Wednesday, November 30, 2016

a busy wednesday

There are few customers I'd come in on a day off for, but Sarah is one of them.

She texts me early this week and says she'd like to come in on Wednesday; I don't hesitate to say yes. Around four, I meet Sarah and  her son (who is her unofficial fashion consultant). Despite the heavy rain, it is well worth the time. If Sarah could be cloned, I'd have an enviable job.

I had hoped to come home before heading out for a screening near Lincoln Center, but I was with Sarah longer than anticipated, and it was after six before I left Saks.

Christmas in New York is magical. But not when it's raining, and not on the night of the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree lighting. It takes me 15 minutes to walk two blocks and cross the street. Hordes of people. Metal barriers. Hundreds of police and police vehicles. And lots and lots of slow-walking, camera-clutching, tourists.

No time for dinner. I grab a mini salmon sandwich and eat it on my way. I get to the theater on time (just) and meet my friend Lyn (once my boss, when I worked at CBS in the late 80's).

We are seeing a screening of Eight Days a Week, followed by a Q&A with director Ron Howard and producer Nigel Sinclair.

I am swept away to a different era. 

I see the fab four the same as I did so many years before, but this time with more appreciation and awe of what they have accomplished. They were just kids. I loved every minute of the film, and could have sat, listening to Beatle music for hours.

Paul was my favorite, but watching them now, I think John would have been. At their core, they were all decent people. Each one of them had a strong moral compass (as well as Brian Epstein and Sir. George Martin) to guide them.

The Beatle's talent, quirkiness, and likability spread quickly throughout the world, and that was before social media even existed. I am lucky to have experienced them young. And while I no longer dream of meeting Paul one day, or envying Jane Asher for having him, I love their music now as much as I did then. 

Funny to think it was young teen-aged girls who first discovered the Beatles and caused such madness. My friends and I were among them.

Monday, November 28, 2016

sitting among stars

One day I make $12/hour  and the next ... a bit more exciting.

I am seeing a screening of La La Land. I meet my friends Jill and Jeff. Next to the seats we've chosen are some reserved BAFTA seats.

Soon the seats are filled. Someone nearby subtly takes a photo and sends it to me. 

I introduce myself to Valentino and his tall, blond companion. We have a brief (three-sentence or so) conversation. I wish I'd brought the gorgeous rock-stud Valentino bag my mom bought me for my birthday this year. 

The film is a contemporary musical love story. Emma Stone is mesmerizing, as is the male lead, Ryan Gosling. There's a Q&A after with the film's leading lady, the young and talented director Damien Chapelle, and the composer Justin Horwitz.

Before leaving, Jill takes a photo of another one day star (not the female).

Sunday, November 27, 2016

a letter I'd love to mail

Dear Mr. Executive Chairman-

I heard you were shopping at Saks yesterday. I am sorry I missed meeting you. 

There were excited whispers on the floor when someone spotted you. Your presence also made some nervous, as everyone wanted to make a good impression.  In fact, one associate from another department was pretty frantic as he'd forgotten his name tag. "Anyone have an extra name tag I can wear?" he asked a group of us. It didn't matter to him that the name tag he was lent had someone else's name on it. 

I didn't get to introduce myself to you yesterday, so I thought I'd write to you today. I am one of your sales associates. I used to be a marketing executive in the entertainment industry, where I am still active. But I also sell clothes at your flagship store.

I am professional, courteous, and go out of my way to help every single person I approach. I put the same effort into finding the perfect tee that I do in finding more expensive items. I drag ladders around and climb to the top in order to find a particular size or style. I walk fast and far, averaging over seven miles for every day worked. I come home utterly exhausted with my back and legs aching. 

But on the positive side...

My arms are getting stronger from carrying around piles of clothes all day long — clothes to show customers, and clothes taken out of the dressing rooms.  My legs are looking better from all the walking and climbing I do. I am in much better shape than I was before starting this job.  But of course getting a good workout is not the reason I work in your store. The primary reason is to earn a fair income.

Today I work from 12:15 until 8:45. That's 8 1/2 hours. According to my Nike fuel band, I walk 7.2 miles. I help customers find things they think they might want. I process returns that can take up a lot of time. I try to act professional when one customer whines, "There are more cheap clothes online. Why can't I find them in the store?" I drag damp, sweaty clothes in and out of dressing rooms. And almost every single customer I help leaves the dressing room empty-handed, with the same refrain: "Nothing worked." The polite ones precede the refrain with a "thank you for all your help, but..."  

It is Thanksgiving weekend but I do not get to spend it with my family who are in from out of town. I am required to work. Last year I missed Thanksgiving completely as my family celebrated it on Cape Cod.  

I am not a free agent. I must clock in and clock out. I must show up for my assigned shifts. I work for your company and must abide by your rules. You require so much from me, yet you don't guarantee that I'll even get paid. 

