Friday, November 11, 2011

A Muncie Boyhood: Stock Boy in Ladies Apparel

The old K-Mart South building on South Walnut Street in Muncie, Indiana
Looking back on it now, I’m having a hard time deciding if the stories I’m about to share took place during my junior year or senior year of high school. There are some factors that make me think junior year, and others that make me think senior. I suppose it doesn’t matter all that much, but it is frustrating to not be able to pin it down. There’s a saying that time heals all wounds, but I think it should be restated as “time fuzzies all memories.”

I had two jobs before I graduated from high school. First, I worked at my uncle’s gas station…Keith’s Union 76…located at 18th and Macedonia Avenue. I pumped gas, added oil, sprayed off the lot, and played poker with Roach, the old guy that usually ran the place. It was a pretty easy job most of the time, but I did have a couple of interesting situations.

For example, I was asked to drive down to some lady’s house to charge her car battery. I was given the electric charger and sent on my way. The trouble was that I was never trained on how to operate the charger, so I hooked up the cables opposite of how they were supposed to be hooked. I knew something was wrong when the little needle that was to show the progress of the charge was popping back and forth instead of just steadily moving to the right. It all worked out. No harm, no foul. But, I think someone told me later that I could have caused the battery to explode.

That would have been bad.

My second job was at K-Mart South in Muncie, Indiana. As a teen boy in the late seventies, there weren’t a huge number of options for jobs. My cousin worked at one of the grocery stores, and he did really well. He earned enough money to buy his own brand new Chevy Camaro! Cherry red! Can you spell J.E.A.L.O.U.S? After I saw that, and the fact that I got tired of bumming money off of my dad every time I wanted to go out on a date, I decided I needed a job. K-Mart was a logical choice, so I went and filled out an application. Soon, the phone rang, I had an interview, and I got the job…

Stockboy in Ladies Apparel!

Now, depending on how you look at it, this could be a teenage boy’s dream or a teenage boy’s nightmare. I mean, I had to hang, tag, and display women’s clothing, lingerie, and underwear. On the other hand, I had to hang, tag, and display women’s clothing, lingerie, and underwear. Both exciting and embarrassing at the same time.

K-Mart was set up in departments. Each department had a manager, sales staff, and often a stockperson. In addition to the departmental stocking staff, there was a set of storewide stock boys and general managers. This fact will be important a few paragraphs down.

Ladies Apparel had one stock boy. Me. I had a number of general duties, but the primary reason for my existence was to carry the heavy boxes of clothing up and down the stairs. A shipment would arrive, and I would have to carry all the bulk boxes upstairs and stack them up. As we needed to replenish the display racks, I would have to carry the boxes back down, open them up, put the clothing on hangers as needed, and add the price tags.

Initially, I was supposed to only work maybe four days a week and only maybe three or four hours a night. Soon, that morphed into five hours every night, and then started to creep into Saturdays. After a while, I was working right up to the limit of the number of hours possible without being considered full-time. Good money for a teenage boy…too bad I had a little bit of a lazy streak.

Here’s a few stories from my Ladies Apparel days…

The first time I was asked to work on a Saturday, I learned that the crew had a meeting in the cafeteria an hour before the store opened. Part of the time was a meeting, and part of the time was a few games of bingo…played for prizes…and these folks took their bingo game seriously. So, here I am, the new guy, playing for the first time, playing the first game….and I won!

I thought.

I yelled “BINGO!”

I was wrong. Oops. My mistake, but by the time that was clear, everyone had dumped their cards. My name was mud.

“Stock boy to Ladies Apparel with a mop!”

An interesting feature of the Ladies Apparel stockroom was its proximity to the security office where they took people caught shoplifting. More than once, I was tagging clothes in my area and listening to interrogations at the same time:

“You’re in big trouble, son,” said the mean-sounding security guy.

“I’m sorry,” said the sobbing boy.

“It’s too late to be sorry kid!”

Another time, a boy called his mother:

“Mom,” the boy said meekly. “I’m at K-mart.”

Quiet moment.

“I got caught stealing.”

