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Lifetime Of Jobs Comes Full Circle

I am “working” in retail sales again.

It is a revisiting of the times when I was growing up.

Back then, I started out as a short-lived clerk in a neighborhood grocery store, then graduated to selling men’s clothing all during high school and college, along with a de rigueur newspaper carrier route and some incidental summertime jobs.

I dabbled in insurance claims adjusting and (legal) drug sales before settling into journalism for a long half-century.

These days? Hah. The word “working,” above, is bracketed by quotation marks for a reason. Mostly, I don’t.

At the Watershed Bookstore, a second-story emporium along Brookville’s Main Street, I … sit. Mostly, I read. When folks stop in, I chat if they are amenable, or read silently while they browse. When they have decided what to buy, I handle the money. The bookstore charges full price for books by local authors, to support their work. But its thousands of donated books sell for pittances: $2, $5 or $10, the last category mostly for rare editions or coffee table books. I can handle that kind of math.

Back in the 1950s, my grocery clerking had been at a riverfront store near my home in Warren. Its cheeses, olives, anchovies and meats gave the store a magnificent mÈlange of odors, found today only in stores such as Pittsburgh’s legendary Pennsylvania Macaroni Company in the Strip District.

That career came to a quick end because I was all of 10 years old. The nuns who educated me were horrified to hear that I ran a sharp, spinning meat/cheese slicer all by myself. They told the parish priest. He told the store’s owner, an amiable fellow named Shay Font, that Shay would burn in hell if I lost a finger or bled myself to death.

Whether out of fear for his soul or respect for the priest, Shay pulled a pre-Presidential Donald Trump: “You’re fired!”

But I did eat well while that job lasted.

Jack Logan and his mother Bess ran a men’s clothing store in downtown Warren during the 1950s. Jack hired high school students on the theory that if they wore his store’s clothing, other students might see the latest styles and shop there.

I wasn’t one of the “in” crowd. With my plastic pocket protector, my flattop haircut and my horn-rimmed eyeglasses, I was something of a geek. But I was a garrulous geek. I made friends of a wide swath of classmates. Perhaps some did fulfill Jack’s wishes.

At that job, I learned how to make change and use the bronzed crank-it cash register. I learned how to fold and restack men’s slacks, sweaters and shirts, and how to rehang the suits and coats after they had been tried on for size. I got fairly good at marking slacks and suit jackets for alterations of sleeves, cuffs and seams.

But I learned even more about people. Jack and Betty could be abrupt with ne’er-do-wells. But substantial customers expected courtesy in a courtly fashion, even if they themselves were boorish.

So I learned to deflect, disarm, charm a bit. I learned that most people were kind, good-hearted and amiable — but some were, in a word, jerks.

Jerks also spent money and bought clothing. The store was in business to sell clothing, not to judge people’s behavior. Unless the bad behavior was extreme, I learned to deal with it. Those lessons came in handy throughout my adult life, especially when as a newspaper editor I had to deal with irate, sometimes sloshed, readers upset about a mistake in the paper.

Nowadays, I am relearning that store clerking involves lots of “down time.” To fill it, conscientious clerks clean windows, restock shelves, etc.

I admire that kind of work. I am gratified to see its results. I take no part in it. As a geezer clerk, I meet and greet, ring up and say farewell. That’s it.

The store’s operators would be justified in cutting my pay — if I got paid. I don’t. I like it that way. No tax complications. No need to clean or restock, either.

On sunny afternoons, I grab a book and descend to the sidewalk. There, I sit, I read, I say hello and, when I think I can get away with it, I suggest, “Hey, don’t be cheap! Go on upstairs and buy a few books, willya?”

My bosses cringe, but some folks chuckle and climb the stairs to browse. I follow in case my ka-ching skills are needed.

Geezers, they say, are apt to enter a second childhood. At this bookstore, there are no tempting cheese/meat aromas, but there is a whole lifetime of books to be browsed, read or reread.

The only things that have not yet surfaced are the comic books I read at Shay’s store. There was, of course, Superman. But we 10-year-olds didn’t yearn for Playboy Magazine. We had Sheena, Queen of the Jungle, in full color comics!

Denny Bonavita is a former editor/publisher at newspapers in DuBois, Brookville, New Bethlehem and Warren. He lives near Brookville. Email: notniceman9@gmail.com

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