My first part-time job was with T.J. Maxx, an upscale discount clothing and housewares store; a step above Kmart and less massive than Target. T.J. Maxx had rolled into our local strip mall, there to anchor the donut shop, nail shop, rental store and Western Union. Its big box format and shiny new sign made the whole mall seem more high class, like a hooker in new shoes.
I was part of the “opening team,” an army of fifty local kids hired to get the store off the ground. In the weeks before the opening we swept floors, unpacked registers, filled rounders with mounds of discounted clothing and put the various departments together. It was laid out with efficiency in mind. Housewares and foundations in the back, men’s and women’s clothing in the middle, children and juniors on the side, a row of 10 cashier registers at the front and a tall service desk right by the entrance. The store was meant to attract the budget conscience mass market and did so with a red and grey color scheme that always reminded me of one of those “in a blender jokes”: What’s red, grey and swirls around very fast? An elephant in a blender. A T.J. Maxx store.
When the store opened, I was placed in the lingerie department or as management referred to it, Foundations. It was located in the far right hand corner of the store, along with the security office and back office. I took to the department with a flourish. So much to organize! I hung the robes and gowns on the back wall and the teddies and tap pants on the adjoining wall. In the middle of my little corner of the world, were four display cases topped with every type of underpants or bra imaginable. Cotton, nylon, and silk were thrown together in a haphazard and frankly, potentially dangerous manner. I immediately rectified the situation and folded every bra and panty, lining them up by color and cordoning them off by size, using pantyhose sleeves to make clear demarcations. The Foundations department was beautiful.
That was until the store opened and war was declared. It was me against them. The endless shoppers unfolded, picked, prodded, fondled and threw about all the patches of color. I took it in stride. I followed customers as they clawed their way through the department and dutifully reorganized, put robes back on hangers and did my best to sell.
We were trained to greet customers and ask how we could help them. And I did, though usually in a voice too low for them to hear me. Most of the time the patrons shrugged me off. Which was fine by me as it gave me more time to organize.
One afternoon, a woman of about forty who looked sixty, decided to take me up on my half-hearted offer of help.
“Yeah,” she said, “You can help me. I’m looking for something special.” Her voice was gravely and her cigarette habit unavoidable when she spoke. Her hair was streaked with grey and she wore a leather jacket over a tank top, polyester pants and black orthopedic shoes. She looked like a waitress who was shopping between her shifts at a biker bar.
“Okay,” I responded, not sure what I was getting myself into. She was fingering the teddies with her dirty fingers and making me nervous.
“My old man’s getting out of the joint tonight and I’m looking for something sexy.” My face flushed. “I’m thinking of this here.” She touched a beautiful one-piece white lace thong teddy.
“Yes, that’s nice,” I said and not understanding the nature of her relationship with this recently incarcerated fellow, I began to steer her towards a tap pant ensemble.
“No, no. I’m going to try this on,” she said and whisked the white teddy off to the dressing room.
Five minutes later, I heard “Alicia to the dressing room. Alicia to the dressing room,” over the loud speaker in a panicked voice. I walked quickly to the dressing room, wondering what Jennifer wanted. She tended to get tense when there was a build up of clothing on her racks.
When I turned the corner into the dressing room I saw the problem immediately. Jennifer was holding the white teddy on its hanger at arm’s length. The backside was covered in shit.