Boss Man


For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” (Matthew 8:9)

My first job was working as a stock boy and all around gopher at a small men’s clothing store owned by Mr. Hesselman, an older Jewish man who intimidated the socks off me.  Outside the store he had the heart of generosity.  Inside he had the business instinct of a shark.  The man didn’t know the meaning of the word browse.  To him the phrase “I’m just looking, thank you” was like Custer asking Sitting Bull, “Do you mind if we schedule this thing again for next week?”  Every customer who came through the door was ground zero, a lamb at the slaughter.  The man took no prisoners.

One day as I was dusting off the shoulders of the sport coats, a customer came into the store and meandered toward the suits.  Mr. Hesselman rose from his little desk in the back of the store and approached this poor unsuspecting man like a torpedo in slow motion.  I don’t know if it was telepathy or not, but with each step Mr. Hesselman took toward the customer I could hear “You are MINE.  You are MINE.  You are MINE.”

Mr. Hesselman greeted the man with an abrupt, nasal “Hello” and asked if the man wanted any help.  When the customer said he was just looking (and waiting for his wife), Hesselman quickly pulled a suit out of the rack and asked, “Do you like this one?”  The man stepped back, a bit surprised, and repeated that he was just looking.  Mr. Hesselman displayed his irritation with a loud sniff and thrust the suit back into the rack.  But then, startling both the customer and me, he quickly pulled out another, demanding, “Do you like this one?”  The man, a bit unnerved, stepped away again and stammered, “It’s nice, but really I’m just look . . . .”

What happened next I will never forget.  Hesselman yanked the suit jacket off the hanger; then, holding it open, he thrust it at the man and ORDERED him to try it on.  I was halfway across the store and felt the heat.  The hapless customer trembled visibly as he turned around, his arms extending feebly behind him.  Mr. Hesselman shoved the jacket on, then grabbed the man’s shoulders and whirled him around to face the mirror.  “What do you think?” he fired.  But before the guy could answer, Hesselman had whipped the suit pants off the hanger and directed him toward the nearby dressing room.  “Try these on,” he commanded and shut the door.

I didn’t get to see the rest of the exchange because Mr. Hesselman sent me to the cellar to stack boxes or something.  But a little later, when no one was looking, I peeked at the receipts which were impaled beside the cash register on one of those long, sharp spindles.  There, near the top of the pile, I saw a receipt written in Hesselman’s scrawling hand for a suit, a shirt, a tie, and a pair of socks.  Poor sucker, I thought.  I still wonder how he explained it to his wife.  There was now no doubt in my mind that my boss was the pettiest, most ruthless businessman on the planet.

I learned a lot from Mr. Hesselman.


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