childhood, Uncategorized

Purple Indians, Red Cow, Golden Friends

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Despite truly meaning it, when we say “we should get together” somehow life gets in the way and the weeks turn into years and the years turn to decades and it just doesn’t happen naturally to fall into place. There has to be some effort. Social media has been both a blessing and a curse to relationships. Some feel there isn’t really a need to gather physically because they “know” what is going on with someone based on occasional posts and photographs. Others feeling that perhaps when their own life somehow measures up to the vacations, grandchildren and celebrations of others, then the time will be right and they will feel worthy. Perhaps when they drop some weight, have a better hairstyle or update their wardrobe, that will be a good time to get together. If we wait until our lives are perfect, it simply will never occur.

Facebook has allowed my generation to locate people from our past in addition to seeing what our own kids, family members and social circle did over the weekend or are having for dinner tonight. One can get lost looking at friend lists of other friends and trying to decipher if that thin red-head was once the chubby brunet cheerleader who was hilarious in your English class; same first name, married, living on the west coast. Could be her, maybe not. It’s like winning the lottery when you locate someone from your past and reconnect, catch up and find yourselves much the same. There are the other scenarios when Facebook suggests that you “might know” someone and “Yes, you do” and you have been avoiding them at all costs because they are toxic and don’t need to know you “might” meet at Bunny’s for Wing Night next week.

 

Facebook has replaced Hallmark as the way to send a birthday greeting and makes a better source than a local paper for birth announcements, engagements and marriages, as well as obituaries. The arc of life, all happening in real-time and available via phone or computer. Though one is never truly alone anymore, the constant connectivity seemingly causes people to interact less with those around them. Lack of eye contact when checking out with a cashier, tapping on a desired menu item while simultaneously talking on the phone with someone not present or being part of an entire table updating their statuses but not really “experiencing” the company of those present or engaging in the event they are attending.

Yesterday I experienced what is the best of what social media can do, gather people for real social interaction. The only thing that could have made the gathering more like the childhoods we’d all shared would have been convening in the rocket at Linden Hills Park or all arriving by bike and leaving them pedals down on their sides on a grassy spot outside the restaurant (Red Cow) we chose to meet at. My use of technology was having this single picture taken before we ordered, others used their phones as photo albums and one table-mate ignored an incoming call but showed her phone because she was filling someone in on her brother and it happened to be him calling. The two-year age gap meant a couple of the older girls couldn’t place the youngest one, so she pulled up a picture from thirty years ago and got “Oh, I know that girl.” to which she responded “That’s me.” Beyond that, everyone present was truly present!

An initial Facebook invitation to neighborhood girls swelled into an unmanageable number of invitees and then settled back into a table-sized gathering that allowed for multiple simultaneous conversations but conveniently allowed for shared laughter as well. To an outsider (or our waitress for that matter) I imagine we looked like a group of ladies who meet monthly for lunch. The reality being that with six of the eight having been 1980 graduates from nearby Minneapolis Southwest (Purple Indians) we had not all been under the same roof since the Carter administration. We used to bike over to each others house and ring the doorbell to see if someone could play or call their house and hope the line wasn’t busy when we wanted to extend an invitation. With a Facebook invite our friend who has lived in Hawaii for three decades received the same information in real time.

As I pulled up, I saw Laurie arriving. I parked down the street and walked up, giving her time to put our name in for a table. The weather being nice we stood outside as the remaining five arrived and a sixth slid in once we were seated. Laurie and I had played on the badminton team together and she had played volleyball in high school as well as in college. Badminton was a spring sport and we often found ourselves walking home together in weather thirty degrees warmer than the temps of our morning walk. Wet sidewalks and muddy ally-ways, our route included a couple of blocks that had formerly been the path of the streetcar line, a mode of transportation abandoned before our births and replaced with MTC buses that shuttled us to Southdale, our suburban mall or downtown which was a grittier urban destination for us to find everything from magazines at Shinders to department stores, restaurants and where all sorts of options for teenage girls to make bad choices were available. Laurie stood in her overalls and dreadlocks and lamented the fact that she had not seen me since she’d graduated and then she simply said it “We’re old!” and we laughed about it, me realizing only later that I had only been sixteen the last time we had seen each other. When a neighbor girl arrived that I had more recently encountered at funerals over the last several years she hugged me, commented that I’d lost weight and looked great and I glanced over at Laurie and laughed again, “Lost weight, gained weight. All depends when you saw me last.” and the two of them laughed harder having seen each other a few years earlier and a few pounds lighter. Same struggles, different decade.

