Monday, January 5, 2015

Gary, Yonkers, Des Moines

I've known a number of Garys, knew two Garys when I worked at Yonkers.

I worked at Yonkers--a department store based out of Des Moines, Iowa--off and on for a number of years when I was in my teens and twenties. I started there in the fall of 1975, I think, working for either a $1.70 an hour (or perhaps it was $2.70--no, $1.70) in the stockroom. I worked after school and on weekends and when I graduated from high school (Urbandale High, Urbandale being a suburb on the north side of Des Moines) and had no idea what I wanted to do, I eventually became a full timer at Yonkers at the Merle Hay Mall. Then I worked there now and then over the next few years--summer while I was in the first couple years of college, then briefly right after college, then maybe once or twice when I came back to Des moines because I was, essentially, broke.

Anyway, Gary.

This Gary I knew briefly. He came to work in the stockroom at Merle Hay and didn't last all that long. He was a nice guy. He was African American, heavy-set with a generally sweet personality. He sang at his church and I was told had a wonderful voice--enough so that he had made recordings. I got along with him and eventually met some of his friends and we hung out together a bit. I brought him over to my house (I was in my teens and lived with my parents on 65th Street, not far from the mall). I introduced him, casually, to my parents.

It was after the visit to my house that I was surprised. My surprise was my father's reaction. he did not like Gary. "What?" "You should keep to your own kind," my father actually said.

What? I had been brought up not to consider race, to be honest and just and fair in relations with all people. I found his objection to be hypocritical and strange but didn't make an issue of it.

I have always had a solid group of friends and then other sets of friends and then friends who were on the edge of being true friends (and then of course acquaintances and such). This Gary was not a close friend but he was a nice guy.

Eventually Gary no longer came to work. I found out he had been fired for stealing a coat. Now, we all worked in the stockroom where all the deliveries came, where we unloaded trucks and took merchandise to the different departments and all that. We had access to the big back doors at the loading dock (now I'm thinking of all the drivers and fellow workers and things that happened, like the driver going through a divorce who purposefully stepped on a cooked roast meant for the Meadowlark Restaurant and when asked about the incident I said I knew nothing . . .) and the thing about those doors is that there was no security. People could steal stuff all the time. In fact, not long after I first started there, most of the crew ahead of me were fired because they were stealing merchandise like crazy. I knew nothing about it.

Okay. So Gary took a coat, an expensive one (big mistake) that was actually pretty ugly. I was and am not motivated much by material things, so it never occurred to me to steal something like that. (And that's not to say I didn't take a thing or two over my years there, but they were small idiosyncratic thefts.) But, Gary was gone and we never became good friends. I never heard from him again.

But now, when I think back, I don't think my father's objection to Gary was due to the color of his skin. No, what I see now was that Gary was pretty obviously Gay. This was in the late Seventies, before the gay/lesbian movement and understanding of that had made headway in most of society. So, I can see now that that was what my father was concerned about though he didn't articulate it as such. Now, my father was not against gay people either (one of my brothers is gay and my father knew that, even back then), no I think he was worried that because I had befriended, or had been befriended by, Gary that I too might be gay. And maybe because of my brother, it made his objection even stronger. (I really had no idea or at least only a slight idea about Gary, but my father needn't have worried.) I think if I'd known Gary, say, ten years later it may have been a different reaction from my father.

There are so many small incidents and people and places. Pointless in the long run--but maybe not. What you thought was one thing turns out to be another and the reasoning of it all turns out to be something else . . . Just thinking of my time spent working at a mundane place like Yonkers in a mundane place like the Merle Hay Mall actually leads me to many interesting characters and small events that revealed small yet important things to me . . . and I suppose that it continues to this day. Things are being revealed in all their seemingly triviality and I'm still not smart enough to really see them for what they are.