The Blackest of Fridays: My Seasonal Employment at Hot Topic in Penn Square Mall

I recently read this was one of the bleakest Black Fridays in Oklahoma shopping history although, if you’ve been out to many area stores, you probably wouldn’t know it, especially if you were at Penn Square Mall, where last weekend the parking lot was an overflowing sea of shiny automobiles—I wonder if they still have valet service…

But even if this year was down, I still wouldn’t want to be in there during the holidays.

Not too long ago, I went walking through Penn Square Mall, my old stomping grounds, surprised and startled at how much the place has changed into something near unrecognizable. I worked in that mall throughout much of the late nineties and early aughts, managing a string of movie theaters like Hollywood and Dickenson, as well reaching the assistant manager position at Suncoast Motion Picture Co.

They were fine jobs for an aimless sort like I once was, but probably the spate of employment that I find the hardest to live down was that one seasonal gig I took circa 2000 working for Hot Topic, the fashionable goth and trendy punk outlet that has somehow transformed into a darker version of the Disney Store, filled with totally acceptable outré gear for the whole stupid family.

But back then…

It was a little before Thanksgiving and I needed an extra job to pay for a print run of my zine, Damaged. A chubby youth with a penchant for drawstring pants bought exclusively at Structure, I applied for the job with the understanding that it was only going to run until the New Year, signing up as extra help for the busy holiday shopping season.

My co-workers were a little bit younger than me, all happy and chipper and excited to be a Hot Topic employee; to be honest, the crew resembled a punked-out version of Up With People. Mostly clean Edmond kids, they had Manic Panic hair, rattling chain wallets, food-caked braces and were typically clad in AFI tees. Meanwhile, I spent most of my days painfully biting my tongue as terrible pop-punk would play on the store speakers.

Over the next few weeks, Hot Topic was the way that I rhymed, falling into a rhythmless rhythm, seductively selling horrific JNCO jeans and trashy flame-print bowling shirts to pre-teens with too much money, making my unspoken sales quota the best I could, leaving the store as soulless as ever come 10 p.m. and my long walk home.

The manager was a young soul-patched dude with dreams of being a youth pastor—I wonder how that turned out for him. I guess much like him, I was desperately trying to prostitute myself for a dead culture that would never accept me, much like the then-fresh open wound of high school cliques. I even went as far as to pierce my ears on a boring December evening, perhaps the most ridiculous fashion train I ever jumped on.

The hours were usually interminable, with two types of customers: the punk kids that hated the place but shopped there anyway and the preppy-types that needed something “punky” to shock mom and dad. I’m sure it’s the same way today, with punk more of a sold-out sales buzzword instead of a true musical movement. If only Burger Punk was around back then.

My last day there was a few days after New Year’s Day, when the seasonal staff was being dropped one by one. I was let go because I stole someone’s chocolate chip cookie off the table in back and quickly ate it on my fifteen, which I did do and, honestly, would do again—it was a Mrs. Field’s, after all.

As I left the store, I threw my lanyard in the trashcan near the stairwell and walked over to apply at Suncoast, where I actually spent much of my worthless time. I got a job at the movie store about two days later. When I took out the earrings, my left lobe was infected as fuck. That’s what I get, I guess.

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