The majority of us had attended Lake Harriet Elementary school, most starting kindergarten in 1967, I started in 1968 and Doreen, the youngest attendee being a 1969 kindergartner who looked exactly like the little girl Buffy from the show Family Affair (with ringlet pigtails) when she started school. Though the school was physically gone by the time we entered high school, one of our lunch friends currently resides in the home she was raised in, located across the street from the massive brick structure my own grandmother had attended. Her renovated childhood home located diagonally from my block, the other two corners being where responsible sixth-graders stood as school safety patrols and lowered their flags to grant me safe passage on a daily basis.

There we were; infants of the sixties, school kids of the seventies and all having graduated on the cusp of the eighties. High school graduates before most of us had heard the word “aerobic” and at a time when Ayds was a dietary candy to be taken with a hot beverage, a half hour before meals and AIDS was not yet coined as the name for a sexually transmitted plague. We were a new generation of women with Title IX rights. In addition to Typing (later useful for keyboarding), Clothing (sewing) and Foods (cooking) classes we could take Metals, Woods and Electricity classes, once considered the trades classes for boys. Thirty-five years later all of these basic skills classes that provided one with the capacity to sew on a button and press a shirt before a job interview or prepare a nutritional meal on a budget, even classes that taught one how to simply follow directions to complete a basic task in an office or factory setting are gone. A multi-million-dollar renovation and addition to our 75 year-old Alma mater has added dance studios, put a greater emphasis on the arts and offers computer coding, now considered the skill that one might learn while a high school student that could lead to employment beyond graduation. Most of us did not touch a computer before we graduated, ditto for the majority of our teachers.

Teachers; we reminisced about the ones we loved, the ones we feared and the ones that reminded us that we were in fact skipping class when they encountered us in the hallway. There were the ones whose children were our classmates, the ones who coached us, the ones that encouraged us, the ones who prepared us for college, believed in us and were well suited to their careers. There were the ones who seemed miserable, hated their jobs, likely hated us and took pleasure in tormenting our classmates who really didn’t want to be there in the first place. My childhood neighbor shared an amusing anecdote about being a server at a country club and being invited to a coworkers home for drinks after work, only to realize that her coworkers “boyfriend” was actually a despised teacher.

We were a  mixed-bag of women, many of us the youngest (read “least supervised”) of our families. Some of us were involved in student activities, while others cut class frequently, hung out with older kids, pushed the envelope and took part in risky behavior. None of it mattered, then or now to us, we were kids with friendships forged in youth that treated each other kindly. One girl mentioned that she quit ordering yearbooks because of the unkind remarks other classmates wrote in them. When another asked for an example she tossed out “Titless Wonder” as one of the more repeatable torments, when asked who said that I realized he was the same guy that thought it appropriate to opine on my breast size (too big apparently) like some perverse male Goldilocks looking for “just right”. Neither of us realizing his Napoleon complex, his insecurity that he lost four inches whenever  he took off his Hockey Skates. I’m sad to say that he likely continues to take out his “shortcomings” as a Minneapolis Police Officer.

We discussed relationships; long marriages, divorces, remarriages, children, grandchildren, even Godchildren. We discussed death; former classmates, siblings, parents and God forbid those who had endured the loss of children. We inquired about our friends siblings and learned that not only relationships of choice sometimes end but even those of blood are sometimes severed when maintaining the bond is no longer healthy and amputation of a limb  of the family tree is the best option.  We talked about work, travel, moving, pets, concerts, camping and the ache that comes when children grow up, gain their independence, lead their own exciting lives and leave us with an empty space that we might lack the collagen to have close quickly and naturally and the choices we have about how to manually fill those open spaces. Nothing we said was shocking or judged or remotely evaluated. It simply was. We learned of those battling illness, those who we lost due to lifestyle choices, those who regained their footing after epic challenges, the wild youth who embraced sobriety as adults. We championed the triumphs of our peers and used each other to connect the dots and locate where some of our other lost childhood friends had landed. We confused names, described physical attributes and referenced addresses based on the family names of others who lived nearby. When I mentioned Kennesaw Drug and then said “It became Butler Drug” one of the women nodded “Where I got caught shoplifting.” I laughed recalling that my own dalmatian had entered the store one hot summer day and exited with an 8-pak of Snickers that had been on display in baskets along the lower shelves in the candy aisle. Kids and canines of the neighborhood all had some experience linked to the store. I remember my brother’s friend getting caught for stealing Hot Wheels it’s where shampoos and cosmetics we learned about from Teen magazine could be procured or you could sample perfumes. There was a pharmacy in the back and their delivery car was a Volkswagen beetle with a cartoon image of pharmacist “Herbie” on the side, it was across from the Tom Thumb “superette” where you could purchase milk in returnable jugs or purchase cigarettes with a note from your parents. Hell, it was an era where you pretty much could do anything with a note from your parents. One of the attendees took her little sister to Canada (while in high school) on a Greyhound bus and was reminded to “bring a note from your parents next time.” Hell, we could do nearly anything, including leave the country without a note from our parents.

