Time for the annual contemplation of Christmases past.
Getting paid was excellent, though. I spent all my pay on presents, a pink sweater for my sister, a necklace of gold-colored beads for my mother, although my father warned me that I should get in the habit of saving it. My supervisor, a fusty old lady, used to be mildly annoying, but she gave me a handkerchief with purple flowers on it on my last day at work. I still have that handkerchief. It's strange what sticks to you and what slips away.
Esprit de corps. We knew we were Wanamaker's clerks, there to serve the customers with as much intelligence and good humor as we could muster. Every day there was a concert of Christmas music on the famous Wanamaker organ, right over our heads, and huge crowds would jam the aisles so that we didn't even have to do any work, since the customers couldn't get to us through the crush. The music was a far cry from The Great Pretender.
The fun of that job was finding just the right toy for fond parents and grandparents to buy for the little ones. Or it would have been, if the little ones hadn't been clamoring for a lot of dispiriting plastic crap they had seen on television. "I can make a better dressing table than this in my workshop," one father complained. "Don't you think she would like it just as well?" In thirty years, yes, when you're in your grave and she looks back on the work of your hands and all you did for her. Right now, though, she expects the overpriced Paint-me-Pretty pink plastic dressing table to be waiting under the tree on Christmas morning.
I had kind of a crush on the man in charge of the toy department, a good-looking guy in beautifully tailored suits, the son of the owners. Nothing like my feelings for the Madame Alexander doll, but still it made my heart beat a little faster when he gathered the salesgirls together on Christmas Eve and put his arms around us all. Until he gave his Christmas Eve speech.
"All right, girls," he said. "This is it. Christmas Eve. Anyone who comes in looking for toys will be desperate. They'll buy anything. This is our chance to get rid of all the dreck. Get out there and sell."
© 2013 Kate Gallison