We were sixteen and could finally get our working papers. My best friend and I had made it to that magical age, and we were thrilled. This meant that we could have the extra money for clothes and yes, records, that were then every teen-agers dream.
You must remember these were the days before television had hit every town, and so we were not inundated with commercials explaining the necessity for items needed for every bodily function. By today’s standards we would probably be considered naïve. However, on that first day of work at Edward’s Department Store in upstate New York, my girlfriend Edie and I felt very sophisticated and worldly and ready to set the world on fire.
After our two week training course, we were given our departments. Edie was sent to the fourth floor toy department and me to the main floor stationary department. Even way back then the lure of pen and paper excited me and my department head was happy to let me decorate the cases with the beautiful paper, matching ink and fountain pens. At times I even added a flower or a silk scarf to add a touch of nostalgia.
The only setback to my otherwise perfect job was the hour every Saturday when I relieved the woman at the drug counter, for her lunch hour. Her name was Gert. She was a rather plump Irish lady who ruled the drug department with an iron hand and tolerated the “young crew” if we were there at the exact moment specified.
One Saturday I went cheerfully over to the drug counter and was left alone to help the customers. Every thing was proceeding in the usual manner when a woman appeared at the counter.
“May I help you?” I asked in my most sophisticated ‘women-to-women’ voice.
“Yes,” she said, “I would like a traveling douche bag.”
My mind raced frantically, and using the little gray cells, in a somewhat Hercule Poiret mentality, tried to figure out what she wanted. Poor woman, I thought, why is she here?”
I immediately had picked up on the word traveling and bag together, dismissing douche as a certain brand? Well, naturally, if I linked traveling and bag the answer was simple. Of course, bags were in the luggage department. So I smiled at the woman, perhaps a bit smugly and kindly offered this advice.
“The traveling douche bags will be found on the seventh floor in the luggage department.”
“Are you sure?” she ventured, meekly.
“Yes madam,” I am sure”. I smiled this time, certain she was a bit dimwitted.
She walked away from the counter looking back over her shoulder but headed toward the up elevators. When Gert returned I told her about the strange woman and after a few questions from Gert and a few answers from me, her face turned slightly red to a brighter fiery red and then even a mauve tinge crossed her brow. She literally shook like the proverbial bowl full of jelly.
I tried to get her to explain the situation, but she was so busy trying to control herself, her only advice was that I had better get back to my own department.
Naturally my girlfriends and I discussed the situation and using a dictionary we found a definition. That rather confused us too, so we decided to let it go. No one actually mentioned the situation to me again, except for the fact that from then on I was left to reign in my own department and an older woman was sent to aid Gert. Also, when Mr. Walrath, our kind floor-walker, passed my counter, he always said good morning with a twinkle in his eye and a slight chuckle as he rounded the corner.