A Special Salesperson

COTTLE, THOMAS J.

A SPECIAL SALESPERSON TOM COTTLE When Leah Cramer's mother diedójust 17 months after her father hadóLeah was sent from the little town in Virginia that had been her home to New York, to live with...

...and Children's Secrets...
...It's the same with shirts, blouses, gloves, shoes, all the departments I worked in one time or another...
...And we danced...
...Through the glass, through the metal bars they had over the windows, people were getting stuck to those shoes...
...He and me, we'd play cards, nobody would beat us...
...Once it touches their body they'll never let go of it...
...I remember him standing in front of a cleaning shop...
...A psychiatrist would understand, right...
...No matter what after-school job she held, she invariably saw ways to improve the business...
...I wanted things then and thought I deserved them...
...Then you multiply by two: Do you listen when he talks...
...and I said I will not...
...I have a birthday, I still get cards...
...And, much to her own surprise, several of her employers accepted her ideas and put them into practice...
...I wasn't always fat, and I wasn't always old...
...And he said how come, and I said I've got reasons...
...Who knows, maybe I was ruining something far more important...
...He told me he had some illness and I got scared...
...I should have gone to college...
...Someone, somewhere, there's a reason...
...I have my health which, believe me, is number one...
...You were going shopping and that meant you were alive, you were going to make yourself better than you were an hour ago, or yesterday...
...On social security now I'm almost better off than I was then...
...I saw it in the way these women acted with their husbands...
...But who's around to give you the answers when you need them...
...By the time she completed high school, her head was Tilled with dreams of business triumphs...
...Now we're laughing...
...I didn't stay the same, exactly, but I didn't grow...
...I never forgot what card was played in a game...
...Forget everything, your parents, illnesses, marry him, he's a doll...
...Believe me, I know the feeling...
...I don't have enough time to waste it on that...
...And I'm not so sure their husbands cared either because hate it or love it, when they were carrying on in the store in front of a few people, what they were really saying was 'look at us, we're not poor, we're buying merchandise and we're arguing over whether we like it or not, we're not arguing over the price, which means we can afford it which means we're alive.' "I was a business person...
...Still, Leah seemed happy enough...
...Maybe I could grow from it...
...Who doesn't look back at the Buddy Shimskys in their life and wonder just a little bit about them...
...I have plenty of reasons,' I told him...
...We had commission sales then, with a salary so low you had to trap those people into buying...
...Tattle Tale is leaning over the counter and telling me, 'Leah, can't you give me a little off this blouse...
...You cried and felt your heart break because standing on the corner of Grand Concourse Boulevard, or on Saxon Street near Van Cortland Park, you knew the great Buddy Shimsky had stood you up and was slinking around with someone else and you had the whole horrible weekend to think about and feel sorry for yourself and prepare yourself for Monday morning at nine o'clock when Mrs...
...The tears, the laughing, and this cleaning store man screaming at us how we're blocking his window...
...It was like bait...
...To see an old man in his shirt sleeves and a vest working with an iron...
...So Buddy Shimsky said will you...
...The dream of being wealthy was lived out in the buying...
...they're future style, if you know what I mean...
...But you put a pair of shoes in the window and you had them...
...And then there's this part: While I'm all over again fighting back the tears which I thought were out of me from crying over the weekend, the very same Mrs...
...Everyone said that she was a girl with talent...
...Mrs...
...People like to think they have their own saleslady...
...I don't ever once in my life remember feeling like I could cry because I couldn't have what I wanted...
...What a skunk!' They were all skunks...
...Not this kid...
...I have books, I watch my television, I have a radio, I have a man who picks up my laundry for me...
...We danced together, alone, with music, without music...
...A story begins one way and can end millions of different ways...
...Just ask yourself, when you talk, does he hear what you're telling him...
...The Aaron children never seemed to get used to the idea that one of the family's "orphans," as they called Leah, was part of their household...
...My first job after high school, oh, do I remember, was in the glove department of a department store that should have been torn down ten years before it was ever open...
...Poor people, working people...
...Edith was plainly irritated by having to share her bedroom with Leah, and though they attended the same school, the two cousins made a point of choosing different friends...
...It could have been a different life...
...I'd lost both my parents so maybe something in me, like a mechanism, told me to look out...
...Forty years I haven't seen him but his face is in my brain like with lights on it...
...I could picture all of it, believe me when I tell you that...
...Number two: I should have married Buddy Shimsky...
...Inside I was already Rockefeller...
...So tell them you're buying it for yourself and pass it on to me...
...It was a living, and for a good many years I didn't give up the idea that something a touch more important might just come out of it...
...Then you love him.' I loved Buddy Shimsky...
...Berg-dorf Goodman won't dress the body...
...They barely had money for food...
...You want to know what financial security is left at my stage of life...
