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40 T/D/Y #18: Retail

As I’ve mentioned a couple times, in the summer between junior and senior year of high school I quit my paper route and went out to get a regular job. I don’t remember applying many places or what places I went to; as far as I can recall, I must have bicycled down to the nearby mall, walked into the first department store—Bradlees—and been hired on the spot. I know it was a little more involved than that, but as I say I can’t even recall going anywhere else, nor do I know why I went to Bradlees in the first place.

I do know that Jeff, who by that point was one of my closest friends in my grade, was already working at Bradlees, so that may have been a factor. We both worked there through senior year and had a lot of fun together. He worked in the Toys and Sporting Goods department. I started out as a cashier, but once I’d been trained I was moved to work in the Layaway department, which was next to Toys. That meant Jeff and I got to work together sometimes, hang out on breaks, and sometimes goof off. As one example, we found some open boxes of an air-powered toy line, took the toys out and set them up on my shelf in the raincheck department; his manager, generally a cool laid-back guy, screeched “are you guys trying to get me fired?!?” when he discovered that.

At first my main function in the Layaway department was managing rainchecks, not layaways, but my other main task was my favorite: I was put in charge of making signs. The store had a basic printing press, just a metal tray with bars to hold type and an integrated roller to go over the paper and type, and it was used to make signs for various needs around the store: manager’s specials, replacements for missing sales signs, or whatever else might be needed. I enjoyed working with type and the occasional creativity required to figure out how to fit all the requested information on the sign. (Heh, I initially wrote “how to fit on the sign all the information requested”—a very Franco-American phrasing, that.)

When Christmas approached, I was trained to take care of layaways as well, and a while after that they pulled me out and trained me to be a cashier supervisor and to run the help desk. By the end of the summer after senior year, Jeff was gone off to UNH, and I… was working full-time at Bradlees.

The thing was, by senior year I was finding the school workload tough, and I was just kind of tired of it, and not very interested in college. I got lots of college brochures of course, and some of them sounded cool—I remember really liking one of the ones in NYC, I don’t recall if it was NYU or CUNY, and I was interested in some of the Boston schools as well, maybe Oberlin, I don’t really remember whether anything on the west coast really caught my attention. However, I just didn’t want to go through the process of filling out the applications and writing the essays and so on. I think part of my problem too was that I wasn’t really sure why I’d be going to college; I knew I was interested in English and writing, and also in history, maybe medieval studies, but basically it was just the next expected step and I didn’t have a strong urge to take it.

I did make an effort for one school, as I mentioned: I applied to Dartmouth College, and was pretty keen on the idea of going there, although of course for the rather weak reasons that I knew it was a good school and I had fond memories of the campus due to the NHYO concerts there. Ultimately I got a nice letter from the dean of admissions, Alfred T. Quirk, saying that my qualifications were good but it was very competitive and I didn’t make the cut, though he concluded saying he was sure I’d be successful at whatever I chose to pursue. I underlined that last sentence and tacked the letter up over my computer desk at home, where it stayed for a couple years. Meanwhile I liked to tell people it was a Quirk of fate that I didn’t go to college right away.

So, I worked full-time at Bradlees for a year. Not surprisingly, I hated it. Not right away, but it was definitely a drag to be there most days and while it wasn’t a terrible job it wasn’t very interesting or fulfilling. Things came to a head the following August, when I was delaying coming back from my break and gave a manager a hard time about it; I was written up for insubordination and told to seriously consider whether I should or wanted to continue working there. I didn’t want to keep working there full-time, but I didn’t want to just quit and look for another job either, and that was when I decided it was time to apply to UNH. But before I did, there was another college I’d read about in the local paper months ago, after my mom pointed out the article, and I decided I should look into that as well… and a few weeks later I found myself starting freshman year at Thomas More College.

Since I stayed local, living at home and commuting to Thomas More, I kept my job at Bradlees and just went back to part-time hours. I worked there for another year and a half, and when they wouldn’t give me a leave of absence—holding my job for me—while I left for a semester abroad, I quit.

Bradlees was a good starting job. I got to do a variety of supervisor/manager tasks and be responsible for other employees as well as cash funds. The work load wasn’t actually onerous. Most of the people I worked with were decent, and—despite my episode of insubordination—I did learn a bit about being diplomatic and also about managing people decently even if I privately thought they were unpleasant or idiots, which was the case for a few of them. However, I still grew to really dislike the store and working there. When Bradlees eventually went out of business a decade after I’d left it, I still took satisfaction in seeing it close and the store building eventually being torn down during a remodel of the mall. It’s petty of me, and now I can think, “well people worked there, that must have sucked”… but yeah, I’m glad it’s gone.

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