  Adding insult to injury, since George was the only one who knew the ins-and-outs of the operation, Ken would constantly have to ask George for advice about how to run the department.  And then Ken would boss George around.

So anyways, after working in the lady’s shoe department for about 3 months, I came to work one morning and George was gone.  “George is dead,” said Chuck. “He had a heart attack last night and died.”

So they made up a plaque with George’s name on it.  And it said: “In honor of 30 years of loyal service to Bamberger’s department store . . .” and blah blah blah.  And they hung it on the wall of the lounge room, right over the chair where George used to sleep on his coffee breaks.  And after a week or two, they took the plaque down.  And that was that.

I decided to give two-weeks notice.  And after I cashed my last paycheck, I packed up all my belongings into the back seat of my bomb of a ’69 Chevy, and hit the open road.

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