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7301 Burnet Rd., Ste. 102, PMB 107
Austin, TX 78757

Excerpt from Saving Mr. Bingle

Chapter 1

“Smile, ‘Wood, you’re still the man in charge here,” Haywood Coleman said to himself, stretching a tight grin across his face. “You’ve got to lead by example.”

Even though his chest sagged under the weight of chronic worry, he played the part of the able manager. He strode past the Cosmetics Counter and checked himself in a mirror, straightening his blue blazer and red silk tie.

“Shouldn’t have eaten that last piece of pecan pie,” he grumbled, as he loosened his belt a notch. He couldn’t complain, though. Approaching fifty, he still wore the same size pants as on his wedding day. He wrapped up the inspection by patting down his tight afro and leaning in close to the mirror to examine a wrinkle that had appeared under his eye.

“Hmm, so much for ‘black don’t crack,’” he muttered, recalling one of his mother’s old sayings. An employee came into view, and Coleman stiffened.

“Merry Christmas, Miss Jackson,” he said to the young lady behind the counter who was tending to an oversized display of anti-wrinkle creams.

“Ain’t Christmas yet,” she said without the least hint of holiday cheer. “Barely Thanksgiving. Shoot, I couldn’t even take the bus in tonight…because it wasn’t running. Least the bus drivers got the night off. I don’t suppose y’all gonna’ be reimbursing my cab fare.”

“Now come on, girl,” Coleman said, forcing a smile. “That ain’t no way to get this party started.”

“Ha, don’t look like no party to me,” she said. Her volume trailed off, then picked up again. “You don’t lock people in no party. Look like slave labor. Even Wal-Mart don’t open till 6 a.m. Shoot.”

“But we’ll get us a head start,” Coleman said. “Set us apart from the competition.”

“No, it’s our stingy paychecks set us apart,” she said, “least since Mister Fillmore come around.”

Coleman didn’t bother to argue because he knew she was right. He just shrugged and sighed. Spinning around on his heel, he surveyed his staff’s lethargic preparations, then checked his watch:
11:45 p.m.
Thanksgiving Night.

He could understand the lack of enthusiasm, given the circumstance. Coleman had grown accustomed to working nights, weekends, and all sorts of odd holidays. But this was a first.

Thanksgiving is supposed to be spent with family and friends. This year, under new ownership by Fillmore’s, Coleman’s store would be starting its “Black Friday Blowout Sale” at midnight, kicking off the holiday shopping season with a bang.

“Let’s go, let’s go,” Coleman said, clapping his hands and shouting to no one in particular. “No frownin’ or clownin’.”

In the retail industry, “Black Friday” commonly refers to the day after Thanksgiving, supposedly when retailers go “into the black.” To Coleman, it sounded like a bad horror flick.

Still, the dutiful foot soldier kept his chin up and a spring in his step. He had to motivate his team to reach new heights this year, especially with rumors swirling that the Canal Street store was on the company chopping block.

After 25 years at the same store, Coleman had certainly seen his share of change. At one time, Canal Street was the place to shop in New Orleans. Marigny Brothers, D.H. Holmes, and Godchaux’s all had stores on the city’s main street. Families would don their Sunday best and walk along the broad, flagstone sidewalk searching out bargains, maybe stopping into Woolworth’s or Walgreen’s for a treat at their now-extinct soda fountains.

He’d seen the city take out the streetcar to put in buses, then tear up the concrete to put the streetcars back in. He’d seen segregation, integration, then white flight, then re-segregation.

Nowadays, with the opening of huge shopping malls in suburbs like Metairie and Kenner as well as across Lake Pontchartrain in Slidell and Covington, he’d seen a flight of another sort. Business flight. Every year, it seemed, despite working longer and harder, Coleman and his staff struggled to keep pace.

Sure, the store was profitable. Coleman prided himself on his tight fiscal management. But with increasing competition, not only from the malls but also now from big-box chains and warehouse discounters, Coleman fought a losing battle. Never mind the store’s place in New Orleans history. Never mind the thousand little touches that made it special: the rich, Italian marble floors; the hand-carved stonework; the elaborate window displays; the soft, leather armchairs and plush, velvet sofas; the liberal cologne sampling policy. It felt like your own private club, as though you were privileged just to gain admission.

And never mind the people: Frankie the pianist, who could field any request with ease; Winston the shoeshine man, who had the brightest smile on Canal Street; Miss Doris in Women’s Shoes (she’d been there almost as long as Coleman), who knew your size just by looking at you; and then there was Pete the elevator man in the adjoining Marigny Brothers office building. Who has an elevator man anymore? Maybe that was the point.

Despite his best efforts, Coleman secretly feared this Christmas might be his last on Canal Street.