Mickey Z. -- World News Trust
Sept. 22, 2016
My first after-school job was delivering the long-defunct Long Island Press but I really entered the working world when I started as a full-time summer gig -- between my junior and senior years of high school -- as a stock boy at the (also long-defunct) Gimbel's department store (my Dad knew someone there… lucky me).
At Gimbel's, I got to spend a lot of time with older guys who did this kind of manual labor for a living and I gained some valuable insights into the typical worker-employee relationships I could look forward to in my future gigs. Also, it was via some of these co-workers that I garnered my first-ever homosexual propositions.
The employee bathrooms were teeming with graphic gay-inspired graffiti (it was the late 70s), and a provincial teenager such as myself found this astonishing. I read it all and often wondered if men were actually hooking up in these bathrooms. Since some of the graffiti contained phone numbers and consisted of running dialogues, it seemed quite probable to me. Inevitably I suppose, being the youngest employee in the store, I was approached.
First came a fellow stock worker named Willie. A mostly unobtrusive black man in his late 30s, Willie was quite open about his sexual preferences and appeared to have no difficulty with the other demonstrably hetero stockmen. I remember when a group of us were sneak-watching a big baseball game in the sixth-floor TV department, Willie had no qualms about loudly commenting on how a particular player “really packs his pants.”
One afternoon, Willie and I were assigned to the same area to do some straightening out. So, there we were, re-attaching hangers to women's blouses when he asked me what college I attended. Stunned to learn my age and that I was still in high school, Willie recovered and said something about how it might be tricky for me to work and go to school in the fall.
"I don’t live far from here," he smiled. "If you're ever stuck late or the weather is bad, you can always stay with me." He punctuated that invitation with a wink and I probably turned ten shades of red.
FYI: This had never happened to me before.
At first, I was flustered, then a teeny-tiny bit flattered, but ultimately creeped out. I was only 17 and Willie knew it. Unsure how to extricate myself from this situation, I haltingly promised to keep his offer in mind and then eased myself away to a different rack. Although I ran into him relatively often, he didn’t press the point and it never came up again.
Another time, I was sneak-watching yet another sporting event in the TV department when I happened to glance to my right towards the piano department (yes, piano department). The piano salesman -- a lanky, bearded white dude in his 30s -- smiled at me. I obliviously smiled back and returned my gaze to my game.
After a spell, I decided to hit the employee bathroom/lounge and peruse the newspapers. Traipsing across the floor, I glanced around to make sure none of my innumerable bosses had scoped me out and that's when I noticed Piano Man was also headed to the powder room. We inadvertently made eye contact before I entered. Mr. Piano strolled past me into the locker area as I found a seat to relax and read. Forthwith, he joined me. After a beat, he leaned closer and inquired, "Are you looking for action?"
Still naïve to the ways of this world, I was bewildered.
"No," I replied.
"Well," he stuttered, "I just thought…”
However, I was intrigued: Did he really mean what I thought he meant? Well, there wasn't anyone else around, so I opted to find out.
"What kind of action are you talking about?"
"You wanna get done?"
Now, I wasn't that green. I knew what he was proposing. The pianist wanted penis. He said it so coolly and assuredly that I did not respond right away.
"There's a small stockroom in my department," he continued. "I'm the only one with a key. We won't be interrupted."
I replayed the sequence of events in my head. A shared smile by the TVs that patently meant WAY more to him than me, my presumably knowing look back at him as I entered the washroom, and now I've de facto shown interest in his advance. With nothing in my meager life experience to call upon, I chose politesse.
"No thank you," I said softly.
He stood up with a grin that screamed: It's just a matter of time.
"Well, if you ever change your mind, you should check me out." He paused for effect. "I'm really good." With that, he smiled and initiated his departure.
I watched him leave and from that moment on, I made certain to view the TVs while standing in a position where he couldn’t see me from his piano perch. Still, he'd occasionally catch sight of me and leer. It's just a matter of time. Not too long after that, Gimbel’s stopped selling pianos and my stalker moved on.
In non-sexual predator news: During that first summer at Gimbel's, there was a major blackout. Coincidentally, it occurred on inventory night, the one day of the year when overtime was mandatory. I dragged my tired body and bored mind all over the damn building, counting things: bed sheets, pots, art work, rugs, footballs, books, shirts, spoons, baseball mitts, shoes, and more things than I can remember.
If Kafka worked with me at Gimbel's, he'd have another novel.
Somehow, I managed to get myself released before the others (being younger than everyone helped but then again, I've always been good at stuff like this). Miraculously, my early release allowed me to get off the old RR train literally just before the massive power outage. As I stepped off the last stair from the elevated Ditmars Boulevard station, the lights went out. For a millisecond, it actually felt like my footstep made it happen! I quickly discovered what had happened and smiled at my luck. By mere minutes, I missed getting stuck on the train for who-knows how long and now would surely have the next day off from inventory duty.
Postscript: After easing my way into the good graces of the bosses at Gimbel’s, I got into the union and eventually maneuvered myself into a Sunday-only schedule. This arrangement enabled me to work only seven hours a week at a union-enforced double-time wage and thereby garnered me enough cool cash in a single day to easily finance my youthful existence (supplemented by the profits I earned selling items procured via the five-finger discount). Still, being the anti-authority type of fellow I am, I wasn't satisfied with this level of subordination. I soon figured out a way to sign myself in and out at lunch time and spent most of my Sunday hours across the street in Macy's, watching football in their crowded television department -- and dodging male sexual advances in that store’s public bathrooms.
Mickey Z. is currently writing two books, a memoir called How to Lose Friends & Influence Nobody: My Life as an “Activist,” and a novel entitled stain red. In the meantime, he can be found here.
That summer I was the youngest employee in Gimbel’s by Mickey Z. is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at http://worldnewstrust.com/that-summer-i-was-the-youngest-employee-in-gimbel-s-mickey-z.