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I remember back in 1965, the summer after I had graduated from high school, I worked at John's Bargain Store in Chicago. Before that, I had always done baby-sitting as my little source of income. John's, though, had opened new horizons for me.
It was a dumpy place with so many cheap items that were supposed to be treated with the utmost respect, as though they were antiquities in a museum. I found myself being a cashier, a continual "straightener" who had to make sure that everything was in its place, a stock girl as well as a "mopper" after the store closed.
My ambition was to go to college in the fall, but I found a reality of life that had evaded me. I was born into a Middle Class family, my parents had divorced when I was 16, but found a new world of people that I had never known before.
I never knew that such poverty existed in my area as many of the customers were elderly, poor or living from paycheck to paycheck. I met such interesting people who had their own stories to tell. One of the managers, and there were many who came and went, was a social worker who just grew tired of his career. He wanted to just "drift" for awhile, but had a handicapped wife and child to support. I remember the elderly who often paid for their few purchases in coins as though that was all that they had. There were some rough people whose intentions were to steal rather than being paying customers. Quite a few could hardly speak English. Then, there were those who returned items only amounting to a few dollars to get cash back. Yet, most were gentle people who were from a class that I never knew.
I remember going for lunch across the street to a cheap fast food restaurant getting a hot dog, fries and a Coke for $1. It was such a delight to get away from working so hard.
After a few months, it was time for me to start a junior college in our area where my ambition was to study music. The manager had asked me to become his assistant manager because I was doing a good job. I thought about it, but declined knowing that I had higher aspirations.
But I will never forget that summer as I had bonded with co-workers and customers much to my surprise. I saw another side of life where there are those who count their coins to eke out an existence.