Long before a TV show made a zip code synonymous with Beverly Hills, we were the women of Minneapolis 55410, we walked the same lake paths that Mary Tyler Moore immortalized during the opening credits of her TV show. We attended Story Hour in the iconic Carnegie-era Linden Hills Library, resplendent with leaded glass windows, built-in  benches and story-book tiled fireplace. We played SWAC sports at Linden Hills or Pershing Park and went to the Tastee Treet for cones afterwards  or the DQ (which we could see from our table) which closed in just the past couple of months, close enough to the high school to grab lunch at during the allotted half an hour, IF you were willing to eat while walking.

For over two hours, there was no lull in conversation, not even when the food came. We were noisy! We spoke loudly, we interrupted, interjected but mostly we laughed. We misheard, asked for clarifications, jumped conversations. We heard about wedding plans, impending grandchildren and retirement ideas. We agreed to not wait so long to get together again.

We were girls of the transistor radio era, we had listened to American Top 40 together while swatting mosquitoes. Later we tanned at Lake Harriet or skated to those same songs at the Roller Gardens in St. Louis Park, a suburb which provided many of my friends with their boyfriends. Sometimes they were older boys whose tastes in alcohol, music and muscle cars made them an appealing option.

We started our school careers as girls who wore dresses and being Minnesotans we wore pants under them to and from school during the coldest months. Our teachers were the edgy women  who marshaled in the revolutionary pantsuit which in the 1970’s did not consist of a jacket and pants at all but rather a dress that came with coordinating pants of the same fabric. Basically, these fashion monstrosities were the grown women rebelling by wearing pants under their dresses, just like the girls did on the the playground. We were exposed to lots of rebellion during our youth, with older siblings returning from Vietnam; boys grew their hair out, marijuana smoke wafted in public venues, music lyrics grew more graphic and the girls of Linden Hills mimicked the culture of our youth. Some of us followed the rules and some of us rebelled against rules, teachers, parents and laws.

We sat and talked about nearly everything but politics. A refreshing change of pace from a year of divisiveness. Some joked about their therapy. One is a full-time seminary student, having raised her kids and having finally found time for herself. While talking about the pro’s and cons of getting another dog, another joked that she hated to be cliche but she (a lesbian) owns two cats. While a divorcee with two adult children talked about her and her partner of three years going out for a birthday celebration another woman inquired “did you know in high school?” and before she could respond I jumped in “I don’t think that was really considered an option then.” to which she agreed. They talked about the other girls we grew up with whom they thought were likely lesbians as well. I marveled a bit that the last time I’d encountered these women the word “partner” had the singular connotation of being the person you were paired with for badminton or tennis.

We are no longer the little girls who went to school together, were antagonized by the same boys, who hung out at the same parks and venues.  We are all grown up and became the women we wanted to become. Not the ones that others had supposed us to be or shamed us into pretending we were. We’re the women who not only don’t wear pants under our dresses, we’re the women who don’t have to wear dresses if we don’t choose to, the women who could choose not to comb our hair if we don’t want to. We grew into the best versions of those sassy, silly, sneaky and snarky little girls and regardless of how different we are, we all have each others backs and appreciate each other for our shared beginnings. We have moved, we have traveled but we have in our DNA the water of Lake Harriet, the appreciation of the Indians who settled on the shores of Lake Calhoun and whom the original students of Southwest selected as their mascot and an abiding thankfulness that our parents opted to raise us in Minneapolis 55410. Hope to see you ladies all again soon (Golden Friends)!