...It's over, but I lived, so something could have been worse...
...they knew it, I knew it, but if you don't keep the dreams alive people don't want to be alive...
...They can't resist it once they've put it on...
...What do I deserve at eighty-six...
...I grew a little...
...You stand and you wait and every nineteen seconds you ask somebody what the time is, and the movie's going to start and you're hungry and you're crying 'cause Buddy Shimsky with his great brain for cards, or Freddy this one or Alvin that one could forget...
...Other kids were going to the movies or playing in the streetsóif you had a nickel you could go to the movies and eat and go on a streetcar somewhere...
...So now here he is pleading and crying and the tailor from the store is waving at him through the glass that he should move because we've covering up his sign...
...Acting and music appealed to her, but so did the idea of becoming a business executive...
...If not, at least an affair, if I even knew what that meant in those days...
...Complain...
...Leah, tell me, what's coming in...
...There were chances, lots of chances...
...God, someone has a plan, and who am I to say my piece of the plan, my role in this thing is unfair...
...From the store, nothing, it was all in their dreams, that's all...
...You got to have reasons,' he was yelling at me, and pleading...
...Everybody wonders...
...If he listens he loves...
...Probably it wasn't serious but I wasn't in the mood to take chances...
...No matter how it comes to pass, there's a reason, and people like me don't question that because it's a waste of precious time...
...You know what could make me cry...
...I don't spend my days wondering how it might have been...
...I liked it because I always believed I was doing something that was substantial...
...But we never felt bad that we didn't have those things...
...I used to tell a customer, go try it on...
...Private Lives and Public Accounts...
...I left myself wide open every now and again, but I protected myself...
...They didn't care if their husbands hated what they bought...
...I have people in this building who give me what I want...
...I have friends, I supported myself, I never took a dime that I didn't work for...
...Money for shoes...
...I made a few mistakes here and there...
...Maybe I should have had children and grandchildren...
...He was something, that nogoodnik...
...In those days we also didn't have money but we didn't care all that much...
...But that's not the point...
...Number one...
...All of this, of course, was long agoóLeah is eighty-six nowó although when Leah recalls those days, they seem to jump out at her and become as fresh and clear as if they were not yet part of history: "I have those days in my hands whenever I want them...
...I didn't like the standing up all day and the extra hours you worked when they managed not to give you the extra pay you were supposed to get but I liked it fine...
...They won't even be wearing these for six months, a year maybe...
...Like everything else they sell or can't even give away in this store.' "I almost married Buddy Shimsky...
...I get depressed once in a while, but who doesn't...
...There's a plot for me, money the city puts aside for a funeral, so what can happen...
...Outside they saw me as the quiet, polite girl...
...There wasn't a rich person within miles of the place...
...He wanted to marry me, and not just because I gave him discounts in the department stores...
...That's the great sight Buddy Shimsky and I were ruining...
...Something different, something special.' All you had to do was look at that store and you knew nothing special or different ever came in...
...Eppie and Harry Aaron were loving people, but there was no hiding the fact that they were substitutes...
...Would you call me a poor old woman...
...I'm a self sufficient person, I do for myself, and I have people who would give me...
...She did well in school, made friends easily, and handled her household tasks with efficiency...
...But it was substantial...
...I'm sounding like an old woman who does nothing in her life but look back and count the regrets...
...Customers come along and, poof, a little spritz and they'll adore themselves...
...Regrets I have, but I'm not a counter...
...He happened to mention an illness and I got scared...
...Number one, I tell you I should have dropped everything and gone to college...
...You'd hear from a girlfriend or one of your special customers at work Monday morning how she had seen Buddy Shimsky on Friday night with Elaine Tamarack...
...I had three hours to tell him as much as he had told me in two and a half days...
...But when it was his turn to listen, he listened...
...Both of us had wonderful brains for cards...
...How close can you get to falling asleep without falling asleep...
...But stay angry because you didn't have or get what others got and had, that I can tell you with eighty-six years of experience behind me is a waste of precious time...
...He never forgot what card was played in every game he ever played...
...I lost my parents too early in my life, and I didn't let Buddy Shimsky and a few other nogood-niks I haven't told you about get into my life, but what am I supposed to do...
...I was the person who connected them with their dreams, their special saleslady...
...Luxury no, but everything a person needs I have...
...Anybody comes into the store and says so matter of factly, 'Didn't I see you standing in front of the cinema Friday night...
...People remember...
...I worked a million jobs in a million stores...
...They can't sit around telling anybody they meet how life played them a dirty trick...
...I don't think so...
...But me, I was trying to figure out how I could turn a candy store into a factory, or a linen.shop into a department store...
