Filed under: Chapter 04 | Tags: agent orange, Carrie Rollwagen, chuck taylors, hot topic, June, kirklands, Some New Trend
I EXPECTED STEPHANIE TO BE MAD that I won’t apply for jobs at Hot Topic. I just didn’t think she’d be this mad.
I wish she could be happy with my real reasons for not applying: “I don’t want to,” and “I’m underage.” Apparently, those don’t cut it, so I’ve just told her that my dad won’t let me work until I’m sixteen.
“June, don’t you dare blame this on somebody else,” Stephanie’s saying to me — yelling at me, actually. “Don’t blame this on your dad. This is about you, and how you won’t get out of your own little world.”
I want to say, “I like my own little world. What’s so great about living in the real world?” I want to tell her to stop pretending she’s some kind of social Mother Teresa, struggling to bring shy-violet June out of her shell. I want to say, “Why don’t you just admit that you need me because you’re afraid to try anything on your own!”
I realize I could say these things out loud — or nicer versions of them, anyway. But I’ve never been able to deal with confrontation. Even when I was a little girl, Dad would yell at me and, instead of explaining myself, I’d just stare at him without blinking until the world went blue and fuzzy. The spots that clouded my vision as I forced my eyes to stay open formed a wall of protection — the private little world that Stephanie hates so much.
“I’m sick of trying to carry you,” she’s saying now, which is ironic since I generally feel like I carry her.
“YOU carry ME?!” I want to scream. “I tutored you through Biology! I play wingman to your stupid Dylan flirting every day. I didn’t say a word when you showed up at school with star shoestrings in brand new yellow Chuck Taylors the week after I put heart strings in my green ones!”
I think these things, but I don’t say them, so she gets on with her monologue. “I’m not going to wait for you any more,” she says. “I’m applying anyway.” Her face changes, like she didn’t realize it was a good idea until after she heard herself say it. “By myself,” she adds for emphasis.
I want to say, “If you have the guts to actually do something by yourself I’ll be so surprised I’ll vomit all over your copycat Chucks.” In reality, I just say, “Okay.”
I think she’s going to leave, but she turns back to say “Screw you.” It seems small and powerless coming out of her mouth, and that seems to make her even madder.
When she walks away for real, I realize that I haven’t been blinking. My contacts are dry, so I dig in my bag for eye drops, but otherwise I’m oddly unaffected by the argument. I’m just glad it’s over. When the saline hits my eye and rolls down my cheek, it feels like tears.
The only way to fix things with Stephanie right away is to apply for that job. I don’t mind apologizing, but I’m not sorry enough to sign away my summer to selling skull-shaped flasks.
So, instead of making amends, I spend the next two hours in Waldenbooks, sitting on the floor and reading magazines. My attempts to not think about the fight are only marginally successful. I can sort of concentrate on the Wired article about Japanese school girls, and I’m actually interested in the “Make Your Own Boyfriend Jeans” how-to in Teen Vogue. But reading Spin and Paste just makes me think of Stephanie, who knows so much more about music than I do.
It gets so frustrating that I put all the magazines back in their places and head to get coffee.
I stand awkwardly at the register. I want to order, but Dylan’s at the other end of the counter. He’s squirting a bottle labeled Caramel Sauce onto a Granny Smith apple and eating it slowly, concentrating on every bite.
Why am I always so invisible? Just when I’m about to say something to get his attention, Dylan throws out the apple core, washes his hands, and walks over like he’s known I was there all along.
“Your other half was in here earlier,” he says as he pumps black goo into my cup.
“Oh.” I hope it sounds discouraging, because I don’t want to talk about Stephanie.
“Looked upset,” he says, oblivious. “Just left. Asked if we had any applications, but I told her we weren’t hiring.”
I look up, surprised.
“I thought you were hiring,” I say. “You told us you were.”
“Yeah,” Dylan says, shutting off the steam wand and pulling out a canister of whipped cream. “We were. We aren’t. Not anymore. Anyway, she looked upset.,” he says as he hands me a mocha.
I must look upset, too, because he tries to reassure me. “She’s probably fine,” he says.
But I’m sure she’s not fine.
When I’m leaving the store, I’m not watching where I’m going and I almost smash into Steph. “Speak of the devil” doesn’t seem appropriate, so I just stand there.
“Hey,” she says, sullen, but no longer angry.
“Hey,” I reply. My eyes move to the Frappuccino in her hand, and I’m wondering why she’s coming back here if she already has a drink.
“I think I left my sunglasses,” she says, explaining.
“They’re on your head,” I reply.
“Oh,” she says.