Today I sell $917 worth of merchandise, including a $595 dress that will likely come back since the customer tells me, "It's for my mom. If she doesn't like it, she can return it, right?"

My $917 in sales are offset by $705 in returns. So today my net sales are $212. As you know, my only pay is commission. That means that for the 8 1/2 hours I was required to work today — on this holiday weekend — I will be paid $12.

That's $1.41/an hour. Or $56.40/week. Or $2,932.80/year. My salary annualized would be less than I pay for one month's rent. 

Sure, there are days when I make more. But how do you justify a hard-working employee — one who represents the face of Saks to customers — earning $12 for an entire day's work? Oh, and once I deduct my minimal transportation costs ($2.75 each way on the NYC subway), I'm left with $6.50 before tax. 

I only work three days a week so I get no benefits. My allowable sick days and vacation days combined are (I believe) six for the year. Why can't I be guaranteed a minimum $10/hour wage?

Tonight I get home around 9:30 and have to eat dinner late. Why don't you allow the company cafeteria to stay open past 4pm? Don't you think it would be thoughtful to give your employees who work until 8:45 somewhere to eat? 

Just recently you send out a sales associate survey. A later email unabashedly praised the results. The one problem area cited was high employee turnover. You could have saved the company a lot of money in research costs had you just interviewed any of us associates. We could have told you. Morale is low. We feel totally dispensable. And the consensus seems to be,  "Who cares if someone quits. They'll just hire a replacement or two. They don't pay us so it costs the company little to just keep adding new people." 

I know that no one is forcing me to work at your store. I know I can quit at any time. But I don't really want to. I just want to be paid fairly.

Your total compensation for last year is listed at over $10 million dollars. I don't begrudge you that. But if the Hudson's Bay Company can pay its leaders a salary commensurate with effort, performance, and experience, why does it have a different standard for its sales associates? I work no less hard on a good day than I do on a bad one.

And so I'm asking, can you let me know why a sales associate at your luxury department store can work 8 1/2 hours and gross only $12?

I look forward to your response. And hope you had a nice Thanksgiving holiday with your family.


a dispirited sales associate

Thursday, November 24, 2016

a thanksgiving to rival martha stewart's

The day begins with some drama.

Alexander and I take the Jitney out to the Hamptons where we will be celebrating Thanksgiving. We arrive early. The bus drops us off in Bridgehampton. While we are waiting to be picked up, I remember that Alexander walked on the bus with a small suitcase and off the bus without it.

I won't describe the scene that follows, but eventually everything gets resolved. 

Most years we celebrate Thanksgiving on the Cape. But Adam, my nephew, is hosting this year in his new Hampton house. 19 family members come. We wish there could have been 20, but Sally, my niece, is living in Barcelona this year.

Alexander arrived late last night from Philadelphia.

me and alexander

Jean (with Jim and Jack) and my mom come down from Boston.

And the all-black outfits are purely a coincidence.

phyllis, jean, valerie and me

My mom is happiest being with her kids and grandkids.

michael, jack, jason, phyllis, adam, and alexander

And of course seeing her only great-grandchild, Chloe.

Chloe with her uncle Adam

Aside from the spectacular house and great company, the women are impressed that this year it won't be just the men who will get to relax. My family is generally pretty liberal when it comes to issues of gender — except for the kitchen. But one great hired chef and his three assistants solve the problem. They insure that the meal is cooked to perfection, served impeccably, and then cleaned up.

And the food, oh the food....

There is nothing ordinary about the appetizers. Rack of lamb. Mini burgers. Shrimp. Rolled asparagus with cheese. And tuna tartare tacos. It would have been fine (and completely satisfying) to go straight from the hors d'hoeuvres to dessert.

But we don't.

Along with the Thanksgiving staples of turkey, stuffing (2 kinds), mashed potatoes, yams (2 kinds), and green beans, there is a caesar salad, an excellent octopus carpaccio, and mini grilled cheese sandwiches.

Adam announces that the kid table will be in the kitchen area, and defines kids as 35 and under.

jared, jessica, dan, michael, adam, alexander, jack, amanda, chloe

The grown-ups, I guess, are the over 50's.

Desserts are of course plentiful (pies, cakes, ice-cream, cookies, chocolate moose and glazed bananas). 

And as we do every year, we celebrate the birthdays of Alexander (recently turned 24), Adam (about to be 36), and Sally (via Skype, who will soon be 24) with a Carvel (has to be Carvel) ice-cream cake.

Chloe, too, recently turned one, so we now allow her to be part of the birthday celebration.

The ever-thoughtful host deserves a big thank-you. Adam provides the perfect atmosphere of comfort, food, and relaxation. No details are ignored. Right down to the turkey socks he provides to everyone present.

I hope this is a start of a new family tradition — not the socks so much (though they are very nice), but the memorable Thanksgiving in the Hamptons. Thank you Adam.