Over the holidays I was sorting through some fan-mail obsessing over the direction I should take the blog, heading into this brand new shiny New Year. I am a person who loves to break the wrapping off of the new day planner, sharpen the pencils and hang up the new calendar. While these activities have all been taken over by the smart phone, the fresh new year feeling still lingers. The stats indicate people like reading about adoption (although not necessarily mine), and brain cancer miracles (claim it!). Readership spikes when I write about one of the many jobs I have had. This is good news, there are 18 more still to go.
I had a few jobs where I did not belong, fit in, gravitate towards, excel at, or grow into. Rather than lean in, I hung precariously to the precipice of employment, not suited to homemaking and domesticity, finished with the lessons fast food had to offer. I wanted needed to get out of the house, and at the same time found it nearly impossible to leave my babies: a part-time 21 hour a week gig that promised creativity and socialization seemed like a good antidote to my restlessness.
I learned a bunch of important stuff at the paper store. They had a sign in the window advertising part-time help wanted. I wanted to work part-time, and spend time with my daughters. To underscore, the only qualification I might have for this particular job would be to meet their need for part-time help.
A little bell tinkled and the smell of patchouli soap products drifted from the rear of the store. This might be where my love of the scent of retail began, found here mixed with the unmistakable oily fragrance of fresh ink. And then I saw it: The machine was loudly clicking away, on the counter next to the cash register. When I looked over, it was doing calligraphy, seemingly all by its self. And as you read in the last post, I love calligraphy. I knew this was where I would next work.
May I help you?
A woman with a kind smile and expert lip-liner spoke to me in a voice usually reserved for gynecology office receptionists.
Having tried conventional approaches with less than pleasing outcomes, I got right to the point.
“I would like to work here.”
Can you type?
I had no idea that a little mom and pop retail store would need a typist, and I may have revealed my delight a little too readily.
“I love to type” I answered, honestly.
The usual chatter followed: This is what we will pay you, you may start now if you like, yadda yadda.
* * * *
The flowery, initially appealing part of the job was creating gift baskets. The typing was creating mailing lists for brides, for the calligraphy computer. Despite my best efforts, there were always errors needing correction when the customers came to proofread their guest lists. The corrections took seconds, but pissed everyone off, from boss to bride. [This reminds me of a time, at another job, my review stated “Jaye does not get bogged down with unnecessary details.” I always thought of it as a compliment.]
The store was my first prestige brand and I learned many key lessons. I learned that is just as easy to haul your crap around in a Coach bag as it is using the paper sack. I learned to keep secrets when I heard an employee say “Oh, I wouldn’t eat at someone’s home if they didn’t have a dishwasher. How would you know the dishes were clean?” Because I had no dishwasher, which was the least of my domestic challenges, I didn’t think this was too nice to say. I kept quiet and stuffed envelopes, and I learned it isn’t keeping up with the Joneses if it’s required of your job.
I learned that the customer isn’t always right the day that Dorthea Bongiovi came to the store. I had no idea who she was until she started to spell out her name for the personalized stationery she was ordering. I was at the front desk alone and trying not to be too star-struck. She did not want the printing to say her husband’s stage name, explaining that the actual spelling was with an “i”. Folks came out of the back room to help and grab a look.
When she came to pick up the job she wanted it changed. She couldn’t have been any sweeter or nicer, and she wanted to pay for the additional printing. (Of course not). It was illuminating to see Mrs. Bon Jovi roll her eyes over a sensitivity her husband was having, to her it was their personal stationery, to him it was the continuation of his brand.
My dad taught me the customer was always right. The stationery store taught me the customer isn’t always right, but the customer is always the customer. The Bon Jovi’s taught me that everyone needs some kind of paper, and you might not even need to write on it. And it really doesn’t hurt to be nice.