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Career Separates

When Roz, my Fashion Bug supervisor, called the entire staff together for a special meeting, I swore that this time, I'd come prepared. Whenever we have a meeting, Ellen, the girl who got the assistant-manager position instead of me just because she's Roz's friend, brings a treat like crumb cake or donuts. Everybody always makes such a big fuss about it, like she made this big effort. (Her baked goods are homemade, all right... in Mrs. Entenmann's home!)

Well, this time, I decided to beat Ellen at her own game and bring in a treat, too. Only my treat wouldn't contain partially hydrogenated cottonseed oil! So I felt pretty good when I walked into the meeting with a big tray of my famous dark-passion cherry-mint brownies with cocoa-cream-cheese/peanut-butter frosting. (And I felt even better when I didn't spot a crumb of Ellen's "homemade" crumb cake on the break-room counter!)

But nobody smiled when they saw my treats. In fact, Roz had a pained expression on her face, and Ellen was fiddling awkwardly with the stretchy wrist cord that held her work keys. Tanya and Pat, the other sales associates, sat on their folding chairs with their heads down.

"Uh, thanks for bringing in those bars, Jean, but I don't think anyone's in the mood to eat right now," Roz said. "I was going to wait until everyone got here, but Tanya and Pat already guessed the bad news. Charming Shoppes, which, as you know, owns Fashion Bug, announced plans to close a couple hundred stores. Last night, I got word from Cherie, our regional manager, that our store will definitely be among them."

I couldn't believe my ears. "But why?" I asked. "This is such a great place for people to shop! It's not uncomfortably crammed with wall-to-wall shoppers like the mall is, and we have plenty of stock."

Roz didn't say anything for a couple of seconds. "Jean," she finally said, "all those days you'd sit at the register for hours on end, reading the entire paper without interruption because not one single customer came over, didn't that give you a clue that something was wrong?"

Well, of course I'd noticed the lack of business... I wasn't blind! But I didn't choose to see it all negatively like everyone else did. I just looked at our store as a delicious, well-kept secret. I know our society is capitalistic, but I think it's silly that people are always so go, go, go, gotta grab every last buck we can get. It undermines the quality of life. If Charming Shoppes had any sense, they'd keep our store open even if it was losing money, because I think people need nice little places where they can go to find cute, affordable cotton-lycra-blend leggings and be able to park their cars close to the entrance. If only a couple dozen people came to our store per week, more power to them, I say. They should be rewarded for their shopping smarts, not punished.

Anyhow, the store will be closing at the end of June, and I know I'll miss the place. This "bad location," as Roz called the strip mall where our store resides, has really grown on me. Besides us, the only other businesses are a frame store, an H&R Block, and a Hot Sam's, but I'd become attached to them, too. I bought some darling frames for some of my best cat snapshots. And a Hot Sam's pretzel, slathered in mustard and washed down with a Mr. Pibb, had become a daily ritual. Once, I even picked up a brochure about little-known deductions at the H&R Block, not because I cared about that sort of thing, but because I wanted to see the inside of the store.

One morning, about a week after the announcement, Pat and I were standing in front of the Bug, waiting for Roz to come and open up. When she got out of her car, Roz was all smiles. She told us that because the manager at the Lane Bryant at Southcreek Mall was going on permanent maternity leave right around the time the Bug was due to close, she had a virtual lock on the job.

That wasn't all the news she had. Roz had also learned that a new sales-associate position was opening up there. I don't know, I guess it was having to wait 10 minutes in a brisk wind and needing to pee real bad, but I was in a little bit of a snippy mood, and I didn't hide it.

"Since you'll be in charge, Roz, I guess Ellen will be joining you, since you're practically two peas in a pod," I said.

"Actually, after the store closes, Ellen is going to hostess at her uncle's restaurant," Roz said. "You know, Lane Bryant is Fashion Bug's sister chain, and since you gals are being laid off here, you're encouraged to apply if you're interested. In fact, they're holding off on advertising the position publicly so you can get first shot at it."

When I heard that, I just about died! Lane Bryant? Talk about movin' on up! After the Disney Store, my dream employer was Lane Bryant! After all, they believe that we generously proportioned gals deserve to look good, too, and I sure can't argue with that philosophy! I was sooo excited, I couldn't resist telling hubby Rick that evening.

"Lane Bryant?" Rick said. "The fat-chick store? Geez, Jean, if you worked there, I bet your net pay would be about $10 a week, 'cause you'd be buying up new clothes left and right." Darn! Rick knows me too well!

Then he added: "It doesn't matter, though. That Roz broad will give the job to one of your coworkers. She's never liked you. How many times has she passed you over for a promotion?"

Rick was right. Roz probably just mentioned the job opening to me so I'd feel even worse when I didn't get it. As maddening as Rick can be, he often has this uncanny knack for reading a situation.

Upon arriving at work that next morning, I decided to have a few choice words with Roz. I'd come to terms with the fact that she wouldn't hire me at Lane Bryant, but I still wanted to let her know I didn't always appreciate her treatment of me.

"Roz, I really wanted to apply at Lane Bryant, but let's face it: You'd hire a hobo before you'd hire me," I said. "I know you and I don't always see eye-to-eye, but I don't understand why you should always punish me just because I'm not as cynical as you. You probably look at a position at Lane Bryant as just another job. But I truly believe in Lane Bryant. I strongly feel that plus-size women have a right to shine. Pardon my French, but I would have worked my hiney off there, more than any other job I've had. But you'll wind up hiring either Tanya or Pat, not because they care about women's-size fashions, but because they like your racy talk and smoke with you behind the store. I don't see why everybody has to be so hard and mean and suspicious all the time. I don't understand why I never fit in. I don't like to drink or swear. I like kitties and collecting dolls. And instead of bringing in stale donuts, I stay up late to bake sinfully sweet homemade goodies. These are all clean and normal things to do, aren't they? But, somehow, I'm the one who's the oddball. I'm the one people snicker at, instead of at the vulgar ones who have nothing to contribute to life. Well, I'm sorry you can't be big enough to give me a chance, Roz."

Roz didn't say anything for a couple of seconds, just like on the day she announced the store's closure. Then, finally, in a quiet voice, she said, "I'm not sure if this will matter to you right now, seeing how upset you are, but, Jean, you were my top candidate for the Lane Bryant job."

Since Pat was moving out of town and Tanya was too embarrassed to work at Lane Bryant, Roz said she was hoping—yes, hoping—that I would apply. She said she would have been happy to have me there. It was true that we didn't see eye-to-eye on everything, but she said she liked me. I "grow on a person," she told me, and since her new staff at Lane Bryant was made up of complete strangers, I would have been a nice, familiar face to see every day.

"I'm sorry if you think I'm a vulgar person with nothing to contribute to life," said Roz, her voice wavering a little. "I don't think of myself that way. I don't think people who smoke or tell a dirty joke from time to time are automatically evil. But you're right about one thing: I don't think you'd be right for the position because, at this point, we couldn't work together. I'll tell Lane Bryant they should put a help-wanted sign in their window right away."

It figures that one of the few times I trust hubby Rick's judgment, it completely blows up in my face! (When I confronted him, he whined something about how he never said I should say anything to Roz. But he's just being a big weasel.) These next few weeks before we close are going to be rough, especially with Roz no longer talking to me. It's gotten so bad around the Bug, I'm actually looking forward to getting out of a clothing store, and that's never happened before!

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