Friday, July 01, 2011

My Second Lesson in Leadership

During college I worked full-time at a funky plant and gift shop called "What's Upstairs?"  Owned by Joe and managed by his small harem, his son Joey and I were the only employees. Joey worked Thursday nights 5-9 and I did the Monday to Saturday shift, 10-5:30 daily. Oversight was light and I basically ran the place, paying myself $3 per hour out of the register.

Joe was a charismatic hippie who drove his microbus or ancient Caddy to craft shows all over the middle-north east. When he stopped in he would discuss his business and life philosophy with me, while sporting his signature leather cap on frizzy salt-and-pepper hair.  He had creative ideas for business names, such as "Gifterrarium" and "Sincerely Yours."

Young as I was, I took him with a grain of salt.  It was a good gig for me, a place where I could study for my full-time schedule of night classes and visit with friends, while being quasi-in charge. I never questioned that the owners were rarely around, came in at night and only left me brief notes with boxes of merchandise to unpack. I guess I did think having the manufacturer's tags cut off of everything was odd. I couldn't figure it out, so I forgot about it. I figured it was better than my other option, waitressing in a pizzeria.

One day I arrived at the shop and the door was broken in. Four plainclothes BCI agents were inside. "Do you have identification?" I demanded, remembering what I had learned from cop shows on TV. They most certainly did, I was cooperative, and I made friends for life.  They had a warrant for Joe for eleven counts of grand larceny and fraud, and so I helped them to pack up the products they planned to confiscate. Apparently, Joe had made up wholesalers to give himself credit references so he could order merchandise for a variety of phony gift shops, and then sold the merchandise without tags for less than suggested retail price, never paying any of the bills. Any junk which remained was dumped at "What's Upstairs?" This went on for years and years.

The cops advised me to work there no more, and even tried to convince me to become a State Trooper instead, going so far as to drop off a copy of the exam application at my apartment.  I was intrigued by the idea. The troopers assured me the beat cop aspect of the job would be short-lived for me; I would be a detective in no time. But I demurred due to my fear of guns, loathing of athletics and that pesky driver's license!

My friends urged me to steal everything that I could before I left the store, but I didn't. It was hard to leave that place, because I didn't want to abandon the plants which had not been confiscated, since I knew no-one else would water them. They had done nothing wrong. I went back a few times to take care of them, but eventually I had no choice. I said a sad goodbye to the huge corn plant, umbrella tree and cacti, nailed the door shut, and left a note with my keys inside. And then I went home. Later I learned that Joe hired an expensive attorney, and because his harem members had signed for all of the stolen products, the charges were pinned on them, and they were left with the public defender.

No comments: