In efforts of finding a job upon my first husbands request the summer of 2008 I began dropping applications at all the area day cares, as I was studying education at the University. The phone never seemed to ring, and I began to sift through the listings of craigslist when I came across a post that my all time favorite store since I was a child was hiring all positions.
Although I was at my mother’s two hours away from home, I took the chance that next morning, hopped in the car and drove straight back to my mall. I was wearing an outfit that stood out to the style of the store so I would stand out, but also appeared professional. I fantasized with great excitement what it would be like to work there. What it would be like to get to know the customers, I had never worked a floor job before, I had always been pinned up at some desk or typing transcription in some closet, slowly feeling my soul be sucked away.
I had to hold myself back from dashing to the entrance to the mall with excitement, I had attempted to apply for this store for nearly two years now, and there was no greater fate than for them to list they’re hiring the week I just so happen to be looking for a summer job! But as I approach the store my heart sinks and my knees nearly collapse, all the excitement is extracted from me as I see the store windows covered in what appears to be a giant trash bag, and the sign out front that reads “Closed.”
I sit on the fountain in front of the sign. the retro yellowed tile with green flowers that must have been laid sometime in the 70’s are the only color I see as I just stare at the sign, dejected. A moment or two later a very strange gentleman approaches me. He carries a mop bucket in one hand and a squeegee over his shoulder, his gray hair and blood shot pink eyes shine out against his incredibly dark complexion. He is not an employee of the mall as his attire is ragged, and covered in holes. All the surrounding stores are boarded up much like the one before me so there is no one around to see me and this man. “You looking for this shop,” he asks, revealing his half full mouth of yellow teeth that point in all directions.
Despite my instinct to run I instead look towards him as he takes a seat on the tile so uncomfortably close to me. “Yes,” I went into detail what a passion I had for the shop, and stories from my childhood. I went into detail about how my husband demanded I find a job and how my phone remained silent.
About fifteen or twenty minutes into my outpouring, as my eyes swell from withholding the tears he asks, what I assume to be rhetorical at this point, “you want to work here,” and he motions to the closed sign. “I can get you the manager, they are just moving across the hall,” he then points behind him to an old Champs shoe store that is now also covered in trash bags. “Here, let me get you the boss.”
With that the stranger disappeared behind the black plastic tarp and reemerged with a man in his thirties whose long thick golden locks seemed to bounce with his upbeat walk. His smile was so kind and welcoming as he approached me with a job application. I filled it out on the spot and by the end of the week he called my phone for the interview.
The store had no manager, the store was also without an assistant manger, later I was to find out that both were fired at the same time shortly before my application. The kind man who hired me was from corporate and would only be there for two more days to train me and put the final touches on our temporary store location as they remodeled our original location across the hall.
Training was a video on the fish market in Seattle and a couple of fill in the blank worksheets on sales. His final morning he took an hour to show me the register and how to work the POS, and with that he was gone, leaving me the only sales associate in a store of “key holders”. Then on his way out the door was the moment I had been waiting for, the moment I proudly accepted my official staff badge.
I dressed my best each day, as my coworkers wore tattered jeans and faded graphic tees. I talked to each customer eagerly as my teammates sat behind the register and visited. I carefully crafted floral arrangements and priced them properly as my peers threw some arrangements together and then out on the floor without prices. I cleaned the shelves and floor, as my workmates complained about how terrible this job was. I was so surprised they were not all as ecstatic as I was for this opportunity, this was not at all what I imagined. But I would continue to make the best of it, and slowly take on more and more responsibilities that no one else I worked with intended to.
Photograph by Lewis Wickes Hine