Gonna Be Different This Time

I used to work in a men’s wear store at College Park in Toronto. It was called The Princeton Shop, and we sold jeans, suits, shoes and underwear. There was a lot of people traffic coming up from the subway and a few devoted customers, but not many. Mostly it was Ryerson and U of T students and commuters grabbing whatever they needed for wherever they were going. It was an okay job, a summer job. My dad got it for me through contacts in the shopping centre business. My boss was a guy named Murray, and he was a foul piece of work. He smoked filterless blunts (Players Navy Cut) and, whenever he butted one out– usually on the floor– he’d say, “Pfffft, disgusting habit,’ before almost immediately lighting another one. Murray was probably the first adult whom I both despised as well as pitied. Murray knew he was pathetic; his self-loathing expressed in a fatalistic world view and the fact that his life’s benchmark was having secured a prime location for his crappy little clothing shop. That it was his only source of pride was sad to him, and sad to the rest of us, and yet he feigned working hard– and driving us to work hard– to mask the insignificance of that achievement. But we knew, in the end, that he didn’t give a shit, and so no one else did. I punched the clock, racked the racks, swept the floors, was nice to customers, then got the Hell out. I even went with Murray on garment runs to Spadina avenue. The dashboard of his old sedan was brown with nicotine and the backseat was packed to the roof with garbage bags full of clothes. I hauled them in and out of the store and sorted them in the backroom. Once, I asked Murray if I could have Friday afternoon off to go to Kingswood to see Talking Heads on their ‘Stop Making Sense’ tour. He groused, “Ok, fine. Rebecca (his niece) will cover for you.’ When the day rolled around and 2 o’ clock came, Rebecca never showed. 3 o’ clock passed and then, 3:30. I called Murray and he said: ‘I guess the little shit bailed out.’ I asked him what I should do. ‘What do you think you should do?’ he said, mocking outrage. ‘Keep working!’ I hung up the phone. Looking out of the shop, I saw my girlfriend standing there. I told her: ‘I have to work. The person didn’t come in to relieve me,’ and she said, ‘But it’s the Talking Heads,’ before starting to cry. It was awful, partly because I didn’t have the guts to stand up to Murray and partly because I knew I was going to miss out on most one of the summer’s– maybe even history’s– great tours. Finally, 9 pm came and we drove like crazy people up the highway to the venue. When we arrived at the fairgrounds, we ran like Lee Majors and Lindsay Wagner through the amusement park to the venue as the Talking Heads’ played ‘Life During Wartime’ with their big band: Steve Scales on percussion, Alex Weir on guitar, and Bernie Worrell on keyboards. I felt like an action hero fleeing a poison arrow, and that arrow was Murray and every other authority figure I had to deal with in my life. The next month, I quit the Princeton Shop. I wouldn’t take shit from anyone ever again.

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