I started working retail when I fifteen years old. The place’s name was Country Dollar Plus, it was owned by a twenty-nine year old named John Jr. he was the son of a successful business man named John Senior. John Senior had a shopping center built where there used to be forest on the side of route 23. In the new shopping center he let his two sons open up storefronts and essentially run the place, John’s younger brother opened up a video game and electronic maintenance store while John opened up Country Dollar Plus. I went to the brand new shopping center to pick up Madden 2006 and check out the new game store because in our rural town the closest Game stop was about an hour away. I asked for an application at the game store and John’s brother told me his roster was filled up but his brother was hiring next door. I went in to Country Dollar Plus and they were still in the process of setting up the shelves and stocking the merchandise. I saw a Polish man that looked a lot like Sean Bean, I asked him if he had an application and he went to the back to grab John. John and I talked a little and he hired me on the spot, all I needed was my working papers to be signed by my guidance counselor at school (because I was fifteen) to clear me to work.
John was a wonderful boss, shortly after we opened he told us we were all getting a raise of %25 of what minimum wage was at the time (either$7.25 or $.750), it added to some random number like $9.42/hr and I was ecstatic, with my first paycheck I got a cell phone plan and the new state of the art phone at the time the short lived Mp3/Cellphone the Juke. It was nice gaining some economical independence, plus girls loved it when I told them I had a job.
Looking back in retrospect I remember a big flatscreen tv above my register that streamed the surveillance cameras; I would always see John in the basement sitting on a stool and a big white canvas sitting on an easel. He would be down there for hours at a time leaving me to run the store but I didn’t mind because it was a desolate area. One day I had to go into the basement to get bags of ice melt that were not yet displayed for the season. I took the elevator down and when the doors opened all I saw were paintings everywhere, all along the walls. The paintings had great variety, I saw one that was a country landscape with a red barn and a sunset, I saw one of a father and a daughter ice skating on a snowy night, and another of a man looking in a mirror and his reflection had no face and golden halo. I stood there in awe as John peaked his head around the easel.
“What’s up Jon.”
“This art is so cool.”
“It’s nothing, it’s just my past time.”
“Could you paint me something?”
“Sure, what do you have in mind?”
“Whatever comes to mind.”
Months went by and my birthday was coming up, he automatically gave me off so I could celebrate, the day before at the end of my shift he told me that he had to leave early but there was something in the back for me. I cashed out and closed the store up and before setting the security alarm and making my exit I went in the backroom. Under the computer desk was an easel with a red bow on it. I picked it up and set it on the desk. It was a mixture of purples, blues and blacks, it was a painting of a dark looking house with it’s blinds shut and a swirly looking black hole taking the place of the sun and the moon. The attic of the house had it’s light on and it was the only light in the whole portrait. I turned it around and written on the back was.
“Jon, you can always find the light in the darkest places, John.”
During my tenure there I often vented to John about my home life and because my mom was often away around this time John would pick me up in his red with white pinstripes Mini Cooper convertible and even take me home so I didn’t have to walk. My stepdad was an former employee of his that was laid off for undisclosed reasons but John would often laugh whenever he heard his name brought up in conversation which usually pertained to my stepdad getting “laid off” from another job.
I wound up having to put in my two weeks in 2010 because my mom wanted to move back to NY with a guy she had only known for a few months (but that’s a whole different story). When I approached John about it he was understanding, he told me to take care of myself and that he believed that would go on to do great things.
Years have gone by and one day I decided to see if the store was still there, it wasn’t but parked outside the empty storefront was the same red Mini Cooper. John was nowhere to be found so the resourceful person that I am I googled his name from my phone. The first result was an art gallery opened no further than ten miles from the old dollar store. I drove there and it was closed for the day but looking inside I saw a bunch of different pieces of work hung up on the wall and I could tell a few were John’s work. I got back in my car and felt a rush of happiness form on my face. Looking back I could tell that painting was his passion and he did something wonderful about it. I still have the painting and occasionally turn it around to read the inspiring message. All in all I can say is that he was a wonderful boss and a great human being but this experience distorted my perception of what it’s like working in retail.