Monday, February 15, 2016

Job Jobs 2: Montgomery Wards



(Starting here, please: PIZZA)

In 1985 I worked for Montgomery Wards Department store. which was one of my favorite jobs. Not because of the company - by '85 Monty Wards was circling the drain on its last legs. It was then owned my Mobil Oil of all things, and had just closed its vaunted catalog service, the first of its kind.

The store was technically part of the Montclair Plaza mall, so it paid premium rent, but it was located across the street from the mall, so it might as well have been on the moon. We were basically overflow parking for the "relevant" stores.

First floor was "fashions" which were totally in style. The style of 1978. A popular pastime for all of us on breaks was to come down to the first floor, admire the dusty disco clothes and just laugh and laugh.

Second floor was Housewares, where my girlfriend and the rest of the women worked, and Electronics, where the men worked. Yes, I was officially an Electronic Sales Person, which always made me want to check myself for a battery pack. Half of this section was TVs and home stereos, which was populated by men deemed too awful to sell used cars. And the other half was me, with everything else.

Everything that is, but customers. Montgomery Wards' demographics were basically those under Hospice care, and they didn't get out much. And when they did, they weren't interested in buying these new-fangled gizmos that used electricity.

So I spent my days composing dirty limericks on the Brother typewriters and
Montclair Plaza. Monty Wards is lower left here,
across the street and hence, invisible.
trying to pick out the theme to Beverly Hills Cop on the keyboards. At 6pm, during the 'dinner rush', I would tune one of the shortwave radios to get the audio of that nights Star Trek episode. Then I would hook up a zoom lens to a Canon AE-1 and aim it at the TVs across the aisle.

The most exciting thing that happened in the year that I worked there was one summer day when the giant reel-to-reel tape of Muzak broke. "In the clearing stands a boxer...and...a...fiiiggghhtter byyyy hiiiiiii *SNAP*

Then 10 minutes of stunned silence while we all looked around, blinking, like someone had just removed a too-tight hat that we didn't even know we were wearing. And then we had to listen to fucking "Jingle Bells" for 3 days until a new reel arrived.

As I said it wasn't the company that made the job fun - It was the time. 1985 was a time of huge change in our entertainment choices.
I sold:
  • The first portable CD player. The Discman. $500.00 and the thing would skip if you so much as made a face at it.
  • The first commerically available drum machine. By Mattel. And it sounded like it.
  • Casio Keyboards, which everybody thought they could play.
  • The first auto-focus camera, The Minolta Maxxum, which everybody thought they needed.
  • The first popular home computer. No, not the Apple IIe - that was off in the corner and cost $5,000. The hot seller then was the Commodore 64, which
    Also 64, count 'em 64 colors!
    ran Basic 2.0, and boasted a mind-blowing 64K of memory.

But I also still sold:
  • Manual Typewriters, which are still used by the CIA as torture devices.
  • Tapes for betamax recorders. Monty Wards was forever backing the wrong horse.
  • Vinyl records - but not the ones that are coveted by collectors now. We sold records that were about as popular as our suburban funk clothes downstairs.
  • Camera film - the fun thing here was that I had a huge, flat table for this, with a 4 inch ridge around the outside. I was supposed to just have a pile of Fuji boxes on one side, and another pyramid of Kodak on the other. But I was SUPER BORED all the time at work, so I would create gorgeous mandalas out of the green boxes and the beige boxes. Which lasted until somebody bought one or two boxes and messed up the whole pattern.
  • Fotomat photos. Yes, people would drop off their film and then come back in a week and pick up their photos. Did I break federal law and look at their pictures? YES. Were there nudes? Occasionally. Are most people unattractive with their clothes off? Fuck yeah. But they seemed to be having a good time, so more power to 'em. My penance for peeping was having to keep a straight face when I later sold their pictures to them, even though every fiber of my being wanted to say "Would you like some more D batteries today?"

1985: The last picture of my chin.
Speaking of sex at work, my girlfriend worked across the floor from me, and there were more store rooms in the back hallway than anybody knew what to do with. I used to make huge walls of empty boxes that would cover entire doorframes (All those years of playing with Lego paid off), and then sneak inside with her. Her one caveat: "Take off that stupid tie" lest it dangle in her face.
Yes, I wore a suit and tie to work. The first time I ever did. Also, the last time. 

I think leveraging myself into the monkey suit each day was directly responsible for my NEXT JOB....

Angus McMahan
angusmcmahan@gmail.com
@AngusMcMahan


Pictures: Wikipedia Commons, aerial view from Mapio.net, Com64 from computercloset.com, and portrait of your 20 year old tortured genius stud from Richard Colodny.

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