...Or worse than that, they could remember, only something better came up...
...Did your date ever show up...
...You think we had rich people coming into that store...
...Buddy Shimsky's waving back at him like he should drop dead, so now the tailor comes out on the street and yells at us to go fight somewhere else...
...That hurt...
...Buddy Shimsky, he could start a conversation with meówhich meant, of course, him doing all the talkingóhe could start maybe on Friday after work 'cause we'd both work late usually on Fridays, and sometime about dinner on Sunday he'd look at his watch and say, Oi, have I done all the talking...
...If they can't steal that spritzer they'll buy it...
...I Thomas J. Cottle, a contributing editor of moment, is lecturer on Psychology at Harvard Medical School...
...There's nothing I need I don't have...
...It was bottom of the line, imitation shlock...
...Sure they'll steal from you, but they'll buy too...
...don't want it to sound like all I'm telling you is a package of regrets...
...You talk, Leah, 'cause you're a better talker.' I was, too...
...Oh, you told them it didn't matter to you, there were millions of fish in the sea, but who was I kidding...
...Then a little voice said, you're not marrying him, you're marrying the scene...
...You want people to buy, you put all kinds of merchandise all over the place, pile it up high, and let them be able to play with it in their hands...
...You see, in those days we took what we had and lived with it...
...My point is that you didn't cry over a yacht you'd never own or a gown you could sell which meant you touched it, kissed it, maybe, but couldn't even think of buying...
...I told myself once, 'Don't listen to them when they tell you how much they love you...
...I should have gone to college...
...Half the cases were empty...
...I'll tell you something, I'm not happy about what I'm talking about...
...People have to make themselves happy too, you know...
...How close did I get to marrying Buddy Shimsky...
...A SPECIAL SALESPERSON TOM COTTLE When Leah Cramer's mother diedójust 17 months after her father hadóLeah was sent from the little town in Virginia that had been her home to New York, to live with her father's cousin's family...
...Who knows, maybe another mistake...
...Sixty years later it still bothers me...
...And Leah thought of careers...
...There I was, eighteen years old and trying to scheme ways that would trap people into buying my goods...
...He could make a list that would make your mouth water...
...How can I hide the facts from myself...
...Shimsky and yours truly...
...I have my own teeth, how many people my age can tell you that...
...Deep down, way inside me, there is sadness and happiness...
...Stand me up with other women, leave me in the rain in front of a theater miles from my house, that wasn't the deciding thing...
...Like a movie star, wherever I went, I was the special saleslady...
...One store would move me around because they knew I could sell whatever they wanted to get rid of...
...The main thing is I've convinced myself there's a reason for life working out like it does...
...That's how close I got with Buddy Shimsky...
...We didn't have money in those days...
...You can lie down, you can put your feet up, you can close your eyes, you can dream, even, and you're still not asleep...
...No, no...
...I have led a very full life...
...I had to be...
...Gorgeous, I can tell you, I wasn't, but a disaster I also wasn't...
...The other half had merchandise that had been there exactly three thousand years...
...Buddy Shimsky could make lists of things he'd buy if he ever made a fortune...
...What did people want to look at through the window there, I wondered...
...Pearlstein, we've just gotten in a shipment, a limited shipment of suede gloves...
...Knowing that my death won't kill anybody else...
...It's a third rate blouse to begin with, right...
...The Aarons had little money to spend on her, but for someone with her qualities, many careers seemed possible...
...Buddy's laughing with the tears and all, and in an instant I said to myself, go ahead, Leah, marry him...
...A funeral, right, and that's as good as paid for, so I'm set...
...I am a satisfied person...
...Shimsky and all the stinkers who couldn't wait to talk to me about it at the store...
...You do...
...That really is standing in front of a theater waiting for someone to come when you know they're not coming...
...Number two, I shouldn't have been such a big shot in my own head...
...Don't worry, too, we had plenty of affairs, Mr...
...God only knows the money wasn't anything to write home about, not that I had a home to write to...
...That tore your heart out, believe me...
...Their whole personality, they'll decide, is sitting on that counter...
...I sure put on the weight...
...You get a discount, right...
...Modest I was, but tell me a little dream and I had an imagination that went to work...
...You leave perfumes out...
...Making a date and Shimsky didn't show...
...If you could ever tell a girl friend, 'come on Sadie, let's go shopping,' and she could say, 'wait, I'll get my wallet' which was a sign she might buy a little something, it meant you weren't poor...
...What did they expect...
...And we talked...
...Not true...
...How many times in a person's life, after all, does death have to make a visit...
...Yachts, houses, cars...
...Believe me, I've protected myself, plenty...
...His recent books include Adolescence: Current Perspectives...
...Don't worry yourself, I knew...
...I figure there's a reason...
...But it didn't happen that way...
...Then we had our special customers...
...Maybe they weren't such good reasons but they were reasons...
...I don't think about them as happy or sad, they were just there...
...I think he was crying he was so upset...

Vol. 5 • June 1980 • No. 6


 
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