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Wishing my good friend Carl Manco,  the owner of Sport Prospect down on seventh avenue a speedy recovery as he recently spent a few days in the hospital.

Carl was responsible for hiring me at Paragon Sporting Goods store on 18th street and Broadway way back in the day when I was lost and trying to find my way through young adulthood.

I had known Carl from Saint Saviour when I was a kid;  he lived on fifth street and seventh avenue where he ran the sports program.  One year Jimmy and Frankie Cullen left Holy Name for public school, that automatically made them ineligible for H.N.S. sports; so they played in Carl’s basketball league.

(Ken Whelan in a Brooklyn-Longhorns Cap from Sport Prospect)

Oftentimes I would head down to Saviour’s with the Cullen’s to their tiny Gymnasium on sixth street to watch some solid hoops. It was a lot of fun. Carl posted the standings of each team on the wall and keep track of the leading scorers in the league. Colin Quinn’s younger brother David was the Michael Jordan of this league.

The day I filled out an application for employment at Paragon I made a serious boo-boo. After filling in my name and address I wrote down ‘Bkly’ instead of spelling out, B-R-O-O-K-L-Y-N on the line where they asked for the name of your city.  That’s how unprepared I was for the real world. My blunder revealed what a lack of schooling can do for you. I didn’t even know how to abbreviate my own city.

Carl quickly corrected the mistake and took a chance on hiring me despite my lack of grammar/spelling skills.

A voice inside my head said, “Who cares, it’s not like you have to spell anything important, right? I was working in a Sporting Goods Store.” (And don’t get me wrong, I’m no spelling bee champ now)

Chalk that one up to IGNORANCE!

On a cool, September afternoon the shoe department at Paragon was rocking. My job was stocking shirts on different racks in the basement and walking around making sure everything was in their proper space. I  spent a lot of time folding. I’d also help customers find their right size when they were searching for t-shirts. You had to look busy too. No standing around. Especially when the boss was on the floor.

“They need you in shoes,” an older gentleman said to me as I stood there watching a ton of people glancing at the many shoes on the wall and the many people sitting down trying them on.

I looked up from making sure that all the Nike running t-shirts were in size order and said, “Ok, no problem but I have never worked in that area.”

“Oh don’t worry, when a customer wants a shoe, just go get it for them,” was his reply.

Sweet! I was going to fetch shoes for people. Even I could do that.

I walked over and stood by the sneaker wall. I couldn’t believe how many people were shopping for shoes.  And there wasn’t even a sale!  There were all types of shoes.  Running, basketball, walking, hiking and even shoes for the water.  Who needs shoes for the water?  Some guy came up to me with five different shoes in his arms and says;

“Can you get me these in a 10 and a half and 11?” I looked at him and grabbed the shoes and told him I’d be right back. I thought to myself in the back while I tried to find them, ‘is this dude really gonna try on all these shoes’?

Twenty minutes later I walked out of the back and I was walking around looking for this guy.  There were people everywhere.  Shoes and empty shoe boxes scattered all over the floor. Little kids running wild, and people screaming out shoe sizes.

“I’LL TRY A 12 THEN!” A customer yelled out to a salesman who was standing by the door which led to the back.  And boy would you love to hear what went on in the back.  Every sales person back there had nothing but bad things to say about their customer.

“I can’t believe this asshole wants to try on two pairs of shoes” I heard one nerdy looking salesman say.  But a few minutes later, the guy walks out with the two pairs and he’s all chummy-chummy with his customer.

“Here you go sir, I actually have both of them in a size 11,” the salesman said with a smile.

The next time you go shopping for shoes and you ask the salesperson to get you more than one pair of shoes, you know they are complaining about you in the back.

I worked my ass off that day.  I must’ve retrieved over a 100 pairs of sneakers in four hours.  I later found out that the sneaker department worked on commission.  When a customer would purchase the shoes, they’d write out initials on the box. Well, no one told me about the procedure.  I sold a ton of shoes and didn’t see an extra penny. Chalk it up to “not speaking up.”

After two weeks I stopped showing up to work, it started to get boring. I liked the sneaker department and tried to transfer there but they ran some bullshit on me that I needed to work my way up to that department. I hated folding shirts and standing around.  I’d go get something to eat at lunchtime and everything was so expensive around that area of the city.  A sandwich cost $8 and then a drink would be another $1.50.  I couldn’t afford it any longer. I kept asking my mother for lunch money and all she said was, ‘pack a lunch’.

When she gave me car fare for the train, well you guessed it, I rushed the gate and kept the money.

Get well Carl…the customers and employees at Sport Prospect miss you!