“Look,” I start, suddenly wanting to apologize so she’ll feel better. “I’m sorr …”
“I didn’t get the Hot Topic job,” she says at the same time.
“I know,” we reply simultaneously.
“Jinx,” she says, than “June-June-June.” She says it to break the jinx, but it breaks the awkwardness between us as well.
We walk toward the fountain automatically. Steph sits cross-legged on the cold tile and takes the lid off her Frappuccino, stirring it with her straw. Her choice of drinks is a bad sign, signifying a need for the comforting sugar of a frappe over the bite of a shot in the dark.
Other friends — maybe better friends — might actually talk through their problems, dissecting the fight and clearing up the issue so it doesn’t resurface. But neither one of us thinks we’re wrong, and talking about it will only lead to another argument. Better to pretend it never happened, just like we’ve done with every fight we’ve ever had.
“Sooo,” she says, slowly. “Hot Topic said they’re not hiring. Four-bucks, too.” For a second, I think she’s going to cry. But she hardens her face deliberately and looks up at me.
“But, you know,” she begins. “It doesn’t matter. I didn’t really want it anyway. I mean, Josh hates Hot Topic.”
“He calls is ‘Old Navy for Goths,’” I agree, and she smiles.
“Besides,” she says. “We wouldn’t be together anyway, since you wouldn’t even apply.” I guess she senses this is a low blow, since she moves on quickly. “What do I want to work at Hot Topic for?” she says. “I mean, can you really standardize punk rock? Doesn’t that take, like, the whole spirit out of it?”
“So true,” I say. “I mean, would Mike Palm work at Hot Topic?”
“Would Debbie Harry work at Hot Topic?” I ask.
“Absolutely not — too mainstream! Would Iggy Pop work at Hot Topic?” she says, getting into the game, and really smiling now.
I pretend to deliberate. “Hmm, I don’t know about that one. Iggy Pop might work at Hot Topic. Lots of access to glitter.”
“So true,” she laughs.
“Hey,” I say, pulling out my cell phone to check the time. “Want to see Twilight again?” For the record, I have very little desire to see Twilight for the fourth time. Sure, Rob Pattinson melts my heart — I’m only human — but the story is wearing a little thin for me.
Not for Steph, though. She smiles. “Yeah,” she says. “Let’s go.” For Stephanie, there’s very little that can’t be cured by vampires and Twizzlers.
Still, I get worried when Steph doesn’t cheer up after a few days. It makes sense that our conversations about Hot Topic have come to an abrupt halt — no mention of Mary Janes or Panic! At the Disco CDs or that locked cabinet containing piercing studs — but her overall depression is more upsetting.
I think it would be good for her to get a job, any job, even if it isn’t at the mainstream mecca for all things counterculture. But her confidence is shot, and she won’t even pick up another application.
I decide I’ll have to pick up applications for her, even though the thought is terrifying. I’ll look at it like a scavenger hunt, or a video game. I’m like the Ms Pac-Man of job applications.
I start at Wolf Camera just as the mall is opening. Working at a camera shop seems cool. It’s artistic and voyeuristic at the same time. We’d have so much fun flipping through vacation pictures of Florida tourists.
Unfortunately for Stephanie — and fortunately, I guess, for privacy-loving tourists — Wolf Camera isn’t hiring. They do try to sell me some kind of Wolf Club membership card, but they won’t give me an application for a job.
Bath and Body Works. Rejection. American Eagle. Rejection. Nail Trix. Rejection.
At first, I’m handling these rejections rationally. American Eagle and Bath and Body Works are across from Hot Topic anyway, which could be depressing. And I can’t really imagine Stephanie gluing rhinestones onto fake nails. But when I’m laughed at by a cashier at Baby Gap, I consider giving up.
I don’t know what draws me to Water Boyz. The surfers are going nuts, trying to grab wax and wetsuits before they head to the beach for the day. Normally I avoid Water Boyz — and crowds — but I can’t ignore the Help Wanted sign taped onto a cardboard standup of Kelly Slater.
Plus, Surfer Glenn — who I know from church testimonies where he tries to recruit us to join the Christian Surfers — looks so crazy busy he might be desperate enough to hire.
Stephanie claims to hate surfers (I probably shouldn’t even be checking there for a job, except that I want to cover all my bases), but I secretly think they’re pretty cute — all that scraggly hair and shirtlessness. They always seem so stress-free, which I find completely amazing.
Surfer Glenn seems pretty laid back when he’s proselytizing at Youth Group, but today he’s the opposite, trying to make sales before the surfers head out for the day. He’s literally working against the tide here.
“Endless summer my ass!” he says. “More like endless pandemonium!”
I wait until he’s alone (for about thirty seconds before the line — or mob — forms again) to run up and ask him for an application.
