As I climbed the translucent steps, I felt as if I were in a 1940's M.G.M. musical. In my mind, I was on a staircase to heaven, with chorus girls in feathery gowns and snazzy guys in tuxedos dancing each tread.
But this was no Hollywood scene. I was at the Apple Store on Chicago's Michigan Avenue, on my way to a 10 a.m. workshop, when I paused to spy on the action below. About two-dozen young people in red logo t-shirts stood quietly while their leader addressed them. As I watched, my mood sagged. Why can't that be me, I thought.
My self-pity was not far-fetched because I had indeed been one of them. The year was 2010; I was 72. And after a hiring event at the Old Orchard store, where I had shone in role-playing and interviews, I became a part-time specialist.
"I can't believe it," I said in a three-way call to my daughters. I was about to enter the inner sanctum where my first orientation was to take place, and gushed as if I were an Oscar winner: "I'm surrounded by Macs!"
After I completed the training and joined the team, I scooted the sales floor in my own logo t-shirt and name tag. And despite being the age of my fellow employees' grandmothers, I felt at-home. I joshed with peers as we gathered for our own morning meetings. I excelled at calming older customers who feared technology. And I shared in the excitement of new product launches.
"How can you stand the noise?" I remember my friend Ruth asking on the occasions we'd meet on my lunch hour. I'd look around to view the staff chatting with customers, and realize I had absorbed these sales talks, plus the blares of computers, and heard a symphony rather than a din.
"What noise?" I'd say.
Naturally, I had experiences that weren't favorable. Two have stayed with me. In the first, I was advising a young man on the model of computer that I believed fit his needs. As I pointed out its advantages, he stood with his arms crossed and his face dour. When he wasn't scowling, he was searching the store.
Frustrated, I said, "Is there something wrong? You don't seem pleased with my selection."
"You don't know what you're talking about," he said, "I want someone else."
My reaction was midway between fury and tears. I stifled both and sought out a replacement. As I lingered in the background, I heard my fellow Apple worker recommend the very same Mac. My nemesis clapped him on the back and said, "Perfect." I shook my head and whispered, Asshole.
The second blunder was more serious. I had sold headphones to a middle-aged man. For certain small transactions, cash registers were in drawers that sprung out from beneath a display table. "Please stand back," I'd joke to customers, "these can be lethal."
While others laughed, this man reacted differently. "Is it because I'm black?" he said. "If I were white, would you have told me to stand back? Did you want me far from the cash?"
I was mortified. How did my wisecrack go so wrong? I apologized over and over, as wrought as if I had just totaled his car. Eventually, he was mollified and we completed the purchase. We shook hands and he left the store. But I worried he would file a complaint. With my heart beating and hands shaking, I sought out my floor manager. "That's unfortunate," he said, "but I'm glad you gave me a heads-up."
As far as I know, that customer generously forgave me and never tattled. Now I wonder if the incident affected any chance I had of ever being hired again. For recently, I applied for the same part-time specialist job, but instead of Old Orchard, I chose the Michigan Avenue store, walking distance from my apartment.
After a hiring event in September of 2015, I received a, "Sorry, we're going in a different direction," email. Did I lose the opportunity because I quit my first Apple job after less than six months to be closer to home as Tommy declined? Or, did my former floor manager -- who was now part of the Michigan Ave. crew -- recall the drawer debacle and shut me out? Perhaps, it was just that HR had their pick of hundreds of other candidates who were younger, taller, and smarter than I?
"It's probably for the best," I said to my daughters in another three-way call. "At my age, it'd be tough to stand on my feet for eight hours."