The summer before I started college, I got a job at Marshall Fields. I was officially hired in the children’s department, but I ended up, for reasons I never understood, doing most of my shifts in the department next door: intimates.

I thought it was bad my first day in the department when a woman came in, lifted up her shirt, and said “I like this bra. Can you find me another one?”

Another time a woman came in and said, “I’m a size 38DDD. I’ll try on anything you can find in that size.”

I tried to look politely unsurprised as I did my best to find her a few options and sent her into the dressing room to get started. When I went to knock on her door a few minutes later with a couple more choices (feeling more than a little victorious for having won this particular scavenger hunt), she opened the door shirtless and asked, “Does this look supportive enough?”

I stammered a bit. She looked down at my own flat figure, sighed, snatched the bras from my hand, and slammed the door.

It was always terrible when a guy came in. Always. A couple times they hit on me while buying something lacy for their girlfriends. One time a wife sent her poor husband in to the store three times over the course of one shift because she wanted a brown bra and he kept bringing home one that was the wrong shade of brown for the party she was attending. At which is was apparently crucial that she wore exactly the correct shade of brown bra.

But the worst—the day I vowed I would do anything it took to be able to move on and get a better job—came when I had about two weeks left of work before leaving for college.

And when I say leaving, I mean going a mile down the Beltline, but my manager didn’t need to know that. I gently insinuated that I was going somewhere far enough away that, regrettably, I would be unable to continue working. Alas.

It was the beginning of a long shift and the phone rang. “Hello, is this the men’s intimates department?” the guy on the other end asked.

“It’s, um. Well, it’s the intimates department. I can transfer you to the men’s department, though.”

“Oh, okay, well, do you know if they have any, like, really silky soft underwear?”

“You know, I’m really not familiar with their selection. They’ll know over there. Just let me transf—“

“Because, I mean, I really like my underwear to be silky soft, and in baby blue or black. And, I mean, I’ve tried women’s underwear, but it’s really kind of tight, you know?”

“Pl—Please just let me transfer you.”

“Okay, but just in case they don’t have anything for me, do you have anything like that?”

“You know, sir, I can check. But only if you let me transfer you first.”

Five minutes later the phone rang again. It took quite the effort of willpower to answer. I only did because another customer gave me a dirty look for letting it ring three times.

“They only had boxers,” he said, as though this were a deeply offensive and embarrassing situation for a men’s department to find itself in.

“I’m sorry to hear that.” I was. I was very sorry that they couldn’t take care of him. As a result he was calling me again. “Maybe if you tried, um—“ I was too flustered. I couldn’t think of the names of any other stores.

“So do you have anything that might work for me?”

“Well, I don’t really . . . I mean, probably n–”

“No, I’m sure you have something nice and silky soft. Women’s departments always do. “

“But . . .”

“And in baby blue or black, remember. I’ll be in later today. So, what’s your name?”

“. . . um.” Another name. What is another name? WHY CAN’T I THINK OF ANY OTHER NAMES? “. . . Laura?”

“Great, Laura. I’m so glad you can help me. I will see you later today.”

I think the woman working in the children’s department that day thought I was ill; every time I saw a man approaching I ran to the bathroom and asked her to please just cover for me?

It was that summer that I made some resolutions that I have actually kept.

1.     Go to college, work hard, graduate, and get a better job.

2.     Be kind to everyone working retail. Everyone. Ever. Because just about everyone else is a pain in their butt.

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