 

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Feeling Stupid After Wisdom Teeth Extraction

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Teeth are sort of a big deal in my family. My mother had all of hers pulled when she was just 29. The fact she had been a preemie likely was the primary contributing factor as to how her teeth formed. Despite having  received extensive dental care and aggressive treatments by high school (in an attempt to retain her natural teeth) gum disease and decay resulted in the ultimate decision to pull them all. If I ever have nightmares, typically they involve my teeth being broken or falling out. I have awoken many a night over my lifetime to run my tongue over my teeth and am always relieved when my tongue finds no hole.

The only time I have had any of my teeth pulled was when my wisdom teeth were extracted as a fifteen-year-old high school sophomore. A Facebook post earlier this year by my nephew Charlie brought the experience rushing back to me. I asked his permission to use his x-ray, showing his pierced septum.  He’s opted with his wisdom teeth to not have them all removed at the same time. While everyone’s wisdom teeth experience is different, I think mine was unique in that I spent two nights in the hospital to do it. When I gave birth to my son and had a rambunctious two-year-old at home, I got just one night of hospitalization.

I’ll preface my story by saying that I am the youngest of three and the only daughter in my family. That may be a contributing factor as to why I spent two nights in the Pediatric ward of a hospital in order to have four teeth extracted. Another factor may be that when my eldest brother had his wisdom teeth removed, my mother took him on the city  bus. He had the last appointment of the day and the anesthesia was still wearing off when he was brought to her in the waiting area. She had to work him into his letter jacket while he cried from the after-affects of being put under. A high school kid, taller than his mother, being led to the bus stop for a return trip home was not a scenario my mother would have enjoyed repeating. I imagine perhaps that my father provided transport home in the blue Plymouth station wagon as a courtesy to my other brother when his time came. For whatever reason, when it was my turn it was determined that I would have my four impacted teeth removed at Fairview Southdale hospital.

I was checked into the hospital the evening before the surgery, in order to be prepped and ready early the next day. I shared a room with a girl that was having her extraction done by the same surgeon the following morning prior to my own procedure. She was a model, who had a shoot scheduled two days later. I’ve always been a bit curious how that turned out.

Prior to being taken to pre-op I  was told that my surgery was scheduled for six AM and that once the anesthetic had warn off enough in recovery, I would be brought up to the same room and could have as much to drink as I desired, fluids having been withheld since the previous evening. The procedure ahead of mine must have gone more quickly than anticipated, as I remember waking up to the annoying sound of crying and trying to focus on the clock on the far wall that appeared to be bouncing like a basketball. The clock indicated it was about five minutes prior to the six o’clock hour. I was terribly thirsty and confused and I remember thinking that I needed to get it together, as I was going into surgery in five minutes and also, the annoying crying I heard, that was actually me. I then realized my mouth was so dry because it was stuffed with gauze and little foam tubes. I was being suffocated (so I thought) with a plastic mask. I wasn’t having it, I yanked the mask off and started digging the packing out of my mouth. A nurse sat knitting in a chair a few feet from the left side of my gurney. I remember very intentionally wanting to hit her knitting with the bloody gauze. She rose and tried to calm me, attempting to keep me still. I then realized that my one arm was on a board and still had an IV in it. Then I was drawn to a commotion to my right, a boy, perhaps eight years old who was crying for his mother. I’m pretty sure he’d had his tonsils removed. His crying annoyed me and I looked over at him and drooled blood out the side of my mouth, completely  on purpose, in hopes of shutting him up. It’s bizarre how clearly I remember the details of this event from 1979, perhaps because the behaviors resulting from the sedation were entirely counter to my normally good-natured and nurturing personality. I was irritable, downright mean and despite the clock continuing to bounce I lied that I was ready to return to my room because I was so incredibly thirsty.

With social media so prevalent, it’s not uncommon now to see posts regarding patients coming to after outpatient procedures or Youtube videos of oddly emotional passengers on their way home from appointments. From my era, we just have our stories and mine doesn’t end with the trip back up to Pediatrics. When it came time for my own kids to have their teeth removed, I made sure to schedule them at a time when they could recover leisurely at home. The office had a lovely waiting room but the waiting patients never saw anyone who had already had their teeth pulled depart after their procedure. A rear exit was used and patients were brought down in wheelchairs. My daughter’s extraction took place between Christmas and New Years. Just as the oral surgeon indicated, the swelling and discomfort was the worst on the third day following surgery. My daughter and I were convinced that my son would be hilarious after surgery but the only unique behavior he exhibited was a general annoyance at us asking if he felt okay. He had hardly any swelling and was disgusted by the quantity and strength of the medications he was sent home with.

I had several friends visit me after school that day. The surgeon also came up later and brought me a cup filled with liquid and my teeth (and the skin around them) in it. When I requested to keep my teeth I had assumed I would get them in a small brown envelope like the one my brother had brought his long rooted teeth home in. I was a little disgusted.

I rested off and on, watched TV, ate a liquid diet of hospital offerings and dosed in and out of sedated slumber. I awoke confused and disoriented in a darkened room with illumination coming from the hallway through a partially opened door at my far right. To my left was a large window and a midnight blue sky speckled with stars. I had no recollection of where I was or how I got there. My eyes adjusted to the limited light and at the end of my bed was a figure. I realized it was a nurse and cradled in her arms was a baby. The nurse asked how I felt. What? How do I feel? How would you feel if you were fifteen, never had a boyfriend, had only kissed a boy through an obligatory activity such as Spin the Bottle or some other such “game” and suddenly you’re in the hospital with a newborn baby? I was panicked! I asked “Do my parents know I’m here?” She responded that it was too early for them to be here but they would come later to take me home. By “me” I assumed she meant “us” unless I’d put this baby up for adoption or something. I was pretty sure I was grounded for life. Then I suddenly felt a beautiful aching in my jaw. Wisdom teeth!!! I’d had my wisdom teeth pulled, there was still a metallic blood taste in my mouth. I’ve never experienced anything like this again in my life, a moment where something that seemed so insurmountably wrong resolved itself with that sort of instant clarity. While it was a “situation” that simply wasn’t, the relief that rushed over me was very real!

Later that day my parents did come and pick me up. In the days to follow, I swelled like a chipmunk and then bruised as though I’d been in a fist fight. Yet I felt relieved to have dodged teen parenthood. In retrospect it’s a hilarious story but at fifteen I was too embarrassed to even share the amusing anecdote. There is no good way to say “Mom and Dad, I thought I had a baby. Funny, right?” In an ironic twist, the next door neighbor brought her newborn over to visit during my recuperation. Looking at this picture nearly 38 years later reminds me of what I briefly thought life was going to look like for me. While the nurse took a tiny restless patient on her rounds to offer comfort, I doubt she realized she almost gave a teenage patient cardiac arrest!

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THIS IS NO DAYTON’S

Dayton's

Working retail in a department store over the holiday season one might think the most frequent refrain I would hear was from a Christmas carol being piped in from the speakers overhead. Instead with each shift I was repeatedly reminded by customers and coworkers “This is no Dayton’s”. For those in the know from Minnesota (and beyond) there is no need to explain what I am talking about, for others I will simply say that Dayton’s was the standard that epitomized a high quality department store in our state for nearly a century. A local business that was owned by the family of our current governor.

When the first fully enclosed and climate-controlled mall in the country was opened in 1956, Southdale in the Minneapolis suburb of Edina was anchored by a Dayton’s. When neighboring communities followed suit with malls of their own; Brookdale (’62), Rosedale (’69) and Ridgedale (’74) got their Dayton’s too. In actuality it’s not that they got a store, the malls themselves were developments of the Dayton (later Dayton-Hudson Corporation) Company. It really all began with George Draper Dayton building a six story building at the corner of Nicollet Avenue and 7th Street in downtown Minneapolis. Though Dayton himself  did not own the first department store to take up tenancy after the 1902 construction, it was only about a year before he bought out the tenant and then his own partners and Dayton’s Dry Goods Company was born. By 1911 it was simply the Dayton’s Company. Our capitol city of St. Paul got a downtown Dayton’s in 1964 as part of an urban renewal project.

While growing up in a household where clothing and other purchases were typically garnered  from the Sears catalog and Montgomery Wards, going to Dayton’s was a special event. The Southdale Dayton’s was a place where my grandfather and his wife would take me for my birthday lunch, followed by the purchase of a new outfit. I typically ordered a cheese burger, despite him telling me to “order anything on the menu” because I feared getting something unfamiliar I might not like. My 1973 wardrobe selection was the misguided purchase of an ill-fitting pantsuit in my favorite color. A purple pantsuit on a chubby fifth grader with a bad haircut was forever captured in my school picture that year. I looked a bit like a Viking’s linebacker, at the time I loved it! My aunt/Godmother also had a fondness for taking me to the Valley View restaurant on the top floor on special outings. Lunch at Dayton’s felt very grownup! More on that in We All Have to Grow Up Sometime (http://wp.me/p4kcbr-vF).

The downtown Minneapolis Dayton’s was a store less visited in my youth, though the street level exterior window displays were lovely and I recall a childhood visit to Santa there. The real reason to go there was for the 8th Floor Holiday Display, an annual fantasy based on a children’s book or a theme, it was a delightful spectacle unlike any other childhood experience I can remember. Dayton’s was synonymous with Christmas to the point where going through family slides with one of my brothers last week we noted the Dayton’s boxes under my father’s childhood Christmas tree in the 1940’s. Later it would be the Santa Bear that lured shoppers in at the holidays. A pre-Beanie Baby collectible stuffed animal (first available in 1985) that was in high demand and still keeps auctions going on eBay despite 2007 being their last year of production.

Santabear

Dayton’s was a clean and fashionable store with knowledgeable and helpful sales associates who were likely dressed and accessorized with Dayton’s merchandise. When I did venture to Dayton’s with my own parents it was typically to purchase shoes. The Southdale children’s shoe department featured a glorious gazebo in the center (sort of Howard Johnson’s orange and aqua painted bent steel) where after a professional had slipped your heel into the shoe of your choice with the aid of a shoe horn, you were able to ascend the stairway and “model” them. A nice way to be sure the shoes were neither too big or too small and allowing the salesman to view the child’s foot and press the toe of the shoes without needing to stoop over. I recall the painstaking selections at various points throughout my childhood; white patent leather for Easter, a black patent leather for church, a brown leather and suede for my cousin Suzy’s wedding (to go with my Maxi dress) and the first time I recall requesting anything by brand was my navy blue Jack Purcell “bumper” tennis shoes, which I’m sure cost a lot more than the Sears equivalent that did not say Jack Purcell on the heel.

Frango

Now that you have been regaled with all of the things that Dayton’s was, it is time to share with you why the repetition of “This is no Dayton’s” filled my holiday season. While Dayton’s purchased Marshall Field’s in 1990 and eventually re-branded their own stores under the Marshall Field’s moniker in 2001, little changed in the traditions of the stores with the exception of the addition of Frango mints. I was not working for either Dayton’s or Marshall Field’s this holiday season, I was working for Macy’s at Southdale which is the company which took over a decade ago. For anyone familiar with the 1947 movie Miracle on 34th Street it seems clear that Macy’s has a Christmas tradition as well, parts of the film are even used in their training videos. Despite their own legacy they have not only eliminated the Santabear, in 2008 the tradition of a new theme annually for the holiday display at their flagship store ended and ushered in a Santa Land that is the same every year. As I read an article this week in which Macy’s announced the closing of forty of their stores, I couldn’t help but wonder if it was some of these choices (likely made by corporate heads that did not grow up with these traditions) that ultimately impacted sales. I will acknowledge that none of the stores closing are in Minnesota but with a large company it’s unclear if this is an attempt to stop the bleeding or will ultimately be the beginning of the end. In Minnesota when weather can be foul and it’s just as easy to shop online it seems that having a novel display or item to draw customers into your store, perhaps even remind people of their childhoods and develop traditions to share with their own children would be an economic advantage.

