Time: 1982-1987 / 1991

My Years in the Wonderful World of Retail

I am convinced that working in retail is equal to working in Hell. Although on second thought, working in Hell might be better, as you only have to serve Satan, as opposed to the dreaded "general public," who, more likely than not, make working for Satan seem like a glorious picnic in the park. Back in 1982, when I got my first job in retail, little did I realize what awaited me.

My First Bamberger's Badge

In 1982, I entered the wonderful world of retail at Bamberger's in the Brunswick Square Mall in East Brunswick, New Jersey. Bamberger's, a division of R.H. Macy & Company since the 1920's, was New Jersey's best-known, suburban upscale department store. In 1985, it "took the family name" and became a Macy's. I started out as a salesperson in the Men's Store, selling dress shirts and ties. Eventually I became an expeditor (a nighttime department manager) in the "Lifestyle" department, which sold men's designer fashions of the 1980's: WilliWear, Perry Ellis, Guess. Above is my first sales associate badge, which we all wore with pride! And once I became an expeditor, I got to wear a bright yellow, fake carnation over it, which identified me as a "semi" executive!!

It should be mandatory for every citizen to work in a retail environment for three months, kind of like military conscription. Only then can one truly appreciate what is going on in the mind of the salesperson on the other side of the counter. Abuse, ridiculous questions, clothing-strewn fitting rooms, security scrutiny, screaming children, complicated returns: I've seen it all as an employee of various department stores. And after a total of six years of standing behind cash registers, cleaning up fitting rooms and re-arranging pawed-over merchandise, I can only come to one conclusion: I would starve before I utter the words "cash or charge" again.

Hanging out with Donna at Saks Fifth Avenue
In 1991, I took a sales job at the flagship Saks Fifth Avenue store in New York City. I had lost my previous job at a design firm due to the recession of the early '90's, and finding a similar job was proving to be quite daunting. So I decided to go back to retail while I continued my search for the perfect job. I stayed there for ten months and found out that the dynamics of selling clothes is really no different no matter where one works. I worked in a special boutique on the 5th Floor called "Real Clothes," a Saks private label geared towards a more middle class female customer. Of course, I had to deal with the same customer situations I faced at Macy's, only this time I was selling clothes to women. (Yes, it was a challenge). I also worked with some great people. The picture above shows two fellow Saks workers and me (far right) hanging out with "Donna Karan."

Granted, I did spend a great deal of time working in retail, so there must have been something good about it. Of course there was (I met some of my best friends in retail) and the majority of customers were pleasant enough. It is, however, the unpleasant and bizarre that truly makes an impression on a person, so the following episodes are the ones that I will carry with me forever. Many times I have stated that I should write a book about my experiences. The trouble is, I don't think most people would believe any of these things have actually taken place. Trust me, this is all true.

Here are some of my favorite episodes:


Sometime around 1984, I was getting ready to start my Saturday shift at work (1:15 pm to 9:30 pm) when I got word that a car ran amok in the Brunswick Square Mall sometime around 2:00 am that morning. Assuming that some jerk just crashed his car into the doors of the main entrance, I headed off to the store thinking it was business as usual. When I arrived at the store, it was a bizarre scene of mangled clothing fixtures, broken glass, skid marks on the floor and boarded-up escalator banks. Apparently, a "troubled teen" (i.e., a metal-head burn-out) from a neighboring town got drunk and drove his '78 Camaro through the doors of J.C. Penney at the other end of the mall. He drove through that store, crashed through the glass mall-entrance doors, drove through the entire length of the mall (destroying a number of earring and t-shirt stands) and crashed through the mall-entrance doors of Bamberger's. After driving through the Juniors Department, the Troubled Teen decided to drive up the escalator, but the car was too wide to make it up, so he backed up and continued his joyride out the main doors to the parking lot. The cops eventually got him out there, but I think it would have been better if they actually had chased him through the mall. The best part of working that day was the countless questions of "what happened?" To which most of us salespeople replied, "Oh some guy drove his car through the mall. Will that be cash or charge?"


I have a question. What the hell happens to people when they go into a fitting room? I have witnessed some of the most bizarre behavior by people, male and female, when trying on clothes. Usually, I would get the entire fitting room clean and within 15 minutes, piles of clothes, turned inside out, would be strewn all over the floor. Sometimes there would be a surprise underneath those clothes, most likely one of a myriad of bodily fluids, that I have encountered over the years. During my tenure in retail, I have walked in to fitting rooms after people have urinated on the floor, defecated on the floor, ejaculated on a pile of Calvin Klein underwear and changed their children, leaving the dirty diaper behind.

Here are some other examples of curious human behavior in fitting rooms I have etched in my memory:

* At Saks, a few women have left behind used feminine hygiene products.

* A female co-worker at Macy's once walked into what she thought was a deserted fitting room and heard a sound she likened to "paper crinkling." Opening up one of the swinging doors to a fitting room, she happened upon a woman squatting over a gift box and peeing.

* Once a woman in Saks threw up in a fitting room and came out saying, "I knew I shouldn't have gone out. I have the stomach flu." (Gee, now there's an idea. The next time you get the stomach flu, go shopping! It'll make you feel so much better).

* At Macy's, a cop went into the fitting room to try on clothes and not only left five pairs of pants, three unwrapped dress shirts and a few sweaters scattered on the floor, but also left behind his gun. He came back a few hours later to get it.

Disgusting behavior isn't always regulated to the fitting room. In one of my favorite episodes, a co-worker in the display department at Saks was making up a mannequin, which usually takes about 2 to 3 hours. He took a few steps back to observe the finished product, a very stylish-looking mannequin draped in Donna Karan, when along came a woman with a cold, loudly blowing her nose. As she approached the area near the mannequin, she obviously realized that the tissue she had just used was now a very unpleasant article to have in her hand. She furtively glanced around to see if anyone was looking, not noticing my friend from display, casually shoved the used tissue in the pocket of the $900 Donna Karan blazer on the mannequin and simply continued her stroll through Saks.

I know, I know...this all sounds terribly cynical. But believe me, I haven't even scratched the surface. Someday I am going to make good on my promise to write a book about all of my experiences. The truth is undoubtedly stranger than fiction.

If you have looked at some of my other pages, you probably know that David Sedaris is one of my favorite authors. His book, Barrel Fever, contains "The SantaLand Diaries," a right-on-the-mark account of what it is like to work in retail (only he had to do it dressed as a Christmas elf). Check it out. You'll be shocked and amused!


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