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Sweatshirt


by David James


Mitzi ( formerly Millicent) and I were camp counselors last year. The year round camp consisted of four week sessions and was unisex, called “Singing Swingles”. We all caught the pun because we saw ourselves as swinging singles. Housing assignments were made independent of our sex. Mitzi, who I met on day one was a divorced mom who was formerly married to a Baptist minister from Alabama. Me, I was unemployed at the time. My job selling cigarette rolling machines was in the tank because a glut of my product was out there after the Surgeon General's warning. Frankly, I took the counseling job simply to have a place to stay for summer until I could find another job. I lost my battle of tangling with my landlord over the late rent. He kicked me out and I was in a bit of debt and I couldn't afford the rent for another apartment.

It seems we were all, the whole damn crowd, at camp to escape and try to come clean with our pasts. A cliché I heard from a lot of the formerly religious types was, “This too shall pass”, meaning of course that by coming there they could get a chance to move forward, gain some safe harbor until whatever crisis they had brushed up against settled out. That, plus lots of sex. Perfect!

Anyway, Mitzi and I shared a bunk bed. I was usually on top. No silly, the top bunk. Yeah, well there was the other, too, and mostly it was me on top. As counselors, we had little jobs which only took up about four or five hours a day. She showed folks how to make ribbons that could be sold at flea markets. I used my sales training to teach how to sell sweatshirts, also at venues like flea markets. One day while we were in the community shower, Mitzi had what turned out to be a brilliant idea: she could stitch letters made from her ribbons into protest slogans on my sweatshirts which we could sell at cause de jour, social unrest gatherings and give at cost discounts to those groups whose issues were the same as our own for resale— as our gesture to the cause.

Serendipitously, our business took  off. We sold the first 20 we made in about a half hour. And sold another 20 the following Saturday. Of those 40, Mitzi made 25 with that simply said ‘Sweatshirt”. On the balance,15, she used her ribbons to spell consciousness raising issues. Only 4 sold. But with the other 25 we were onto something good.This sample success was all we needed to decide what to sew on with those ribbons her class was making. We would just set aside the sloganeering for a while until we got better known. I went down and took out a $500 payday loan on my old, finally paid for, truck, bought 150 plain, gray sweatshirts and Mitzi hired 5 of her ribbon makers at camp to sew the ribbons on our product and in less than a week we had enough merchandise to execute the business plan we put together which was to set up with a kiosk out next to the city park. As I unloaded our inventory from my old pickup and opened the boxes of shirts to set up for the day I found that our dreams, planning, labor and money had gone for naught. Who wants a SWEATSHIT?

                                                         

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