“Application?” he says, obviously overwhelmed. “I’ll give you the job if you start right now!” He’s grabbing sunglasses and surf wax from below the counter as he says this, but then he pauses, head above the counter, and grins at me. He’s clearly the same as his customers, deep down. Or at least he is when he leaves the register and heads for the beach.
“I, um …” suddenly my voice is really small. “I can’t, it’s for somebody else …”
I’m immediately trampled by two guys running for the door, and Glenn is nearly decapitated by a long board some guy pulls off the wall. I take advantage of the distraction to duck out of the store just in time to miss getting hit by a flying pair of Reef flip flops.
Water Boyz wasn’t exactly a rejection, but I still don’t have a single application. I suddenly feel exhausted. I know this is pathetic, but my mall refuge is the bathroom. I go there now to breathe and gather my thoughts.
Department store women’s bathrooms usually have tiny lobbies, complete with couches, like sitting areas from ‘50s movies. I find comfort in this tiny oasis when I’m feeling overwhelmed by the mass of logos and colors that is the mall, like when I was a little kid and I’d crawl inside a huge circle rack of hanging clothes, cocooning myself against the boredom of Mom’s trying to find the perfect Easter dress.
I look into the bathroom mirror, staring back at myself in a hoodie and jeans that suddenly seem old and faded. I wish I had something new so I could shed my current clothes like a snakeskin and trade for something more mall-appropriate, like a new t-shirt or hoodie from Delia*s.
But I don’t have new clothes, so I just sit on the couch for a minute, knees up to my chest, unsure of what to do. I don’t think I can face those stores again, even after this regrouping. If this were a video game, I’m sure it’d be flashing “Game Over.”
Then a solution comes to me suddenly, like a thunderbolt: The Top Floor.
To say the top floor is off the beaten path is an understatement. The stores up there — Hallmark, Lane Bryant, Kirklands — are the kind of places our moms and teachers shop. We hardly even take the escalator upstairs, unless it’s to make a beeline for the arcade, and even that’s rare.
I hadn’t planned on getting applications from the upper level at all, but the ground floor stores aren’t panning out. I’m going to have to get all Robert Frost on this plan and head for the stores less traveled. I leave the bathroom and start up the escalator, into No Man’s Land.
Immediately, my prospects start looking up. At Hallmark, some nice old lady in a floral-printed dress gives me an application, plus a free bow for my trouble. (I didn’t buy wrapping paper, or mention gift-giving, so this seems odd, but it’s still a nice gesture.)
Lane Bryant isn’t hiring, but the woman behind the counter is so nice about the whole process — “Why, you’re just a tiny thing! Our clothes would swim on you! Get your skinny little legs out of here, darlin’!” — I feel successful.
I walk into Kirklands and immediately nearly trip over some weird elephant that seems to be growing tassels from its sides. I imagine Stephanie coming across this large statue — I think it’s an ottoman, but it’s almost big enough to be a coffee table — and launching into a tirade about how ridiculous it is. I almost take this as a premonition to leave, but the salesperson stops me. She’s so nice, and so desperate for company, that I feel bad not asking about a job.
All in all, I get seven applications from the top level. I even brave a few more ground level stores (two more applications!), taking advantage of my newfound luck.
I carefully slip my tenth and final application into a Hello Kitty folder in my messenger bag. I don’t know much about applying for jobs, but I get the idea that it’s better to have a neat and clean application than one folded and stained with broken Pixy Sticks.
Stephanie and I had planned to meet for lunch at noon. I’m running late, but I’m in a good mood, a natural high I get from doing something that scares me.
I see Stephanie sitting on her bench reaching for her cell phone, probably calling to ask why I’m late. I stop for a minute to pull out the folder full of applications. I peel the sticky backing off my Hallmark bow and put it on the folder, then hold it behind my back.
“Zeppelin,” I say, greeting Steph who turns to me, surprised.
”When did you get here?” she asks. “Oh, and airplane.”
“I came early, and enough with the interrogation, because I have a present for you,” I say, handing over the folder.
“Um, thanks,” she says, slowly. “I’ve always wanted an old folder with an overrated Japanese cat on it.”
“Hello Kitty is overexposed, not overrated,” I say. “Anyway, the folder isn’t the present. Look inside.”
Suddenly, this gesture seems inadequate. Will she get it? Will she know how hard this was for me? Will she finally forgive me?
She looks up at me, obviously touched. “Geez, June,” she says. “This must’ve taken you forever.”
“Kind of,” I say. “But it was worth it. I got to hear Surfer Glenn say ‘pandemonium.’”
