Jobs: The Dolls’ House

Any time I talk about places I’ve worked, my kids are like, “You need to write about all these things!” I suppose it’s never all that interesting to the person who has lived it, but today I’ll post about one of the many jobs I’ve had in my life: a clerk at a doll shop.

That is, I suppose I was a clerk. I was never given a title, per se. But I was one of three people who worked in this shop—a converted old house with requisite creaky floors. I was also the youngest, being 19 at the time and in my first year as an undergrad. My co-worker was attending the same university but was, I believe, a sophomore or junior. The store manager was an older woman who wanted to be a poet and seemed embittered by her lot in life.

The shop was owned by a woman who designed dolls and figurines as well as drew art prints, all of Victorian-era children. Each had a name: Brooke, Rebecca, David, James, etc. The girls wore frills and bows and bonnets; the boys wore sailor suits and short pants. They were charming, for those who like that sort of thing, which I did. But they were also very much of their time—not Victorian, that is, but 80s and 90s—and while the artist enjoyed a certain amount of popularity for a time, one never hears about her or her work anymore.

In any case, I took two buses to get to this store. While there, I often had to cut mattes for framing prints. Besides framing art done by the shop owner, we had one customer who would bring us scads of Thomas Kinkade prints to matte and frame. Other than that, I would wander the shop, straightening things and making sure none of the prints were being faded by sunlight.

Every other Saturday, I had to work in the shop alone. We had a radio up on top of one of the tall display cabinets; I had to stand on a bar-height chair to reach it. Some Saturdays I would never see a soul, so I always made sure to bring a book or notebook. Too bad food delivery services weren’t yet common; I always had to pack myself a lunch to store in the shop’s ancient refrigerator.

My favorite would be if and when we’d get a thunderstorm. The house would grow steadily darker and the rumble would shake it. Then rain would lash the windows. There was a sunroom where we put sale items, and that was the best place to be when it rained. The only down side was that the radio would go all to static in a storm.

One Saturday a man came into the store to buy a few things. He said something about a discount. It turned out he was related to the artist; he was her nephew or something. Well, he said he was, anyway. I guess I had no way of knowing, though I checked with a friend later (someone who worked directly for the artist, which was how I’d gotten the job) and it turned out to be legit. Whew.

The bitter manager got in trouble once for treating me badly at a doll show after other employees complained and the artist saw the manager berating me. Sadly, that may also have been what precipitated the shop closing a year later. So I only worked there for that one year. I didn’t mind not having to take two buses to get to work anymore, but there was a modicum of panic over finding new work. As it turned out, though, after the doll shop I ended up in the best job I’ve ever had (short of being a writer). But that’s another story for another post… Or probably several posts…

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