THE FURNITURE WAREHOUSE – Courtney E. Webb
I remember walking into the store my first day of work. I walked through the showroom floor because I hadn’t figured out the employee stairs yet.
The showroom filled up the entire 2nd floor of this gigantic warehouse furniture store. I had never seen anything like it; every aisle was stuffed to the brim with sofas and chairs, side tables, bedroom sets, wardrobe closets, lamps, rugs, dining room sets. It seemed endless.
That day I stopped to look at a display. At first I couldn’t tell exactly what it was. There was a would-be Greek youth statue in an almost stone grey color bent over looking like he was holding something. The something was a large fountain of sorts made with clear strands of acrylic wire strung around the ‘pool’ in a diagonal pattern. The really fascinating part and what caught my attention were the ‘drips’ of ‘water’ that flowed lazily down the strands of wire and into the pool. I stopped to stare and then gawk trying to figure out how this was done. I was fascinated with the ‘water’ returning to the top of the fountain and the way the ‘drops’ moved so slowly down the strands. Amazing.
The Greek youth was a fixture in a master bedroom ‘suit’ as I was to hear it called later. The side sofa next to him was covered in a plush, deep red velvet affair with gold on lay trim. The bed too was covered in a huge red velvet bedspread and I had to gawk again. There were lamps in the suite with more Greek figures of nymphs surrounded by hanging crystal glass ornaments. Wow! We sure didn’t have anything like that in my house!
I wanted to look at more stuff but time was a wasting and I had to get to my new job. I was starting as a cashier at the front desk of the Megalopolis Furniture Store. I was met by my new boss, Marge, otherwise to be known as ‘dragon lady’ or ‘She who must be obeyed.’
Marge was an imposing woman, probably several inches taller than me (and I’m not short.) She emphasized her height by having really tall salt and pepper hair way up on top. I could never tell if that was natural or dyed. God forbid you should ever ask such a thing. Marge explained my duties crisply and succinctly and started the process of explaining debits and credits how all those transactions are recorded on little manila cards.
“Which, by the way, these cards,” she gestured holding several of the small, square manila cards in one large hand, “ are never, never to be taken out of the office or to leave the building. Understand?”
She glared at me when she said this. I think my eyes bugged out a little but I nodded vigorously.
“Good,” Marge nodded, “we can proceed.”
She walked me around the office and introduced me to the day staff and told me that I would only work with them on weekends. I and the other college students, would be working nights and weekends.
“You understand that right?” she wanted to know. Again, I nodded again and we continued our tour.
Life with Marge could be a real trial. She almost fired me once for screwing up; her ice blue eyes boring into the back of my skull.
“Do you even think you can do this?”
I nodded miserably. I needed this job so badly; I had rent to pay, groceries to buy and gasoline to put in the car. I was finally able to keep all the debits and credits in their respective columns.
In time, things smoothed out and I got the hang of things at the big warehouse. Dealing with the salesmen was something else again.
One busy Saturday salesman Jones brought a couple up to the counter.
“Okay, Sir,” he said with that supercilious tone of his. He plunked down his heavy sales clipboard with about a million papers attached. “This young lady will be handling the cash end of the thing,” and he waved my direction.
I smiled sweetly at the old duffer in the grey suit, old enough to be my father and began to ask for coin of the realm and identification to prove it was real money. The very young lady with him wandered off. When we finished the paper transaction I asked “Oh, is your daughter coming back? I can get the salesman.” His face got red and he stomped off.
A few minutes later Jones came huffing and puffing up to the counter and waved a finger at me.
“That was his girlfriend you idiot!” he shouted at me. My mouth dropped. I mumbled some apology and Jones stomped off.
Ah, well, it was the 70’s. The bulk of the night clerks were Cal State students like me. I got the job because I met one of the guys in my accounting class. We were a fairly chummy lot and the job got to be fun because it was easy and we had basically no supervision at night.
The warehouse guys downstairs partied continously. Their specialties were forklift races while drunk. Jeese!
A coworker, Debbi, was an econ major with long, long beautiful red hair. She got engaged to an absolutely homely guy. I could not believe it other than the fact that she talked non-stop and maybe only he could stand it.
Debbi and I were lingering by the counter one Saturday and she was yakking away about The Boyfriend again. I think my brain had traveled into ‘numb’ mode. It was late afternoon on a Saturday and as it approached the dinner hour, more and more customers tended to shuffle on home. I feigned interest.
Behind us, Norma, the hyper-efficient senior cashier was fidgeting over the plies of money on the big table like Mole from Wind in the Willows. It was like she was sure Toad was going to come roaring up any minute, stuff all the money into bags and go screaming off into the night.
After working at this place for a while I had gotten used to seeing the ‘big’ table covered with stacks and stacks of bills. The bills were wrapped around with bank wrappers and the coins were in a large white bag. There were stacks and stacks of credit card slips and checks of every size and description. It was nothing to have a $50,000 Saturday and in 1972, that was saying something. After I had stared and stared at how much money I had to handle each day, I decided to think about it as paper, not money at all. That, I decided would make my life much simpler and of course, it did.
Norma was counting and recounting the stacks, her black beady eyes darting around the table. I knew she would not relax until the Brinks man showed up, took the huge stacks off her hands and off of her conscience. Marge was extremely proud of our reputation of ‘balancing’ everyday with no more than $5.00 off one way or the other.
Anyway, Debbi blabbered on and on and it was getting time for my lunch break when a big Hispanic family hove into view. They were moving slowly, which, they would be since they seemed to have brought every living relative they had with them that day. This was actually a common occurrence in this little town with a large Hispanic population.
I glanced casually over at this slow moving train. I could never understand this phenomenon. Why bring all these people? It seemed so, so, I don’t know, inefficient I guess was the word I would use. Whatever.
Sharlene, one of the clerks who more or less kept to herself, jumped up to help the man. This gire was a little different. She was not a Cal State student like most of us and none of us really knew her. She didn’t go to school at all although she was about our same age. She seemed to sort of ‘float’ back and forth from the day shift to the night shift.
The Hispanic man had obviously come to make a payment on his account. The Hispanics would come into the store and get sold a bill of goods by the flash and dangle of the super-salesmen and walk out with about half a house. At $10 per month payment for all this high quality stuff; the furniture would be worn out and in the trash can before they got the bill paid.
There was a ring notebook payment pad in the corner. There was a top white copy and then a yellow carbon underneath. The cashier would take the customer’s $10 or $15 payment, write out the receipt, give it to them and then put the cash in the little grey cash box under the counter. Norma would snatch up the book and cash box each day and do reconciliation. She would then put the box back the next morning with a small amount of start-up cash.
Sharlene seemed eager to help the man and I was fine with that. I didn’t like doing those payments anyway, boring. She took his money and had it in her hand and wrote out the slip. She chatted busily. She tore off the slip and handed it to him and bent down to put the money in the box. For just a second I thought I saw something go into her pants pocket. But I was really wasn’t focused on her and when I looked again, she had straightened up and everything was back in place. I shook my head and thought “I must be hungrier than I thought.” I cut it off with Debbi and made my way to the lunch room. There was going to be an after- hours work party at the pizza place. I was really thinking about the party and anyone interesting I might meet.
Continued Part II