August 11, 2021
Living in Brooklyn, New York, during my teenage years (1980s), I experienced my share of teenage invincibility. I also felt that anything I aspired for was attainable, probably because of the upbringing of my parents. I was surrounded by endless skyscrapers and crowds of people everywhere I went, who walked fast and seemed to be drawn by a magnetic force that had them always in forward motion.
Everything seemed huge, and not just the buildings!! Pizzas were huge, the corner vegetable/fruit stands had huge quantities of everything, Juniors Restaurant served large portions of their foods, even slices of their cheesecakes were ginormous. Then there were the large round bagels, the buses, the trains, and the department stores were huge, especially the Macys Department Store at Herald Square; it was so large that I easily got lost in the many departments within the store itself, and there were at least ten or eleven floors I think.
As the oldest child, without cousins or relatives to hang out with (I left them back in Trinidad almost a decade earlier), I did many things by myself in this huge city. One month, the temp agency I worked with sent me to work as a clerk typist in a building in Manhattan across from this ‘old antique looking’ department store; etched into the outside facade, it said, B. Altmans.
Curious, on my lunch hour one day, I made my way over to the huge grey cemented building. As I entered its interior, I knew this was going to be an extraordinary experience for me!! I was immediately absorbed by the old world, established, dark and polished appearance of its walls and furniture that held its clean lines of sophisticated coverings for the human body. My visual and auditory senses were hooked. I approached the clothing area, touching and feeling the luxurious fabrics, casually glancing at the price tags which were in the hundreds for basic items. I observed that the clientele were refined older white men and women, and no where could I find folks that were similar to me or the people I worked with or rubbed elbows with on the buses and trains.
For more information on this landmark store, click on: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/B._Altman
I inconspicuously walked over to the evening wear department, watching genteel women carrying into the fitting rooms some of the most beautiful garments I had ever laid eyes on. I sauntered in and out of the rows of clothing and keeping an eye on the time on my watch, with my shoulders squared off and head held slightly up, I took my barely $75.00 worth of attired body out towards the exit and back to my typist’s chair on the umpteenth floor of my workplace.
WELL, that left an impression!
Shortly after this experience, one Saturday morning, dressed in an inexpensive t-shirt and shorts, wearing red and white Reebok sneakers, my washcloth secured at my waist, for the inevitable perspiration, my long waist-length hair in a braid and covered with a baseball cap, I set out walking. I walked down Flatbush Ave., past Prospect Park, through Park Slope, and arrived in downtown Brooklyn. Suddenly I felt like exploring further, so I took the train into Manhattan and got off at 34th Street. Perhaps you can guess where I was heading?!
I still remember feeling energized, curious and a bit mischievous as I traversed the lively and noisy subway and long blocks as I walked past my job. I don’t remember feeling tired, although I should have for the extraordinary number of miles I had walked. I also recall having a slight boldness and sense of defiance in my attitude. I was going off the beaten path, so to speak, for someone of my young age and economic status, I briefly considered, as I had entered the ‘old antique looking’ B. Altman Department Store for the second time.
You might be curious as to why I dressed so casually that day, obviously with the intention of returning to this established and regal looking place. Well, you see, I had observed on that first day that the genteel men and women wore casual and sporty outfits and it had occurred to me that this must be how the affluent shopped. I didn’t realize at the time that their casual outfits were probably in the hundreds of dollars.
So, with a laid back attitude, walking as if I shopped here often, I confidently picked out a few outfits, declining the offered help, and walked into the fitting room, which was probably more expensive at least than my high school gymnasium! Feeling a sense of joy and excitement after I tried on my chosen garments, I exited the fitting room and casually returned the outfits to where I got them, trying to appear disinterested and disappointed that they were not what I had hoped for.
As I took the train back to Brooklyn and ‘my reality’ that day I felt content and extremely satisfied with my bravery and audacity for undertaking my little adventure!!!
Why share this memory? Well it is a great one to tell, don’t you think!! But, I also believe that it’s this sense of boldness, confidence, and might I say, high self esteem I’ve always remembered possessing (the origin of which to be discussed in another post) as a young girl and later as a woman, which were some of the qualities that have accompanied me throughout my life. I do think though that they have been both good and not so good for me. Good, in that they have helped me throughout my personal and professional lives fueling invincibility and confidence; not so good, because I think they also made others who were in more supervisory positions feel uncomfortable with my outspoken, confident and bold attitude. At least that’s what I think!
Hence, it is my conclusion, that in pursuing professional success, there must be a certain balance of these qualities combined with the strategies of an effective mentor that will result in one’s success. I cannot elaborate on this further however, since, yes, you know it if you’ve followed my blogs, I have never benefited from a true mentoring relationship, and so I remain your courageous PIONEER giving you my best speculations!!!!
More to come…