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Working Christmas at Macy's Department Store in the Wine and Liquor Department

For my Christmas job, Macy's assigned me to the wine and liquor department. I soon learned that those people in the back room on the banks of telephones were taking orders for cases of liquor to be delivered to various dress factories for their Christmas parties (Macy’s being on 34th Street was right in the middle of the garment industry). Several of the whiskey suppliers offered stims to the retail salespeople in order to "stimulate" more business. Usually a nickel on a bottle, but that translated to sixty cents a case. I managed to get myself transferred from the front counter to one of the telephone lines and when a secretary called to order five or six cases of blended whiskey, could easily switch her over to Four Roses or Calvert, or whatever else was stimmed. They didn’t care (or know the difference) as long as it was delivered on time.

As a result, my first week’s paycheck, instead of being the forty-six dollars and change I was hired at, came to over a hundred and a quarter. The second week it approached two-hundred-fifty. On Monday morning of the third week, just before we opened for business, the assistant buyer of the department gathered all the employees about him. Standing on a chair where he could be seen and heard, declared that he wasn’t going to name any names, but that Macy’s had a reputation for delivering to the customer exactly what the customer wished to order. He wasn’t going to pursue the matter any further, but he expected his message to get through to everybody.

It most certainly got through to me and I doubled my efforts to make more than three hundred dollars for that week. Of course, it was common knowledge among the other salespeople what I was doing, some of the old timers had been with Macy’s for many years, and were just working to make a living and get their pensions, which were rather generous. It was still an era of that very dear thing we’ve lost in the past several generations called corporate loyalty.

When I went home with my first paycheck and showed it to my father, he could hardly believe it. In 1948 he was taking home a salary of about five hundred a week, a small fortune then. When I hit more than three hundred several weeks in a row, he just shook his head in bewilderment.

We never got another lecture from the assistant buyer, but when Christmas season was over and they were starting to let people go, he took me off to a corner one day.

"Mr. Jason," he said, "the buyer and I have had our eyes on you almost from your first day here."

Oh-oh, I thought, I’m really going to get it in the neck now.

"We’ve spoken with some of our superiors." It was more serious than I imagined. "And," he went on, "We want to know if you’d like to stay at Macy’s and enter a junior management training program?"

I looked at him for a second or two. "That’s very nice of you, but, you see, I’m an actor, and I just needed this job to tide me over."

"We imagined you were in theater and, frankly, I had a feeling you might not accept. If you change your mind, here’s my card."

The best part, beside the money, was that I’d begun to learn about wine.

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