It was spring, 1972, and suddenly I needed a job. Make that both of us needed a job.
My friend Chuck Pogue and I had written a musical. It was a surefire boffo smash. It had everything, gangsters, gals, bumpkins (besides us), 20-30 songs (all stunners), and repartée (snappy, very snappy).
We had just spent an afternoon recreating the script and songs in Professor Charles Dickens’ (yes that was his real name) backyard. Charles seemed amused and amazed at the rampant hubris of two college actors whose musical education consisted of several years singing in a rock band for one and a teen years’ immersion in the films of Fred and Ginger for the other.
But the 100-page script and the sheer number of songs were undeniably real – maybe not real good, but real. How could Charles break the news to these aspiring Harbach & Youman’s without also breaking their hearts?
He promised he would mount a “backers’ audition”-style production of the show next fall if we would rewrite over the summer.
Chuck was from Northern Kentucky and my folks were living in Michigan. If we were to stay in Lexington that summer, we’d have to find a way to pay the bills. That meant getting a job.
Chuck got the bright idea of calling an acquaintance of ours who acted in local stage productions and owned a small chain of women’s sportswear shops. Our acquaintance gently pointed out our deficiencies for selling women’s sportswear, but mentioned his partner was just beginning to open a string of liquor stores and seemed to always need help.
Contact information followed and was followed up. There were two openings at two different stores. I got one interview, Chuck got the other. Off we went.
Chuck went to his interview impeccably groomed, coat and tie…and cape……and cane.
I went to my interview with shoulder-length hair, wearing jeans, moccasins, and my floppy leather Clint Eastwood hat (I did eschew the poncho, it being after Derby Day and all).
I’m not sure which of us was more proud.
The store manager who conducted my interview was desperate. He had no other employees and was expecting a houseful of dinner guests in about 27 hours.
The interview consisted of four questions, verbal — nothing in writing;
1. Do you know anything about liquor? Answer; nope, don’t drink.
2. Do you know how to run a cash register? Answer; never have, but I’m a pretty quick study.
3. Are you 21? Answer; yeah, my birthday was last week.
4. Can you start tomorrow? Answer; what time?
Chuck’s interview wasn’t quite as sanguine (I suspect the cane was a mite intimidating), but he soon got a job for the summer at Shillito’s department store.
My four-question grilling led to a job for the next 44 years.
It was a different time.