When I was about twenty-three, I got a part-time holiday job as a salesclerk at Bloomingdale’s. I chose Bloomie’s because it was located near my daytime job and I hoped that I could convince the credit office to just apply my salary directly to my charge bill, but evidently that wasn’t the way it worked.
Regardless, I completed training, received my gold B and reported to work on a Saturday afternoon. I had been assigned to men’s underwear, which was then located on the Third Avenue side of the first floor. Despite knowing nothing about the product, I wasn’t unhappy with this assignment – I was young, slim, blonde, pretty, and single and I expected to get a few dates out of this. Even if I had been reluctant to work there, it wouldn’t have mattered; I was part of what was called the Flying Squad and, like a missionary, had to go where I was sent.
I rode down from Personnel in the employee elevator and trotted into the men’s furnishings department wondering whom I might meet. I found the manager and asked him where I should stand; he asked me to straighten the Calvin Klein briefs and assist anyone who required help. I could handle that.
I began to reorganize the – for that time period – expensive designer undergarments by size, color, and style. It wasn’t easy. Customers all but ripped them from my hands while searching for a particular style or color and demanded that I check the stock room for anything not immediately visible. I wouldn’t have minded if the customers had been handsome, young men, but they were all women, all afternoon, a six-hour shift full of cranky women. Evidently men don’t furnish themselves in New York City.
By the time six pm came I was exhausted and growing a little cranky myself. Even though the store was open late for the pre-Christmas rush, the crowds had thinned, as the shopping-bag-clutching hoards exited through the Fifty-Ninth Street door for theatres and restaurants.
I leaned against a glass counter and surveyed. The entire department looked as if a bomb had been detonated in the middle of it. Catching sight of my reflection in a mirrored pillar, I noticed that I didn’t look too good either; my clothes were rumpled, my hair was sagging, and I had dark rings under my eyes like a baby panda. Sighing, I began to collect the discarded black and white cardboard packages to replace and re-order them one final time.
“Nice Christmas decorations this year,” said a quiet male voice behind me.
On my knees on the carpet, stuffing extra stock into a drawer, I hadn’t heard him approach. Startled, I leaped up and wobbled on my ill-chosen spike heels. He caught my elbow and peering into my face, asked, “Are you all right?”
Embarrassed, I pushed my hair back and mumbled, “Yeah, I’m fine, thank you.” I hadn’t even looked at the man who had broken my fall.
“Are you sure? You look frazzled.” He responded in a voice that was beginning to sound familiar.
“Really, I’m fine, thank you; it’s just been a long day.” I looked up at my rescuer – straight into the velvet brown eyes of Al Pacino. I blinked. Michael Corleone. Bobby Deerfield. Serpico. The bank robber from Dog Day Afternoon. I nearly passed out.
He smiled. “What time do you get off? Do you want to get a cup of coffee?”
What? Al Pacino was asking me out? I panicked, turned bright crimson, and mumbled, “I . . . I . . . I can’t.”
At that moment, I heard the manager call my name. My head snapped in his direction and as I spun on my skinny heel, I realized that Mr. Pacino was still cradling my left elbow. “I . . . I need that,” I squeaked. Pulling my arm away, I fled into the stockroom.
I hid in there organizing underpants for the next hour until my friend Kim wandered in. “Hey, come on, we’re done. Let’s go. Here, I brought your coat.”
Unspeaking, I shoved my arms into the camel sleeves and strode toward the employee elevator. “Hey, wait for me!” Kim shouted behind me.
I didn’t speak all the way to the employee entrance or after we punched out and began dodging tourists on Sixtieth Street. Finally, as we stood on the corner of Madison Avenue, Kim tugged at my arm. “What is wrong with you?”
I didn’t answer. Kim’s eyes grew wider. “Oh, I know, you made a mistake with the register, didn’t you?”
I shook my head and began to cross with the Walk signal. Kim trotted after me. “Well, what went wrong, then?”
I stopped on the uptown west corner of the Avenue and faced her. I chewed my lip. “Al Pacino came into the department.”
Her eyes widened. “The Godfather? Dog Day Afternoon?”
“Well?” she prodded. “Did you say something stupid to him?”
I nodded again.
“Oh, God, what did you say? Did you say you’re his biggest fan?” she taunted.
I shook my head. “No. Stupider than that.”
“He asked me out and I said no.”
“You heard me.”
“Al Pacino asked you out and you said no?” Her voice was so loud that passing tourists were beginning to stare at us.
“Yes, I said no.”
Kim shook her head slowly, as though there was no hope for someone like me. “You really are an idiot,” she said sadly.
Looking back on that night, all these years later, Kim was right; I was an idiot. I don’t know why I said no. I panicked. Maybe if I had said yes, my life would be completely different than it is. But I doubt it. He asked me for coffee, not to marry him, and probably my life would have turned out the same. But I have learned that opportunities don’t pop up unbidden every day and it’s far better to grab them and squeeze the life out of them than it is to fear them and wonder what might have been.