The River's Badge

Saturday, November 17, 2018

1979 ~ Back To Real Life


I had no misconceptions regarding what work would be ~ a series of dead-end jobs; maybe I'd eventually land one with tenure and I could coast my way to retirement. I really didn't want a job. I wanted to be a mom, but President Jimmy saw things differently. Being poor wasn't all that bad, but I hated having to charge basic needs, plus the hospital let me know my five dollar-a-month payment for my new son's delivery just wasn't going to cut it. That telephone conversation convinced me I needed to find a job. Before I became a mom my work life was scattershot at best. I'd tried the real world and didn't like it. Being a clerk-typist for the state, I found, didn't mean sitting in a cubbyhole and typing all day. I had to interact with customers, which I guess was the "clerk" part. I didn't know what it was called then, but it turned out I had social phobia, which is in essence a fear of making an utter fool of oneself. Whenever I heard the front door of the State Health Department creak open, I had to steel myself for the inevitable person-to-person interaction. In retrospect, I am convinced I didn't instill confidence in my customer. I would toddle off and retrieve a copy of their birth certificate and mumble, "two dollars". I think I also said, "thank you", because while I was a near-mute, I was perpetually polite. After little more than a year I'd scurried back home to work for my parents. I quit working all together in November of 1976 and nested.

By the summer of '79, the fiscal writing was on the wall. As we pedaled down the expressway in our tin-can Chevy Malibu, I gazed at the building being erected, with a big sign out front that announced, "Future Home of LaBelle's". I said, I'm going to work there. I don't know why; maybe it was the close proximity to home, basically a zip up one street and one zip down another. Possibly it was because the one skill I was confident I possessed was ringing up a cash register. Plus I still retained the naive certainty that this place would be all my hopes and dreams tied up in an azure package; a retail nirvana. And it was part-time.

1979 began nine years of inhabiting second shift, forgoing toddler's bedtime baths, snuggling with little towheads, missing all my favorite TV shows, But life is a series of have-to's. I couldn't place Lego sets and Fisher-Price parking garages under the Christmas tree without the money to buy them and without my ten per-cent employee discount.

LaBelle's was a catalog store, which no longer exists in today's Amazon world. Customers would wander about with a stubby pencil and a pad and write down the number of the item they wanted to purchase; then hand their paper to an associate who'd punch it into a "computer" and the bored guys back in the warehouse would fetch the item from an eight-foot high wobbly shelf and dump it onto the conveyor belt. My job was to grab a hand mic and announce, "Johnny Jamsicle, your order is ready at Register Three. Johnny Jamsicle, Register Three." Johnny would step up to Register Three and I'd ring him up.

Some nights were excruciatingly quiet. Especially Tuesdays. Nobody ever seemed to shop on Tuesdays. So I'd stand behind the counter in my high heels and eye the one person in the store longingly, willing them to order something. Truthfully, LaBelle's was quiet most of the time, except during Christmas season. I would, of course, be scheduled to work Saturday days, and Christmas was the only time the hours whizzed by.

When I had my yearly review, my manager docked me for not coming up with a product display, which I didn't even know was a requirement! I subsequently visited a travel office and gave the girl behind the desk a line about a school project, and talked her out of a vacation poster, which I pasted in the luggage department, along with the words, "Flights of Fancy". Casey, my manager, didn't understand the saying and argued that my word choice was wrong. "It should be flights of fantasy," she proclaimed. I tried to explain to her what a flight of fancy meant. She finally gave up the ghost and let me keep my display. I didn't even get a five-cent raise for all my effort. I did, however, learn a valuable lesson about dealing with morons.

I frankly didn't have much free time to devote to music listening, but I couldn't escape the fact that Kenny Rogers was everywhere. This dude who'd had a minor career with The First Edition in the sixties had reinvented himself as a precursor to Lionel Richie.

The number one song of 1979:



Kenny had five, count 'em, top twenty hits in '79. And that wasn't even his best year. I'm not sure why, but I rolled with the flow. I even saw him in concert once, sitting in the nosebleed seats in Duluth, Minnesota. It was a spur-of-the-moment impulse on my mom's part. We were there; he was there ~ why not?

There were better country songs in 1979; for instance, Eddie Rabbitt:


The Dirt Band:



Don Williams:


Waylon:


T. G. Sheppard:



The Oaks:


I had my Bang and Olufson component stereo I'd bought on credit and a stack of country albums. Sometimes I'd come home from LaBelle's in the dark and slip the needle on one of those LP's, quietly, as to not awaken the kids snug in their beds, and relax with a cup of instant Sanka. 

And think about the pitiful state of my "career".


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