Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Second-hand Slim

I was sitting in a chair near the front entrance of the second-hand store, waiting for one of the managers to return from running an errand. It was 3:05 p.m., and I was there for a job interview.
The night before, I had watched President Obama’s press conference as he made his case for the $800 million stimulus plan, hoping that he would say something that would give me reason to be optimistic.
The best I can tell, I’ll get a $500 tax credit and an extra $20 in my paycheck. Somehow, I don’t think that is going to materially improve my prospects. After listening to the president, I quickly came to the conclusion that if I’m going to get back on my feet, I’ll be doing it pretty much on my own. This is no knock on the president, by the way. It’s just that when you are almost 50 years old and all of your experience is derived from a dying industry, there’s very little the government can do about it.
The new jobs the president touts as the expected result of the stimulus plan are young men’s jobs. And, when the current recession abates, the white collar jobs that once belonged to the suddenly displaced middle aged workers who have lost their jobs will go to the bright young college graduates of tomorrow.
I suspect this was true during the Great Depression, too. I figure half a generation never recovered. I suspect the same will be true of the youngest half of the baby boomers.
And that’s the spot I found myself in Tuesday afternoon, as I waited for the store manager to return from her errand.
A few minutes later, she trudged into the store and was walking past me, when I spoke to her.
“Are you Meg?’’ I asked.
“Yes,’’ she said. “Are you the person who is here for the interview?’’
“Yes,’’ I said.
“OK,’’ she said.
She was a tall, heavy-set woman in her mid-50s who seemed to be constantly out of breath. “Follow me,’’ she said.
As we walked down the aisles of clothes, she turned and looked at me over her shoulder.
She had my job application in her hand.
“Why would you want to come here after making the big bucks you made at the newspaper?’’ she asked.
“Well, it’s not really like a have that as an option anymore,’’ I said. “The newspaper industry is in a free fall and, well, you can see on my job application that I've got some grass stains on my jersey, you know?’’
She seemed satisfied.
I followed her back to a tiny office in the back of the store where she proceeded to ask me a series of questions, mostly about what I would do under certain circumstances, like what I would do if I saw an employee stealing something.
I gathered this was not an altogether hypothetical scenario.
Of course, she also wanted to know about how it was that I came to be a convicted felon.
So, for what seemed like the thousandth time, I found myself trying to explain it. You would think that by now I’d have that story down pat. But it is still a difficult thing to put into words, mainly because anything I can say in my own defense is certain to come off as a pitiful rationalization.
At the end of my story, I paused.
“You know, if somebody had asked me 30 years ago if I thought I could manage to get through life without becoming a felon, I would have liked my chances,’’ I told her.
The interview went pretty well, all things considered.
She told me she had three positions to fill and that she would call me later in the evening.
A few hours later, she called. “Can you come in tomorrow and fill out your paperwork?’’ she asked.
So, tomorrow I’ll start my new career in retail sales, as clerk/floor person at a second-hand store. The pay is $8 per hour, which was what I made during my summer job in Nashville back in 1976. That was good pay in those days. Now, well, it’s better than nothing.
I am a journalist mainly in retrospect now, but I intend to write about my experiences here. Second-hand stores, after all, are booming in times like these. Maybe working at the store will give me some insight into this dark chapter of American life and maybe my observations will be of some value to readers.
I’d like to tell you that I am excited about the job.
I need to be excited about it, I realize.
But I am not there yet.
And I wonder if there’s much left for me to look forward to.
I suspect I’m not the only one who’s wondering about things like that.

No comments: