Back in the early 80’s my then girlfriend and I were living and working in my hometown. My girlfriend went out of work for a back disability and shortly after, I was laid off due to lack of business. With promises of being called back to work when things picked up, I went on unemployment. I enjoyed not working quite a lot but nearing the end of my unemployment benefits, and with no sign of being called back to work, we knew we needed to do something for income. We finally gave up our apartment and moved in with her parents in a suburb of the Twin Cities. Desperate now to find some work, I started looking through the newspapers.
One day I found an ad for a job at a formal wear shop. Selling, renting tuxedos, measuring people, hemming pants, pressing clothes. I had never done anything even remotely like that in my life. I had never even wore a suit more than once or twice. I had spent most of my young working life as a factory worker and knew nothing about fashion, especially wedding fashion. But I needed a job and so I went out, bought a suit, and hopped a bus for downtown St. Paul. Long before the days of GPS and Google maps, I hunted around until I finally found the shop. It was attached to a Bridal wear shop of the same name. Working up my courage, I went inside.
A bell dinged as I walked through the door. Looking around the shop, a young guy barely older than me eventually came from the back room. He introduced himself, we shook hands, and I said I was answering the ad for a job. He invited me into the office, from which he had come. The desk was piled with papers, haphazardly strewn across it, and front and center was a handheld video game, one of the original
Mattel football games. He invited me to sit down on a chair full of merchandise, quickly moved it all for me, and sat down himself. Picking up the video game, he studied it for a moment and then looking at me he said, “You ever play one of these?” gesturing with the game. I said I had not, and he said he couldn’t put the thing down, it was addictive. He tossed the game into a drawer of the desk and told me a little about the shop. His mother owned the bridal and formal wear businesses, and he was managing the formal wear side of things. They also owned a shop in Minneapolis where his mother worked so the St Paul business was essentially his.
As I started to tell him about myself he reached into a desk drawer and pulled out a rolled up joint and proceeded to light it up. Holding his breath and choking a little he handed it toward me. I said no thanks and he blew out a cloud of smoke which he then vigorously attacked with a can of air spray. “Probably not a good idea to let this smell get up front,” he said. He took a couple more tokes off the joint before setting it in the ash tray. He looked at me with half lidded eyes and said, “You know, I ain’t any good at this interview shit. If you want the job, you’ve got it.”
And that’s how I became a tuxedo rental specialist. I had a lot of fun doing that job. I even got to model in a wedding show, walking the runway modeling tuxedos, running back stage, changing as fast as possible and going out again. My boss was virtually high all the time so he was probably the easiest boss I ever worked for. Once we even outfitted a ventriloquist and his dummy for a special show in St. Paul. Working that job showed me what can happen when you open your mind to new experiences. Sometimes you need to take a leap of faith and just say, “I can do this!”