“Pandemonium?” she says, “Really? I must hear this. Come on, help me fill these out.”
We spend the afternoon turning in Steph’s applications. Neither of us expect a same-day call back, but it comes anyway, while we’re shopping at Spencer’s Gifts (where she couldn’t even apply because you have to be 21).
There are certain things I like about Spencer’s, like those big orbs that have pink electricity that responds to your touch, but most of it’s tacky and kind of scary in that whole “ribbed for her pleasure” way that makes me uncomfortable since I suspect I don’t totally get what they’re talking about when they say that.
On the other hand, I find it consistently amazing that the items Spencer’s carries are still produced. I discuss this with Stephanie as we twirl the spinner carrying what seems to be hundreds of joke buttons with slogans like “When you fell off the ugly tree, you hit every branch,” and “Sunday is my FUNday.”
“I find it strange that entire factories exist to churn out buttons reading ‘Some Like It Pot,’” I say, looking at a button with a picture of Marilynn Monroe wearing only a marijuana leaf.
“Actually, it sounds like a pretty cool factory,” Stephanie says.
“Look at this one,” I say, pointing out this bright green button that reads, “50% Single.”
“What does that even mean?” she asks.
“Exactly,” I say. Together, we stare at the button for a minute.
“I kind of love it,” Steph says, moving over to a row of joke prescriptions: Rx Chocolate, Caffeine STAT, Love Potion #69.
“Reluctantly, I have to agree,” I say. “It’s rare to find a Spencer’s button that’s so inscrutable and enigmatic.”
“Yeah,” Stephanie says. “And, while we’re on the subject, it’s rare to find a Spencer’s shopper who uses works like ‘inscrutable’ and ‘enigmatic.’”
“Whatever,” I respond. “I make no apologies for my verbal prof …” But I’m cut off as Stephanie’s phone starts playing “I Wanna Be Sedated.”
She quickly flashes me the screen — Unknown Number — and walks outside to take the call. I wait in Spencer’s, glancing out at the bench in front of the store every thirty seconds or so to see if Steph is still on the phone.
Between delivering applications, we’d worked out a plan for what Steph will do when offered a job. Basically, the plan is just to take it. We’ve heard around (okay, just from Josh, but close enough) that no one is hiring, that all the jobs are filled. So we figure she should take one right away if it’s offered.
Between frequent surreptitious glances at Stephanie and the fact that I stay in the same aisle for what feels like ten minutes, I feel the eyes of the employees on me. The second I see her put the phone down, I make a beeline for the door.
I approach her cautiously, like if I move too fast I’ll upset the delicate balance of her emotions, whatever they are. She looks disappointed, so I prepare myself to cheer her up. Maybe free Cinnastix? Yet another showing of Twilight?
“Well?” I ask.
“I got it,” she says, but she sounds monotone, not really happy.
“You got it? You got a job?” I say, looking for more information.
“Yeah,” she says, staring at the floor. “I got a job —“ she finally looks up at me, “— at Kirklands.”
“Oh,” I say. It comes out more disappointed than I want it to.
“Exactly,” she replies. Stephanie just keeps staring at that spot on the floor, and I’m nervously playing with the frayed sleeve of my hoodie.
“Well, it’s a job,” I say finally, trying to sound hopeful. “Think of all the things you’ll be able to do with that money.”
“Josh says I should save it,” she says.
“Oh, what does Josh know?” I say, babbling to try get her out of this weird trance. “You can download all those CDs you keep wanting. The entire Ramones catalog. I’ll be jealous because you’ll have better t-shirts than me, and you can buy that special edition Twilight book you keep looking at, and you can treat me to Frappuccinos, and you can afford to buy more coffee so you can talk to Dylan more …”
“I don’t like Dylan,” she says, but the denial is halfhearted.
“You don’t like him NOW,” I say, “but just wait until you walk in some day and he’s looking totally hot and he has a question about scented candlesticks that only you can answer. You’ll fall in love and live happily ever after in a darling house filled with Kirklands furniture and free coffee and little Dylan babies.”
In return for all my hard-fought cheering up, I get a half smile. It’s enough.
“It’s Kirklands,” Stephanie says. It sounds less dismal, but she’s still unhappy.
“Well,” I say, getting up and pulling the strap of Steph’s messenger bag. She has to follow, because she’s permanently tethered to it.
“Yeah,” she prompts, reluctantly standing and facing me. I put my hand on her shoulder dramatically.
“Your mom will be happy,” I say. At first, she just stares at me. Did I misstep? Then she breaks into a smile, and finally a laugh.
“I guess I’ll have to learn to live with that,” Steph says, and we head off to the Food Court to plan her scented candle-filled future.
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