Loud crying.

“Stock boy to Ladies Apparel with a mop!”

It is amazing how many messes people can make in a department store. Gum on the floor. Spilled drinks. Dropped hotdogs. Puke.

“Stock boy to Ladies Apparel with a mop!”

My manager didn’t want me to spend my time tracking down a mop and bucket to clean it up, so I was supposed to use the storewide intercom to call for a “stock boy to Ladies Apparel with a mop…stockboy to Ladies Apparel with a mop.” I thought that was the way things were supposed to be done, and I was happy to not have to do the clean up, so I did what I was told. I don’t think that made me very popular with the other guys though.

One bright spot of working in this department was all the cute girls. They ALL came to my department to shop. Even one of the girls I worked with was cute…really cute. In fact, I thought she was the cutest one in the store…by far...and she even talked to me. We took our breaks together a lot and became kind of friendly. It didn’t take long for me to develop a little crush on her, but I was too chicken to ask her out. I wanted to. Even my boss knew I wanted to. But, nope…I was too scared.

After I quit K-Mart, I came back in for a visit and my boss asked me why I didn’t ask her out. I told her that I didn’t think she’d go out with me, and that I thought she liked another friend of mine who also worked in the store. “You oughta ask her out anyway,” she said.

I decided to do it. I was going to face my fears. I was going to ask her out.

“Hi Julie.”

“Hi Mike.”

“How ya doing?”

“Pretty good.”

“Hey. I was wonderin’…would you like to go out sometime?”

“Ah, thanks Mike, but I don’t want to mess up my chances to go out with Pat.”

Insert needle into balloon and let all of the air stream out. Deflation.

Under my breath, I said: “Well, you can’t say I didn’t ask.” (Insecurity talking.)

“What?” she said.

“Oh, nothing. See you later.”

At a ninety degree angle from my stock room were the dressing rooms where women would try on various garments. Now, it may come as a shock to you to know that some girls would take clothing in there to try on, and then just leave it on under their regular clothes when they walked out. Thieves. So, there were rules for dressing room use. The girl had to check in with no more than three items. If they had more than that, they had to leave the extra garments with the attendant. They could then step out and exchange items to finish the fitting.

As a rule, one of the girls in the department acted as the attendant, but once in a while, if everyone else had to be elsewhere, they would ask me to step over and check women in and out. Normally, this wasn’t a problem. After all, the attendant window was open to the store and open to the stock room. One day, though, wasn’t normal. The store was busy. Lots of customers. Heavy traffic in the fitting room. Women checked in. The attendant had to step away. I stepped up.

One woman had gone into the first room, but had one too many tops to try on, so she left one with the attendant. The thing is, since the attendant was another woman…or so she thought…she didn’t bother to put her own shirt back on before stepping out to exchange garments.

Ooops. Can you spell E.M.B.A.R.R.A.S.S.E.D?

I nearly snapped my own neck by turning away as fast as I could. The woman ducked back in, dressed, and quickly departed…leaving her garments with me.

“Stock boy to Ladies Apparel with a mop!”

Right before summer began, I decided to quit K-Mart and give up the bundles of cash (they paid us in actual cash, which often didn’t make it out of the store), so that I could enjoy all the summer activities with my youth group buddies. I gave my notice to my manager, and worked out my two weeks. On my last day, I found myself sitting in the break room in the rear of the store. I can’t remember what I was doing. I was just sitting at a little round table waiting for my free time to end on my final day hanging and tagging ladies clothing. In walked one of the storewide general managers.

“I need to talk to you,” he said.

“Okay.”  I replied.

“From now on, you need to clean up your own messes. I don’t want you calling my guys with a mop anymore. You can clean up your own department. You got that?”  He ordered.

“Sure. No problem. I won’t do it again, I promise.”

A couple of hours later I went home, and I’m sure that within a week there was a new guy just following orders on the intercom saying:

“Stock boy to Ladies Apparel with a mop. Stock boy to Ladies Apparel with a mop.”


  1. It was your senior year while I was at Lipscomb...

  2. Ya know, that makes sense. Had to be.