Epiphany On Marshall Fields 3rd Floor

I taught in the classroom for 40 years. No argument with the classic adages “when the student is ready the teacher will appear” and “there are teachable moments.” I would simply add a third: “teachers learn in much the same ways.”

It was the Fifties…it was still Norman Rockwell in much of America….I had to work summers selling …my assignment at Marshall Fields was their sheets & pillows department on the third floor. Don’t look for it now, because the New York retail octopus known as Macy’s has since devoured it. But what they couldn’t swallow up are the sweet memories from those summers elbow-deep in bedding options. Often being offered by this off-duty teacher to some of the very kids he had recently taught, who were now going off to college.

MY teachable moments had nothing to do with the Civil War or the Homestead Act. Rather, with the way my customers — kids, parent, dowagers, whatever — were able to relate to something so mundane. Just as in the classroom, history could become far more than simply names and dates, so here could sheets and pillows become far more than, well, sheets and pillows.

As those July and August days ticked off, I found myself selling not products. Possibilities! The possibility of falling asleep faster, better, more ready to sink your troubles into the yielding comfort of clean white percale. Why I even envisioned for them payoffs like gentler nights. As both Shakespeare and Spatafora said: “To sleep, to sleep, perchance to dream…”

I have to half-smile when I remember the manager suggesting I “hang up the teaching gig and stay here where you can make some real money.” Of course that wasn’t going to happen. But I did learn a lot about how to lift the mundane — be it history timelines or summer bedsheets — to new and higher heights of interest.

Good selling and good teaching have a lot to do with intuitively understanding the brain of your student or customer. It’s this “gift” which can help make the difference. Only now I understand some researchers at the University of California are developing a “mind-reading machine.” I kid you not. The idea is to track the different patterns of neurons in the person’s superior temporal gyrus, thereby deciphering what words they are hearing and decoding.

One of the researchers told the London Guardian, “This might sound spooky, but it could really help speechless patients.” God bless him, he’s probably right. About the “helping.” And also about the “spooky.”

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  • Thank you for the smile and the memories of other times this brought to me Jack ... PS: Do you have any 1000 thread count cotton sheets young man?

  • Oh Master Geezer, you obviously know your sheets! Is there no limit to your expansive body of information? There must be something special in the water up there in Canada..........

  • Ha ... It is definitely not the water Jack ... Wewould credit a Mennonite spouse who introduced us to 'finer' things as the years have rolled by ... we started out on paper thin 180 count and then progressed through 220 .... 230 ... 300 ... 400 ... 600 etc etc Until about the time the kids went off to University .... then we could finally afford the 1000 thread count .... Chuckle! ---

    PS: We seldom mentionthis to outside circles but when we were but eight years old my Grandmother gave me a set (24 volumes )of Encyclopædia Britannica [1952 edition] .... They were very special to me and I read the entire set cover to cover {and did a lot of re-reading} ... It made school easy ... and irritate the H*ll out of my older siblings when in a small single room country school their younger brother had answers to diverse questions at his youthful recall ... now in my waning years the recall is foggy ... but that gift was such a 'gift' of import back then ... I bless my grandmother in memory for any moment when trivia & fact come quickly back to me ...

  • In reply to Geezer:

    These details help explain the literary whirlwind from the North! As for Britannica, back in the late 50s I worked a year there as a history consultant in their filmsdivision. But I must admit, never tried to read it like you did. Wow, I'm duly impressed...

  • I am so very envious of your work experience with Britannica Jack ... I am impressed, as always, by the breadth and scope of the topics that you take under consideration on a daily basis ... for if rational thought and compassion for people along with an unceasing work ethic make for a long life .... well then Mr. Spatafora you will surely be a centenarian!

  • God love ya, Geezer. As the rabbis say: From your mouth to God's ears!

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