When I was in high school, I worked each afternoon and all day Saturday at a small dry cleaners satellite location. It was just one big room with lots of clean clothes waiting to be picked up.
People could also drop off clothes at my location, and this is where I learned a very important lesson.
I took in a lot of white shirts to be cleaned, pressed and neatly folded. Most of the time, men would bring their shirts in. I envisioned these guys as single with no one to do their laundry. I was very naïve at the tender age of 17, and I had never heard of a dry cleaners doing shirts. Mom always did my dad’s shirts. One of my childhood memories is Mom standing at the ironing board, shaking a little water on a shirt, and then ironing it perfectly.
When I was first hired, the owner of the place explained all of my duties. But the one where I learned a very important lesson involved the shirts.
There were two bins under the counter. One was labeled “No Starch” and the other was labeled “Starch.” This is how my boss explained it:
“If the customer wants no starch or light starch, put it in the No Starch bin. If the customer asks for starch or heavy starch, put it in the Starch bin.”
I was dumbfounded that he would fool his customers this way, but I didn’t have the nerve to call him on it. Every time I took in shirts for light or heavy starch, I felt like I was adding to the lie.
One day a regular customer came in with his shirts. He had always been a no- starch guy, so I could receive his stuff guilt-free. But on this day, he decided he wanted light starch. I opened my mouth to confess the whole, sordid shirt truth, but I just couldn’t tell him. I figured I’d be fired if I let the secret out.
I cringed a few days later when he came for his “light starch” shirts. But when he came back with them later in the week, he was all smiles.
“You know, I really liked that light starch,” he said. “I think I’ll have light starch from now on.”
“Great!” I said, trying to keep a straight face.
After he left, I laughed out loud. There was no difference in the shirts at all, except he thought that there was.
That is a story from the first job I ever had. Now I’ll tell you one from the last job.
I worked in a government office that was jam-packed with desks and filing cabinets. There were four clerks (including me) who worked there. People who came to conduct their business had no place to even fill out a form. They had to go out in the hall for that. None of us had any privacy at all. Everyone could hear every word that was said.
One day as I came back from lunch, I could hear a small child screaming at the top of its lungs. Looking through the window in the door, I could see a clerk and a younger woman talking and an older woman trying to soothe a two-year-old that refused to be soothed.
Hmmmm…. What could I do to fix this?
Then it came to me. I suddenly opened the door and flung it against the wall behind it and said in a loud voice that could be heard even over the child’s wails, “What’s going on in here?”
The older woman immediately yanked the kid’s arm up and started dragging him to the door. “I’ll be in the car,” she said as she passed me.
Then, in the silence that we all yearned for, the younger woman concluded her business and hurriedly left.
What the women didn’t know was that I was in no way a supervisor or anybody else with any authority at all. They assumed I was and acted accordingly.
So starch or no starch? That is the question. Use the answer wisely, my friends.