During the 1970s, I held various part time jobs that helped pay the way through school. I worked as a janitor at RPI in Troy. Cleaning after students left the dorms for the summer is no picnic! I worked in a few retail settings, including some independent pharmacies which long since closed.
A good friend of mine, who went on to Albany Law, suggested that I take a part time job at Two Guys Department Store in Menands. "It's a fun place to work!" So between my fourth and fifth year of pharmacy college, I worked evenings at the department store, while working days at a pharmacy. John was right: the Two Guys job was fun!
Menands, NY was after World War II a bustling little village. Directly north of the city of Albany, the village was a principal gateway to New York's capital. Shops flourished along Broadway: Topps (a discount store,) Woolworth, and a huge Montgomery Ward center. Among them was Two Guys.
Two Guys from Harrison, latter just Two Guys, was a successful discount department store. Ahead of Walmart, Two Guys once sold grocery, making for "one stop shopping". The Two Guys store in Menands was at one time a very successful store, particularly in the 1960s when Broadway in Menands was the main thoroughfare to Albany. Changes came by the mid 1970s as newer chains moved in such as Kmart. For Menands an interstate highway connected Albany with Troy and points North, allowing motorists to bypass Broadway and its businesses. Today the big Wards store is a relic, the shopping center enclosing Topps and Woolworth became State offices, and Two Guys went bankrupt. Next to the Two Guys store was an Albany Public Market, then a Grand Union, which also closed. I came to work at Two Guys shortly before that store closed.
Two Guys workers called the place "Four Balls," which is ironic because management had none. Two Guys managers were made eunuchs by the presence of an employee union. It was difficult to fire an employee for any reason; union workers had a right to grievance with union reps present. Two Guys was a closed shop, meaning all employees had to join the union in 90 days. Which is why I easily got the job as store clerk, because I left before classes resumed in September.
I didn't understand what help the Employee Clerks Union brought, anyway. To get a bit more money than minimum age did not seem to justify money taken from me for Union dues. While the union did supply protection for unfair actions, that didn't prevent workers losing jobs when the company went out of business. The union, I feel, help precipitate the company's demise. The one effect of the union was the inability for the store to fire a really bad employee. The only two reasons, I observed, for employee discipline, much less dismissal, was company theft and extreme violence!
In June of 1978, I came to work at Two Guys. The store was in definite decline then. The store had taken a shabby appearance. Sale fliers would run weekly in local newspapers for merchandise that was rarely stocked. This would please to no end, soon to be former, customers. In my area, housewares, an ironing board was advertised in the Troy Record, we had only one and it was broken.
A big problem for the Menands Two Guys was the bunch of inept, lazy, and destructive employees. My area manager, household products, was near illiterate without a high school diploma. One area manager would delight in shooting at the lighted Two Guys sign overlooking a major highway. The company would have the sign fixed, repeatably; just for that manager to practice target shooting. Upper management were incompetent.
Perhaps, I fit in. Four Balls. That and my later psychiatric hospital experience, certainly tested my sanity, or lack thereof. Though, in retrospect, the inpatients at Harlem Valley seemed in prime metal health in comparison to many Two Guys employees.
Pets (including fish, birds, and rodents) were part of Sporting Goods, which turned out to be a bad combination. Employees, and sometimes area managers, would release parakeets from cages and attempt to shoot the birds down with BB guns or other stock weapons in the stock room. The parakeets were in NO danger, because those employees were very poor shots. Walking into the Sporting Goods stockroom, one would find a dark area as lights were shot out, broken glass on the floor, and birds flying all over the place. The BB pellets were fun to walk on in the darken area while carrying merchandise.
One Sporting Goods employee was so bad he was fired from a volunteer fire department. This employee tried to clean an aquarium using a normal canister vacuum cleaner, but he was stopped just as he lowered the hose in the tank. This employee was asked to put together a bicycle. It was not a difficult task for most people, because there most of the bike came pre-assembled in the box. Still,he managed to put the handle bars in the back of the bike, while the chain from the pedal ran to the front wheel. The bicycle became a front wheel drive model, that could not be steered. The area manager put the assembled bicycle on display, as something of a museum piece. Not too many bikes were sold, surprisingly!
A decision was made to sell piranhas. "Wow!," was management feeling, "we are selling a lot of fish!" Employees found the piranha entertaining, as other fish, starting with blind cave fish, were placed in the piranha's tank. When the fish were gone, one employee thought of placing hamsters in the piranha tank, but, amazingly, the other employees thought that went too far! So the pet rodents did not become food for piranhas. The fun stopped when all the piranhas were sold! Either area managers did not get sales reports for their area or could not read them.
