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Tuesday, August 7, 2001

When you get to be as old as I am, every day can be the anniversary of something momentous. On the other hand, my own personal life hasn't veered off on new courses all that often. I worked at my first real job after college for four years, the second one for eight and a half years, and the third one for fifteen years. Throw in a year or so of other activities, add in some rounding errors, and you could figure out my age, if you didn't already know I was 52.

My favorite job started on this date in 1977, almost half my life ago. It was the first time I'd been recruited for a position. I'd worked in a small town family shoe store until the owners retired earlier that year. I was there long enough that I got to know most of the customers, and they got to know me. It was a comfortable situation, and I developed a self-confidence with people that I'd never felt before.

When the owners were selling out their inventory and fixtures, a man who owned another shoe store came in to look things over. R talked to me about the possibility of my coming to work for him when he opened his second store in August.

Between March and August of that year I worked in the shoe department of an upscale clothing store. I had to dress in a sport coat and tie, and I dealt with people with whom I had nothing in common. They were the kind of customers who expected to be treated as if they were above everyone else.

It was a tricky situation, because the store was gradually being run into the ground by poor buying decisions and lack of inventory. I didn't have what people wanted, and it wasn't in me to convince them that they wanted what I had. It was especially difficult because, having worked for a quality operation the previous four years, I knew I was selling overpriced junk.

I hated that job, and as soon as R opened his new store, I was ready to move on. Now I was dealing mostly with mothers and children, and I loved going to work. For some reason, I related to the kinds of people who were interested in having their children properly fitted with quality shoes. I believed in what I was doing, and I grew to believe that I was good at it.

At first, though, I was the new guy. It was almost as if I'd married into a family and had to find a way to fit into a network of existing relationships. As I grew more familiar with how things worked, and more at ease with the people I worked with, I became part of that family. I thought I was set for life, and I often wish it had worked out that way.

Shasta Lake

Water sports.

My life at the shoe store lasted another eight and a half years, and I was happy there for the first eight. It ended badly, with misunderstandings and bitterness, and I'll tell that story some day. I've never really examined that part of my life, and I've definitely underplayed it on job applications in the time since.

What I say is that new owners took over and they wanted their own people in charge. Since I was a manager at the time, I was out. That's the skeleton of the truth, but it leaves out a lot of painful details. Maybe on the anniversary of my last day there, I'll flesh them out.

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