First Advice for Those Entering Retail Sales

If he were walking around the streets today, the richest man I ever knew might be mistakenly thought to be homeless. His clothes were well-worn, almost threadbare, the leather on his shoes was cracked, and he wore no jewellery. The man who accompanied him might be mistaken for a carer of some sort, except that this man was always wearing a tailored suit with fashionable leather shoes, carried a literal bag of money, and he was never without the aid of a reliable and recognisable timepiece. This sharp dressed man was, of course, was the personal assistant to Mr. Phipps, the bedraggled banker he served quietly and with great decorum. 

This PA (let’s call him Johnson, because I never had any idea what his name was) saw to the messy details of Mr. Phipp’s life such as paying for services, food, and the few material items Mr. Phipps might require. Mr. Johnson had an easy job, as Mr. Phipps was as gentle as he was austere. Mr. Phipps also knew that money was about the filthiest thing you could touch, so he never touched it unless it was fresh from the mint. Any previously used money was handled strictly by Mr. Johnson, who took his chances with the germ-ridden currency, but still saw to wash his hands frequently. 

I had a fairly intimate relationship with Mr. Phipps myself. At least I guess it was more intimate that what most of the local 12-year-old boys had with him—I shined his shoes. The leather was old and cracked, as I said, but I did my best to restore it and bring the shine back. He always seemed grateful for my efforts, and he’d have Mr. Johnson reward my labor handsomely by the standards of a 12-year-old shine boy. 

I think of him every time I hear a salesperson brag about the ability to size up potential customers as soon as they walk through the door. “I can tell right off,” they’ll say, “whether someone is ready to spend money. Or even has any money to spend.” The snap judgement and dismissive following behaviour serve only to fulfil the bigoted prophesy. But I suppose our days are filled with nothing but minor miscalculations. We trip over our own feet constantly but usually carry on to walk again. 

Galena Park Memories (a story)

“Hey, Kenneth! You gotta birthday comin’ up, dontcha?” one of them blurted from the end of the counter.

“Yessir,” came the diffident reply.

“I think I’m gonna buy you a tractor. You think you’d like that?” the boisterous Screenshot 2019-03-25 at 13.31.33interrogation continued.

“Yessir.”

“I know you need sumpin’ to pull your head out of your ass!” With that, the guffaws erupted from all four at the end of the counter—all pleased with their comedic wit.

Those bullies said Kenneth was “retarded,” and they seemed to think that made it okay to talk to him like that. I was just a kid and didn’t know if words like “retarded” were bad or not, but I felt sorry for Kenneth. I don’t know how smart he was, but I know he never got my order wrong, and he could make a pretty mean grilled cheese.

He was born and raised in Galena Park, just like them bullies were, except he didn’t seem to mind it so much. I liked him because he never seemed to have anything to prove, and the cherry sodas he made were delicious. He never treated me like a kid, and I never treated him like one, either, even if he was like 40 or something.

I think that’s what bothered them bullies so much. Kenneth didn’t care. He didn’t get mad or cry or anything. He just made cherry sodas and grilled cheeses and kept the drugstore counter spotless all the while.

He was a good man, and them bullies knew it. But they had to try to convince people they were better than Kenneth, because everyone knew they damn sure weren’t any better than anyone else. And they weren’t any better than Kenneth, either.