At eighteen I was living in Hayward, the place I grew up in. I had a job at Walgreens as a photo clerk (I will have to post a blog someday about my collection of weird pictures I found at that job). I worked there for a little over a year and had spent most of that year trying to quit doing hard drugs and still go to raves. I’m not sure what I was thinking with having that as an achievable goal in life. I guess I had different priorities than your average eighteen year old. Going to a real college and trying to pick a solid path in life seemed like such an abstract, elusive idea to me. Hardly anyone in my circle was interested in such things. My friends were basically still a bunch of burnouts that liked to party and hang out at various people’s houses around Hayward. I always had a nagging feeling that I should want more out of life, but I didn’t have any motivation to figure out what it was. Have you ever seen the movie SubUrbia? Not the 1983 film of the same name about punk rock, but the one from 1996, directed by Richard Linklater, about a bunch of aimless friends who live in a suburban wasteland. We were all kind of like that.
While working at Walgreens I met a girl named Dino (pronounced Dee-no). She was a big girl, with dyed black hair and lots of weird, vaguely rockabilly tattoos like dice and flaming hearts. She had a son and lived in a trailer park with him and her mom. Dino liked me and seemed nice enough at first. I would later learn of her mental instability. She told me that I should apply at the thrift store down the road because it would be way cooler than Walgreens. I agreed. Getting hired at a thrift store wasn’t a difficult task, as you can imagine, and within a couple of weeks I started my new job.
My mom had taught me the way of the thrift. I grew up going to all the Goodwills and Salvation Armies Hayward and the surrounding area had to offer. As a young person there were few things I loved more than to spend hours sifting through other people’s discarded clothes and junk. There was so much joy in that moment when I found something rare and strange that no one else owned! How excited I was to be at the front line, able to sift through all the treasures before the public could get their hands on them.
It wasn’t long before I was promoted to a “pricer.” This meant I got to work in the back of the store, away from the public, and decide how much each piece of used clothing was worth. I worked with two other women and each morning we would set up our racks of clothing, make the giant pot of coffee for the backroom employees, and then settle into gossiping while pricing clothes all day. I truly loved this job. During the fourteen months that I worked there I felt vaguely like I was getting my shit together. I had what seemed like a good job for a nineteen year old. I had actually enrolled in some film production classes at a community college in San Francisco. Drugs weren’t a huge part of my life and things were fun.
Every thrift store has a slew of regular customers. Most of these people come in every day. It’s like a job to them. A lot of them are harmless eccentrics, in my experience. A handful of them are creeps and weirdos who have probably been featured on that Hoarders show by now. I quickly got to know who the good and bad regulars were. It’s funny because now my mom works in a thrift store. She has become extremely familiar with the exact kind of customer I’m talking about. The harmless weirdos are fine, it’s the wingnuts who want to haggle over the already low price of literal garbage that used to freak me out.
One of the many customers I saw every day was a man named Ron. He was a very tall, slim fifty-nine year old dude who kind of reminded me of the Marlboro man. He always wore jeans and snap button shirts and a cowboy hat. He typically had a real tough, serious way about him when he was walking around the store but as soon as I started chatting with him I found him to be hilarious. He had a sharp wit and was sarcastic in a way that made me jealous. After a few conversations with him I decided he was pretty dang handsome as well. I spent a lot of time pretending to work out on the floor, following him around, and talking to him about all kinds of things. He was curious about me. He laughed at my jokes. Naturally, I grew to have a crush on Ron.
Of course he was married and there was an age gap between us of FORTY YEARS. The relationship could never actually go anywhere. I knew that. I don’t think I could ever even visualize what that would look like anyway. My brain wouldn’t allow the fantasy. But he sure was a treat to hang out with at the store. He liked me too. For my twentieth birthday he brought me flowers and one of those silly, oversized birthday cards.
I worked at the thrift store in Hayward until the end of 1999. I had been offered a job at a fancier thrift store in San Francisco and would start there just after the new year. I would soon be moving out of my hometown and hopefully beginning some adventures in the city. My BFF and I prepped ourselves for the upcoming apocalypse of Y2K. I remember hoping so much that it wouldn’t be the end because I really wanted to move and start my life. At that time it felt like good things might finally start to happen.
I never saw Ron again after I left that store. I like to think he’s still around in Hayward somewhere. Maybe I could even run into him someday. I still have that birthday card tucked away in a box. I’m sappy like that.
Here’s a clip from SubUrbia.