It was on a sunny Saturday afternoon in the spring of 1949 that I learned an important life lesson about judging others on their physical appearance.
As a senior at George Washington High School in Washington Heights and a serious piano student, I worked part time as a salesman in Wall’s Music Center on Grace Avenue in Great Neck. The job provided a pleasant working environment, a modest income and was worth the drive from Manhattan in my family’s old Pontiac. My weekly paycheck combined a base salary plus commissions earned on the sale of radios, phonographs, music-related accessories, and 78 rpm record albums (shortly before the introduction of 45 rpm and 33 1/3 rpm “long playing” records).
For maximum fairness at garnering commissions, especially on sales of higher-priced items, two other teenage salesmen and I used the “up” system, taking turns in rotation greeting customers entering the shop.
There were a dozen or so different kinds of radios in stock, including clock radios and “portable” radios that were often larger than overnight cases (small transistor radios would not appear in the marketplace until several years later).
The most desirable — and costly — radio in the store was the suitcase-size Zenith Trans-Oceanic model 8G005Y, produced from 1946 to 1949 and available for a lofty (at that time) $125, plus tax. The commission on the sale of a “T-O” was high enough for us to try to sell one whenever possible. This enormous eight-tube radio operated on battery or AC/DC power and broadcast AM and seven short-wave bands.
On that unforgettable afternoon, the music shop’s glass door opened wide and a tall, unshaven man sauntered in wearing sunglasses and a wrinkled porkpie hat, and garbed in scruffy clothing more suitable for yard work than for shopping on fashionable Grace Avenue.
This slim, ragged fellow was my “up,” but after glancing at his unkempt appearance, I quickly concluded my efforts would be more profitably spent with another ostensibly affluent customer, so I looked at my co-worker Norman and winked as a sign that I was relinquishing my turn to him.
Norman approached as this unseemly looking fellow walked to the radio display, pointed at the Trans-Oceanic and asked whether he had six in stock. Norman blinked, looked disbelievingly at me, then turned and went into the stock room. He promptly returned to say that there were six in stock. Then the buyer opened his checkbook and waited for Norman to write the $750 receipt. Adding further insult to my self-inflicted fiscal injury, I was asked to help carry the six Trans-Oceanic boxes to the back seat of the buyer’s shiny white Lincoln Continental convertible parked nearby.
Ever since that notable afternoon some 68 years ago, I have assiduously avoided judging others solely on their appearance.
Reader Rod Rogers lives in Merrick.