On Thanksgiving 1956, I covered the front desk at the Gotham Hotel in Manhattan, so that Bob Dalton could make a train for Poughkeepsie to spend the weekend with his family.
I worked for Bernie Goldman at the Plaza on Yom Kippur 1957. I came in for Tony Kelly for his daughter’s wedding. I stood in for Eric Killackey and Jimmy Callahan at the Waldorf Astoria on Christmas Eve in 1958. As I remember, I also took over the reservation desk there on New Year’s Eve, so that my boss, big Johnny Jenneli, could go to a party with his Hoboken childhood friend, Frank Sinatra. All of the above, including Frank, have passed on. What have I done right?
I could do all this, and many times over, because I had no family in New York. I spent one Christmas Eve reading the Manhattan telephone directory that listed about 600 Devines. Not one returned my calls. So much for Irish hospitality.
I was an actor then, and because I was Irish Catholic, I fell into the hotel workers’ union under the leadership of the very Irish Catholic union leader, whom I think was Tommy Dougherty.
In those days, he hired, whenever possible, Irish Catholics, one of whom was a big elderly guy named Finnegan, who wore, I swear, size 14 double-wide shoes. I loved Finnegan, but I couldn’t have replaced him. He was at least six four and his uniform wouldn’t have fit me.
For four or five years before I met She who changed everything in my life including the way I folded my underwear, I was the extra guy whom the other guys depended on to step in. If a show I was in closed, or when I came back from summer theater, there was always a job waiting for me at one hotel or another. I was only repaid once, when I was working nights at the Sherry Netherland Hotel and the manager, who was Jewish, noticed that I was wearing sterling silver Star of David cufflinks, a gift from Joya Feldmen. He whispered to me that I didn’t have to come in the next day, which was a Jewish holy day. I kept my mouth shut and took the offer. Thanks, Joya.
I bore you with all of this side story today as a lead into a bigger story that really breaks my heart. By now you’ve all heard that most of the major retail giants are going to be open nationally, for the first time, on Thanksgiving, and everyone from the girl who sells perfume to the poor immigrant guy who sweeps the floors, has to be there.
That, of course, won’t happen in Maine. Here state law prohibits large retail stores from opening on Thanksgiving, as well as Christmas and Easter. In many other parts of the country, however, Thanksgiving will be a workday.
At Walmart, that means the day before, the day of, and the day after. Target, J.C. Penney, Sears open their doors Thanksgiving night.
Even iconic Macy’s, famous for it’s annual parade, will be open Thursday evening.
Kmart is going for the early birders among you on Thanksgiving. “We will open at six in the morning,” they say.
The Gap, the center for the ultrathin stylish youth, will be open as will Old Navy clothing stores. Some will open at 6 a.m. Most of these trendy shops that fill the malls are staffed part-time by high school and college kids, so Mama, keep the pie in the fridge.
Some of those national stores, including Best Buy, will open just after midnight, making it very early Friday morning.
There will, of course, be no Jerry Devine to fill in for the guys and gals who want to be home for the holiday. All the guys and gals, including the warm-hearted Jerry Devines, with no family at home are forced, at the cost of losing part-time jobs, and there are more of those than any time in retail history, or full time, to be present with hair combed, teeth brushed and nails clean.
As I write this on my Apple computer, I learn that the Apple store in the South Portland mall will NOT be open on Thanksgiving. The local manager tells me that the key man at Apple, Tim Cook, made an announcement that Apple wants its employees to spend the holiday with their families. Hooray for Apple. A pox on the others. Stay tuned for news about Christmas Day.
J.P. Devine is a Waterville writer.