My friend, John, worked in Sporting Goods. A customer was interested in buying a canoe that was on display. Two area managers decided to help the customer by caring the boat through the front doors. John suggested. "Why not take the canoe through the loading dock?" John tried to warn them about the automatic doors, one set closed quickly with some force. The managers ignored John and the canoe was carried by a person on each end. Well, the corridor had two sets, about 20 feet apart, of double, automatic doors. As one manager got off the first mat before the second manager could step on the mat. Result? The doors slammed into the canoe causing enough damage for the customer to reject the sale! Plus the guys holding the canoe were stuck for some time, trying to get themselves and the canoe out.
Slim, not his real name, lived in the community of Defreestville, NY. Slim claimed to grow "grass." Since he sometimes smelled of burnt mower clippings, I was not sure that he understood the concept of "smoking grass." Slim didn't need marijuana, as he often walked dazed and confused. In other words, a great guy to fix your car!
Slim poured acid in a battery display by the cash register. The acid poured through the porous display. The corrosive liquid ran along the register's electrical cord. The resultant fire put an end to the register.
Slim mounted and balanced four new tires for a customer. Slim made sure the hub caps were properly installed. As the customer made a left turn from parking lot onto Broadway, a four lane road, the four wheels spun away from the vehicle. The car became stranded with a loud thud in the middle of the intersection. Slim forgot one small detail, as the lug nuts were in the garage.
It was rumored that Slim reversed the polarity from a new battery to another customer's vehicle.
Slim had a rock band. A fellow employee opened a bar and asked Slim to bring his band. I went to the grand opening to listen to Slim's band. Quite harmonious, if one likes different members to sing what sounds like different songs simultaneously! Since the band members were from the same home town, I figure a good name for the band could be "Defreestville Assholes."
To this day, I am reluctant to step out of my car in Defreestville.
The store was reputed to have been built on mossy land that drained into the Hudson River. When one woman peeled aside clothes on a rack, a rat stared directly at her. The scream was heard throughout the store. Food, especially bread, had to be locked in metal containers in the snack bar.
I worked in the housewares department. I found myself restocking Lysol spray more frequently. I thought, "We seem to be having brisk demand, suddenly." Then, one day, I caught an Seasonal department employee grab two cans of Lysol from the shelf.
"What's the Lysol for?" I asked.
I followed him to his stock area. The Seasonal employees found a rat. The dead rodent was placed atop an electrical box. A hand written sign denoted, "Buster." The Seasonal employee sprayed, what seemed like, half a can of Lysol on the rat while uttering an unintelligible chant! "You people need serious help!" I uttered.
WARNING. THIS STORE IS GUARDED BY EMPLOYEES WHO CARE. That was a sign erected in various locations in the store, aimed at potential shoplifters. I never did find such a caring employee. One evening, I had to attend a fire safety talk. The gist was that if the code for "fire" comes over the loudspeaker system, store employees were to go to the nearest fire extinguisher and wait for further instructions. In other words, "Wait for the fire to come to you!"
Yeah, watch me!
"Right!" I remarked "So we are supposed to wait for office personnel to give clearance to evacuate? Those people will be the first ones out of the building." After seeing how the fire extinguishers were inspected, I had no intention of finding out if the extinguishers work!
What I found disturbing: "Don, you're my best employee." That came out of my area manager's mouth. "Damn, I would hate to see your worst." I guess that by following the instructions on his daily list for me, qualifies as a great employee. I actually used free time to clean, mostly empty, shelves. Two Guys was not about to start or advance my career. So, I cared about as much as the unionized employees.
The end of August, 1978 was my last night at Two Guys. Toward the end of my shift, I went to Seasonal to borrow a watering can for plants. Then went to the Men's room and filled the can with water.
My boss's desk was located in the Housewares stock room. Over his desk was a shop light. I brought some plastic tags found in Mens Ware department. I filled the three Trojan Enz condoms, purchased earlier at the pharmacy, with water. I tied the top of each condom to the chains holding the light. Then I took a pin and punched a hole in the condom tip. Water was allowed to slowly drip onto the desk.
My area manager, upon seeing the hanging garland of condoms on the following day, called all his colleagues to see "this work of art." Someone "borrowed" a Polaroid camera and took multiple pictures. One photo ended up on the store bulletin board.
The store closing was no surprise, but I was amazed that it stayed open another year or two after I left! The entire chain closed in 1982. Other businesses tried to open at the Menands location and failed.