Despite my musings and observations, those are not even the factors that garnered the unflattering comparisons to Dayton’s. What customers and employees cite are the same things I have experienced over the years as a consumer. Before I get to those observations I would prefer to share some of the positives that I experienced during my seven week holiday schedule. The managers at Southdale were kind, friendly and helpful people, they knew their stuff and empowered me as an employee to make decisions in the customers best interest at every turn and call upon them as needed. Many members of the team were young and relatively new, I am hopeful they are gaining skills to use in other management positions down the road. It is also my hope that they don’t burn out, the staffing needs and other limitations appear to have them working truly crazy hours. With that disclaimer I will share my insights, the first one being there is not enough staff, a customer should not have to hunt for a person to sell them something, a recent Star Tribune letter to the editor made the same commentary regarding the downtown Minneapolis location. The fixtures are tired, in need of replacement or repair, most dating back to Dayton’s. The new Backstage racks which gathers final clearance items into several locations strikes me as disastrous. Customers and I both prefer to shop a clearance rack in the location of the brands we are accustomed to shopping. The “final” pricing on such items means coupons do not apply, coupons being one of the greatest frustrations to shoppers in the first place! It is only compounded when trying to get to a total purchase price of $50 or $100 to use an applicable coupon, only to find out that the last season’s tank top you added to your pile from Backstage can’t be applied to the total. Cleanliness is perhaps the biggest complaint I heard about. Since most of my buying over the last several years has been for my kids I have not spent much time in the fitting rooms. Use of fitting rooms has changed dramatically from the era when I shopped with girlfriends and one of us rehung the garments and returned them. I had one woman tell me she will not buy clothing because she fears it has been on the floor at some point. The worn carpets, pins, tags and general need for vacuuming and dusting of the dressing rooms, wrap desks and displays reflect a different (lower) standard than what Dayton’s customers were accustomed to.

As an extrovert I enjoyed interacting with the customers and while I recognize it’s impossible to train seasonal help in all areas I often felt that there were simply things I had not been made aware of. While I would seek out the information I needed I noticed many of my peers simply avoided dealing with things, often using their shift as a personal shopping opportunity. As a “global associate” I had scheduled shifts in twelve departments, few of the regular associates were familiar with what I meant when I would arrive and say “Hi, I’m Nancy. I’ll be working here today.” they would ask where I normally worked and I would respond with “I’m global.” Many of the men and women I worked with had been with the company since the Dayton’s days and were surprised when I was not busy ringing up sales or doing returns that I was folding clothing, returning items to racks or asking how I could be of assistance. Most noted that seasonal help were often less than helpful. In several departments coworkers asked that if I came back as part time that I work in their department. A lot had changed in work ethic since my last stint working retail in a department store which ended with the birth of my oldest, over twenty years ago. Even the attendance policy seemed designed not to encourage a sense of commitment to the position or foster team work. It’s my understanding that other businesses also use a point system now which grants an initial number of points, allows you to gain points for fulfilling your work schedule as planned and deducts points for no-shows. The point value varies depending on if they are weekend shifts or consecutive shifts. I called in to explain that I would not be in when I was sick prior to a shift but that was because I was totally uncomfortable with not needing to. When I arrived at 7:30 a.m. on Black Friday and was told that one department had four no-shows and several others were shorthanded as well, I simply thought “why would someone show up on the busiest day of the year to work if the only thing keeping them from sleeping in or going out shopping themselves was the repercussion of losing points?”. Since retail is often an entry level job for many I worry that this is setting employees up with the wrong idea of what being a loyal employee consists of.

Employee expectations were not the only thing that had changed since I last worked a cash register, customers have changed too. While I met some really delightful people and helped some very appreciative patrons, I also met some overtly unkind, mean-spirited people and simply rude people. The most shocking customer was one who brought a specific brand item from a neighboring department. Having worked in the department it came from earlier in the week I knew there was no clearance rack and I was also aware that while the brand would on occasion have a 20% off sale that coupons would not apply to it. When I scanned the item it came up as $99. The item had a tag on it that read “Original Price $89” and the tagged sale price was $39.99. I did not feel comfortable overriding it since the price the tag was generating exceeded what the clearance tag indicated was the original price. I said “It will be a moment, I need to contact a manager.” at which point she pulled out her phone and shouted “I’m taping you, I want that  for the price on the tag. I have never been treated this poorly in my life.” My thought was she must have had a super easy life if this was the worst thing she had ever experienced. I would personally rank getting home from a trip to a drive-thru an order of fries short as a much higher infraction. The situation escalated when I was unable to reach a manager. She kept repeating LOUDLY that she wanted the item for the price on the tag. I suggested that the department (one register over) the item was from might be the quickest way to override the discrepancy. “I’m not going anywhere, I want it for the price on the tag. I’m taping you.” By then I wanted to reapply my lipstick in the unlikely event that a recording of me being the most patient Macy’s employee being harassed by a customer were to go viral. So I walked the item over to the next bay myself and asked the seasoned veteran I had worked a shift with what to do. She acknowledged that it was not a sale item and then saw a manager who I was able to pass the situation on to. Ultimately the manager just sold it to her for the incorrect price, perhaps less enthusiastic than I at the prospect of becoming an internet star. This practice lent itself to some of the other situations I least enjoyed, customers who tried to goad me into making price reductions by saying insulting things “What does it matter, they don’t pay you well anyway.” What matters is my integrity and the fact that I’m not a thief and that if everyone simply reduced prices for customers that would be an unsustainable business model. While I do believe that a flexible return policy is an important factor, I think that kowtowing to cheap and unreasonable customers who are ripping the company off is neither beneficial to the store’s employees or the bottom line. If tighter policies were to prevent customers of that ilk from returning, perhaps a more refined clientele would again enjoy shopping there. On the occasions I dealt with this sort of unsavory shopper the next customer in line would inevitably shake their head apologetically and murmur “This is no Dayton’s”.

So my work there is over (for this season anyway) but I will return for the occasional One Day Sale (which ironically lasts two days) but there will be no Daisy Sale or Jubilee Sale because if you know anything by now it’s that Macy’s is no Dayton’s and it’s no Miracle on 66th Street* either!

 

 

*Macy’s Southdale is located at the corner of 66th and France

 

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An Afternoon Matinee

Woman

I enjoy going to weekday movie matinees. They are economical and relaxing. I prefer not having to listen to the conversations of those who think of the cinema as their own living room and choosing to converse with their companions throughout the viewing.

My exception is the few occasions where I have attended screenings prior to a new release. I am more than happy to arrive early to such an event and share my armrests with strangers.

Today, after a couple of morning errands I went to Southdale to catch the recently released Woman in Gold. Because of an ankle surgery and an additional condition I have called “Theater Knee” I tend to arrive early so I am able to sit in the front row of the back section. My plan is that once everyone is seated I am then able to elevate my feet on the bars in front of me.

Typically I take the second or third seat from the aisle (leaving the ones to my left vacant) and place my handbag on the seat to my right, as well as popcorn if I get it. Theater floors are too sticky for a handbag and unless the seats are filled I see no reason to hold my sizable tote on my lap. Another component of my early arrival and calculated seat selection is I know that frequently I have to use the restroom during a movie and do not wish to climb over others when departing and returning.

Sometimes there is no more than one other ticket holder in the entire audience and rarely are there more than 20 people at a midweek matinee during the school year. Today when I arrived there was one person in the end seat of the row behind my preferred selection. Then two women arrived and went to the far end of “my row” and took the seats opposite of mine (the third and fourth in from the far aisle) and instantly put their feet up. A few other solo folks came and made their way to higher seats but all were scattered unless they arrived with someone.

Just as the ads were ending and prior to the trailers beginning two older women walked in, they made their way into my aisle, past my seat to the vacant dozen seats between the other early arrivals and myself. The women looked down at my purse and the popcorn bag that my hand is in and one inquired “Is this seat taken?”. I responded “No” and relocated my purse and popcorn across my body to the immediate vacant seat to my left. Upon further evaluation she then stated “You wouldn’t mind moving to this one, would you?” indicating that I be seated in the seat that had only recently held my purse and popcorn. I acquiesced and they “sat me in” bladder be damned! Immediately putting their feet on the railing and saying “We are old and like to put our feet up.” barely noticing my response of “Of course, that is why I always arrive early.”

I chuckled to myself as they broke into a conversation about family and friends. One of them spoke of her advice to her grandson who would soon be graduating from high school and headed to St. Thomas University, while his girlfriend was going to school in Indiana “I told him to hang onto her, she’s from a wealthy family and he might never need to work another day in his life.” I tried to envision how much work he had done in his life at this point that would make him want to not have to work after going to college. Then they both talked through the first trailer about people who had the nerve to call them at a quarter to eight in the morning. Probably some well meaning relatives that “have to work” that wished to check in before their work days began. The nerve.

The next trailer was for a Woody Allen production where Joaquin Phoenix portrays a professor, in which he displays an arc of moods in a hastily spliced synopsis. The one firmly stated her disapproval of him and the other whispered “I think he’s sexy.” Thankfully the lights went down further and the show I had paid to see began. I liked it very much, despite needing to use the restroom during the final half hour. As you can imagine, when the show was over, they kept their feet up on the bars all the way until the lights came up. For $5.35, I got more than my fair share of entertainment for one afternoon!

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