As soon as I finished college, I moved to Seattle into an apartment with two other roommates and one permanent couch surfer. Job hunting was tough, so as an interim solution I took a job as a sales girl at Victoria’s Secret making a whopping $6.25 an hour. The only thing worse than working a crappy job while in college is getting out of college and realizing all you can get is another crappy job.
This was in the late ’80s, before Victoria’s Secret instituted the No Couples in the Dressing Room rule, so a typical day at work might begin with me hearing people getting it on in a dressing room. I always tried to escalate these situations to the manager, I mean doesn’t this seem like a management issue?
“Jenny, there are people doing it in dressing room three.”
“Did you tell them to get out?”
“Yeah, they got quiet and pretended to not be in there.”
“Here, take the master key and break it up.”
So off I’d go, with my degree in Journalism and the manager’s important-keys-on-a-wristband, to bust some girl in a teddy and her horndog boyfriend.
“I know you’re in there and I’m coming in if you don’t come out right now,” I’d yell through the door, trying not to sound too much like the wolf in The Three Little Pigs.
Almost always they were indignant, “Well if you’re going to get snippy I won’t buy this bustier.”
I wished they could see me roll my eyes.
After they would leave, I’d spray some Lilly of the Valley perfume (the only tolerable scent in the cloying VS collection) in the room and pick up the soiled garment with two hangers, chopstick style, to deposit it in the “NO SALE” box in the back room.
I’d wonder about my destiny—was I always just going to pick up after other people's deviant adventures? In college I supplemented my gin allowance by working in a tanning salon, which, in rainy Eugene, Oregon saw a lot of action. The job was brainless: all I had to do was schedule tanning sessions and disinfect the beds after every use. College boys are a randy bunch and apparently they cannot lie still in their underwear for 30 minutes without getting frisky with themselves. They were conscientious about cleaning the bottom of the bed but they never remembered the top of the clamshell that came down over them. So basically I had been in the soft-core sex industry for years.
I was working at Victoria’s Secret because I could not find a real job. After months of discouraging interviews with advertising agencies, I honestly considered moving up in the ranks of retail; I was a great sales girl and often won the monthly sales contests. Any meager bonus would have been appreciated, but they rewarded us with lingerie instead of cash—just what someone making minimum wage needs. So each morning I scrounged up bus fare from the bottom of my roommates’ closets in an eighty-dollar garter belt and real silk stockings.
My winning sales tactic was simple: target men and use guilt as a sales tool. I’d approach a short man looking at sleazy lingerie and say, “Hi there. Can I help you find anything?”
“Oh, hi, I’m looking for a present for my wife. It’s our anniversary. I really like this," he’d say, holding up a porno-style red and black lace teddy. "What do you think?”
“Well…if she were buying it to surprise you, this thong-back teddy would be perfect. But this is for her, right? The ultimate gift for any woman is the cashmere robe. I promise you she will never, ever forget this present.”
“A robe? Really? Doesn’t seem very... Uh, wouldn’t she want me to get her something sexy?”
“Ask any woman in here, this is the sexiest thing they could ever receive. Cashmere is the ultimate. Shall I gift wrap it for you?”
“I guess. Uh, okay. Sure.”
I would run off quickly to wrap it and ring it up because the kind of man who shops at Victoria’s Secret may shrivel inside when he finds out that cashmere robe costs $275, but he would never, ever say he couldn’t afford it.
After a long day of peddling lingerie, I’d ride the bus home to our bleak apartment that always smelled like curry and moldy carpet, eat a tortilla or mac and cheese or something equally cheap, and envy my roommates for their real-ish jobs.
I’d go to Lynne for solace and comfort. Lynne was a weekend guest who turned into a roommate; she slept on the couch and used the hall linen closet as her dresser. She was stunningly beautiful in a big-eyed-Teutonic-blond kind of way and was as vapid as you would expect for someone so pretty, but she had a heart of gold. Lynne went out partying nearly every night and would pass out on the couch in her dress, nylons, and pumps. Before she would black out she’d say profoundly nice things to me, which I shamelessly sought out before I tucked her into the couch.
“Goodnight Lynne, can I help you out of your hose and shoes? Wouldn’t you be more comfortable in your pajamas? Do you have pajamas?” I’d ask, fruitlessly before she’d nod off with her mouth wide open, her breath smelling of Mudlsides or B-52s or Pina Coladas.
Then I’d go back to my bare room with a red pen and the want ads and curl up on my futon in the expensive silk pajamas I’d won...
3 weeks ago