leotta
Retail — From the Inside
by Joan Leotta

Shopping was my hobby.
So when at 16, I wanted summer
employment,
retail seemed perfect.
Downtown department stores
were not hiring, so
my Aunt Helen convinced
the owner of her favorite
East Liberty dress shop.
to give me Saturday hours.
I imagined myself
an instant fashion expert,
coolly, enhancing women’s looks
with wise suggestions.
My first Saturday I was
hidden in the stockroom
hanging a new shipment
by size, by color. Hot.
“May I help you?”
I practiced, as I shook out blouses,
skirts, dresses.
Second Saturday saw me selling.
The first woman, slim, young,
asked “blue shirtwaist dress in
size ten, please.”
I plucked it from the rack,
showed her to the dressing room.
In minutes, my first sale!
Ringing it up on the old
register the change came out wrong — twice..
My next fashion seeker
was middle-aged,
a bit chubby. She marched to
the dressing room and told me to
bring her skirts and blouses
in size twelve — my choices!
Proudly, I selected tailored items
she promptly rejected.
“Yooo hoo,” she called, “I want smaller sizes,
and don’t you have anything newer, cuter?
She tossed her discards over the door for
me to turn right-side out and rehang.
At last she opened the dressing room door
to model an A-line skirt and ladybug blouse —
high school clothes!
“Well, how do I look?”
I gulped. Sausage came to mind.
Florid face clashing with floral shirt.
“Wouldn’t you rather . . . ” I began
The owner stepped up.
“It’s a lovely outfit.”
The woman bought the ensemble.
Before Saturday rolled around again,
the owner called my Aunt. “We are not busy
enough to have your niece come in anymore.”
I didn’t really mind.
Shopping was not as much fun
from ” inside.” And,
ever since that job,
I never ask a sales person
to tell me how I look.

AUTHOR’S PHOTO CAPTION: This me a couple of years after the events in the poem. My sense of fashion was not nearly as developed as I then thought it was!

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: What to consider a “first” job? That was hard to decide. Would I consider as “first” a job my job as a clerk in a dress shop in the summer? Or my work shelving records in the college radio station? Or my summer sojourn in the planning department at the University of Pittsburgh between my first and second years of graduate school, a fun internship that gave me experience and a killer recipe for egg roll? I decided to go with chronological order and share with you why I decided not to remain in the retail world.

joan-leotta2

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Joan Leotta has been playing with words on page and stage since childhood in Pittsburgh. She is a writer and story performer. Her poetry and essays appear or are forthcoming in Gnarled Oakthe A-3 Review, Hobart Literary ReviewSilver Birch, Peacock,Postcard Poems and Prose among others. Her first poetry chapbook, Languid Lusciousness with Lemon, was recently released by Finishing Line Press. She also has written a series of novels, Legacy of Honor, and a set of four picture books, Rosa’s Shell is the latest. A group of her short stories, Simply a Smile is available in paper and on Kindle. You can find more about her work on her blog at joanleotta.wordpress.com, follow her on twitter @beachwriter12 or on Facebook at Joan Leotta, Author and Story Performer.