Moving to New York City was a rite of passage for me and most of my college friends who graduated from the University of Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music. With a degree in, dare I say it, Musical Theatre, there aren’t many options for post-college job markets, except of course, the Big Apple.
Some friends were sudden successes, booking their Broadway gigs and national tours. Having always been an acquired taste, my first job was in an upscale men’s clothing store on the upper east side called Peter Elliot. For $10 per hour. A few months later, I did get a $4 per hour raise and a new wardrobe that would make any well-dressed man jealous. With labels from England and Italy, the craftsmanship of the clothing was unmatched.
$195 for an Italian silk tie, $495 for a Scottish cashmere sweater, $459 for a hand-sewn Luigi Borrelli dress shirt was never balked at. The wealthy clientele would drop their titanium American Express cards and not even ask how much the total was. Movie and television stars dropped in on a weekly basis: Kevin Kline stocking up on socks, a scarf for Art Garfunkel, a raincoat for Stanley Tucci and Murphy Brown‘s Candice Bergen depleting our inventory of men’s cashmere vests.
Peter Elliot Men also briefly sold shoes, and I was very happy to acquire a pair of Spanish-made Carmina cordovan leather boots for cost. We would keep extra shoe inserts, heel and toe pads around; a quick adjustment could help close a sale with an undecided customer.
One blessed day, a wrinkled woman in a sun hat, sunglasses and a skirt that was pretty revealing came into the shop. Her sandal had a strap that had come loose and her heel was sliding. Now, we didn’t sell women’s shoes, but if anyone could fix it, it was going to be me. I knelt down and opened the cupboard beneath our display for my shoe repair box.
I was able to reattach her shoe strap and insert a temporary heel pad to prevent it from sliding. We didn’t want her taking a tumble down Madison Avenue, now did we? Upon completion of my MacGyver-style repair job, the woman turned my world on with her smile and reached into her pocketbook. Slipping me a $5 bill and clutching my hand, she said, “Now, go get a drink and toast to me!”
I looked down, then back up, caught her eye and said, “Ms. Moore, this is New York City. What kind of drink do you think I can get for five bucks?” Mary Tyler Moore, a recovering alcoholic, should know better.
Okay, I didn’t say that. Everything else prior to my fabricated response was true, but I wouldn’t dare be that rude to a TV legend. And that evening, when my shift ended, I strolled to a bar on Third Avenue. A gin martini was placed in front of me, I raised the glass and toasted the first three sips to her, a generous tribute for her contribution.
Mary, if you’re reading, you owe me $7.