Herb’s blog, Herbdate 22116-687:
I was over at A.J. McGregor’s blog Saturday night and read her post called, “Other Things # 7 – One of My Most Insensitive Moments“. I felt her pain and understood how it feels to say something and as soon as it escapes from between your teeth you know you have made an awful, egregious error or lapse in judgment and can’t get it back. Hers was more serious, I think, than the one I am going to relate to you. I don’t remember if I have ever told this story here before or not.
Before I tell this simple story the setting is crucial to understanding it, especially if you have not ever experienced a northern winter. Where I am from in Wisconsin the winter temperatures are of below zero Fahrenheit and more often than not below zero Celsius as well. For weeks at a time. Then there is the snow. It can snow several feet at a time and they have the equipment to remove. School closures for snow are very rare. And while here and in other mild climates the snow might stay around for a few days and then it melts away. Not up there. It gets piled up and sometimes the snowbanks are taller than you. You have to scrape the snow off the roof of your house or it could be damaged by the weight of it and/or the melting and re-freezing of it in Spring. Winter starts toward the end of October and lasts through February into March. In December and January, it’s nothing to have a “cold snap” and it stay -30F for a couple of weeks.
I worked in an old-fashioned retail department store. I was about 16, I think. We operated on the sound principles of fair pricing and good customer service and were part of a chain that at one time had 33 stores in Northern Wisconsin, the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and even Iowa called Lauerman Brothers Department Stores. By the time I worked there it was down to three or four stores. It was probably in January, 1976 when I was working stocking shelves. I was wearing a short sleeved dress shirt with a tie. While I was putting merchandise on the shelf a lady approached me and said, “Excuse me, young man, but do you work here?” You ever hear that song by Johnny Cash called Foolish Questions? I’m putting merchandise on the shelves wearing a short sleeved dress shirt with a tie in the middle of winter, the wind was howling up a storm that would surely become a blizzard and do I work here. I said, “No lady. I’m a mannequin!” I thought that was extremely clever of me and expected her to laugh. I mean it was funny and a pretty stupid question, but she didn’t see it that way. She turned around angrily and stomped out the door.
And called my boss and gave him an earful. Ray Schuster was a wonderful , big-hearted man who would do anything to help somebody out. He was always calm and quick to smile and laugh. He was a down-to-earth, easy-going kind of guy. He never yelled and I only saw him raise his voice one time in the five years I worked for him (no, not at me). I can unequivocally say that I never worked for a better boss. But he was not happy with me. He reiterated the story to me and he even chuckled when he said, “Did you say, ‘no lady, I’m a mannequin?'” I shuffled my feet and told him I just meant it as a joke. “Well, we can’t talk that way to the customers. Some people don’t have any sense of humor and then they call me up and talk my ear off for half-an-hour, so, don’t do that again, okay?”
And that was that. Ray taught me a lesson that served me well in any retail job I’ve ever had since.