In the Terrible ’60s, every once in a while, I’d try to behave, follow the rules, and get ahead. Sensing this maturity in the offing, my friend Dana put in a word for me at the Saddlery; A large retail and mail-order supplier of anything you might need for horses.
I threw myself into learning the operation. The company had been there since the 1870s, and the storage rooms stretched back through portions of three buildings. If you wanted a McLellan saddle, there was one in a storage room. I jokingly suggested to the stock clerk that we might find Custer’s order that got canceled after Little Big Horn if we looked hard enough. The stock clerk, an imposing African American gentleman, named Mr. Harris. He scowled at this and stated that the order had not been canceled – misfortune had prevented its delivery.
On my one-month anniversary, the owner expressed an interest in training me as an assistant manager. I threw myself into learning new aspects of the business, expecting a title and wage increase. Some three months into throwing myself into the business, the boss trotted out his wet behind the ears nephew Charles as the new assistant manager. I was introduced to Charles as the stock boy and told to teach Charles the business.
Mr. Harris found me in one of the basement stockrooms, sulking. ” Wes! The way you look, son, you’d ruin a good thunderstorm! Quit sulking and either get back to work or quit. It’s time you learned the Golden Rule. No, I don’t mean the do onto others one.” I asked him what he was talking about. “For a New York boy, you are dumb. The Golden Rule says that those who have the gold make the rules. Mr. Stephens and his family own the business; they have the gold, so they make the rules. That doesn’t mean that you take a daily dose from them. Learn how to tie knots in the devil’s tail, lad. That’s the golden path to satisfaction. Tie so many knots that they can’t tell storeroom 12 from storeroom 1/2A. Why do you think they’re worried all the time that I’ll retire?”
I learned to “tie knots in the devil’s tail” from a master of the technique for several months. We kept poor Charles running in figure eights and not suspecting he’d gotten played. The stocking system was quirky at best, and it took little to confuse things a bit more. Likewise, pricing on items didn’t always reflect actual current prices. If Charles quoted a 1942 amount to a client, the accounting department chewed him out, especially after Mr. Harris and I upgraded all the other tags to current pricing; So sloppy of Charles not to check. Charles’ attempts to counter our efforts were inept, being he never spent time learning the business. Even nepotism has limits.
After two months, he decided that the family business was not for him and enrolled at the University of Maryland for a more satisfying career. Mr. Harris “reluctantly” accepted the assistant manager position, and I decided to move on, but not before I thanked Mr. Harris for the excellent tuition.
And I’ve been tieing knots ever since.