at school ca. 1995. um, yeah. i'm wearing overalls. i was 17. just focus on the cute puppy instead.

I was seventeen, a high school senior, when I received my first real paycheck. Minimum wage at GapKids was less than I made babysitting those wearing BabyGap onesies, but babysitting paid cash and a paycheck was official. Plus it gave me a 50% discount at all Gap stores.

Retail work can be hard. This wasn’t. Customers who are children are far easier to deal with than adult customers who act like children. Plus, two of my best friends worked there, too.

Being a teenager can be hard. Sometimes it was. And in some sartorial version of The Karate Kid, I learned the art and inner calm that came with a perfectly styled Denim Wall. Outside the store life was filled with anxiety. College applications and the admissions waiting game, arguments with my parents or my boyfriend, all the drama of adolescence. Inside, folding (and refolding) jeans into their cubbies, I was at ease.

The Wall was a ginormous floor to ceiling version of an IKEA Expedit, holding denim for everyone from toddlers to preteens. It was the mid-nineties. A simpler time for denim. The Wall held just two washes and only a few styles. But it was a house of cards. A house of copper-riveted freaking cards.

It was virtually impossible to pull one pair from any section and not bring a dozen more with it. (A really fun game to many a bored toddler.) We always offered to assist people, knowing how to remove a pair like a piece in a Jenga puzzle. But GapKids isn’t a museum. You’re allowed to touch things. Someone would pull out a pair of boy’s size 6 and ten more would come tumbling down. They’d apologize. I’d assure them, It’s the Wall, not you.

Eventually, the Sisyphean task of tidying the stacks became meditative – folding with precise, three-step symmetry, silently and rhythmically, to whatever was playing on loop in that month’s in-store soundtrack.

And after all

You’re my wonderwall…

The same songs my friends and I would hear Ryan Seacrest DJ-ing on STAR98.7 as we went to work after school, driving down the boulevard with drinks from Coffee Bean, smoking Marlboro Lights, ready to take on the world.

At the store, in floral dresses and denim jackets, black capris and cardigans, in overalls, I’d fold, fold, fold and stack.

You grew up way too fast
And now there’s nothing to believe
And reruns all become our history…

Fold, fold, fold, stack.

I don’t want to take advice from fools
I’ll just figure everything is cool
Until I hear it from you…

Fold, fold, fold, stack.

In April, after six months at the store, a film of my father’s took us out of the country. I’d work with a tutor and come back for prom and graduation, but had to say goodbye to the paycheck, the discount, the Wall.

But I held on to what it had taught me.

There was time for reflection as you folded that heap of mangled denim, a feeling of accomplishment when you stepped back and saw that the work was done. Sometimes it looked perfect. But perfect doesn’t last. Someone’s bound to help themselves to a pair, or seven, and leave you with a perfect mess. But that’s OK. They’re only jeans.

Sometimes in order to figure things out you need to sort through the messes. Find some quiet. Find order in the chaos.

Fold, fold, fold, stack.

This post is part of the REDwritingHOOD series. This week’s assignment: write about jeans.

13 thoughts on “wonderwall

  1. (FL) Girl with a New Life

    What an adorable photo of you. (It is amazing to me how “young” always looks a little bit younger with every passing year.) I had one of these jobs too. And it did teach me something about taking pride in the little things.

    Stopping by from Write on Edge.

  2. Claire

    I had an amazing afterschool/weekend job in high school that had an enormous influence on me. I am still friends with my boss from the time. You had a denim wall, I had the cleaning of the commercial kitchen sinks until they were gleaming. I loved the feeling of making the stainless steel shine. Of course it would soon be dirty again, but for a brief moment, it was a visible reminder of what hard work could bring. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Cheryl @ Mommypants

    I *might* have had two pair of overalls that were shorts. There is possibly photographic evidence of this when I went to Hawaii w/ my then-husband, soon-to-be fiance.

    I was in my 30s. There was no excuse.

    Anyway, this piece was so very, very sweet and brought back memories of my first job.


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