Friday is seventy-five-cents day at Dollar-a-Pound. Today is Friday, so when I get to the store a few minutes after nine, the line of Pickers is around the block. To make matters worse, it's one of those steamy July days that start out hot and miserable and clearly intend to get hotter and miserabler by the minute.
"Crap," I say, stopping in my tracks at the sight of the line and wiping the sweat from my brow.
Why I come to work on Fridays is beyond me.
The Pickers are the Dollar-a-Pound regulars. They show up extra early, grumbling and jockeying for position, each and every Friday morning to await the doors opening at the largest vintage clothing store in the Northeast: the clothing bonanza (home of the original dollar-a-pound!), otherwise known as the store caught in a time warp!, according to the big neon-pink and black sandwich board sign out front. Whoever made the store signs a million years ago was a big fan of exclamation marks.
Dollar-a-Pound takes up the entire first floor of the store. It is exactly like it sounds: a huge, towering heap of used clothes (known to those of us who work at the store simply as The Pile), spilling like a giant stain over most of the painted wood floor.
This hippie guy named Bill runs Dollar-a-Pound. He claims that the Friday discount draws the most aggressive Pickers. He also says that sometimes he has to break up Pile fights. Apparently, what happens is that overeager Pickers claim opposite ends of the same thing--usually something long, like a pair of overalls. Then it's like some dumb cartoon: they discover they're connected and start scrapping and yelling. Elbows swinging, feet flailing, lots of shuffling, and the inevitable sound of fabric ripping.
Bill keeps a bottle of seltzer under the counter at all times. Once I asked him if he had it to spray on Pile fights, like I saw my neighbor do with regular water when his dog got into a fight.
"Nah, man," he said, deadpan. "I just like seltzer."
I stand there, confronting the line and suppressing the tidal-wave urge to run in the opposite direction.
I don't do crowds.
Too much potential for anonymous heckling. I mean, look at me. My unruly hair, bunched into two lopsided pigtails. My cat's-eye sunglasses and, of course, my clothes. Today I'm wearing my second-favorite skirt, which is a white 1950s circle style with bright red appliqued slices of cherry pie on the pockets and a hemline border of cherries playing tag. On top, I'm wearing one of my many bowling shirts, which has the words Valley Vending stitched in cursive on the back.
And if my ensemble isn't enough to bring out the guffaws of the masses, there's always my size. Big girls like me know it's never a good idea to have a bunch of people standing behind you. This past school year, my freshman year, brought this point home more than ever.
To state the obvious: high school is a lousy place to be a fat girl. Of course, the good news is, if you ARE a fat girl, you're not really risking much socially to become The Fat Girl Who Dresses Weird. So once the eye-rolling subsided, my freshman year was basically defined by my being almost universally ignored.
As the crowd of Pickers rumbles restlessly, I turn slowly on the heels of my shoes. The tulle layers of the big bubble-gum-pink vintage crinoline I'm wearing under my cherry pie skirt whisper uneasily to each other.
I smooth my crinoline absently, distracted by a different siren song. It is the sultry voice of an iced mocha smoothie and it comes from the Mookie's Donut Shop, next door to The Clothing Bonanza. Veronicaaaa! Come get me! It's soooo hot outside, and I'm soooo cold and refreshing! The donuts chime in, too, harmonizing. Us, too! Don't forget about us! They're those chocolate-glazed ones, I can tell.
Of course, I also hear another voice. My mother, chiding, One moment on the lips, Veronica! I smile to myself, imagining her here right now, witnessing my premeditated act of debauched gluttony (Donuts? AND a milkshake? At nine in the morning???). My mother, the dance diva, the plie princess, the prima pain-in-the-ass-a. It's a good thing she thinks my summer job is halfway across town, at some animal shelter run by one of her former dance students. I picture her barricading the door to Mookie's Donuts with her skinny little spandex-clad body, having a cow and a half over my inability to live by her beloved Weight Watchers point system.
In my mind, I swing the door open, knocking her out of the way. Sorry, lady. Some days, you just need a donut.
In my town, Mookie's Donut Shops are everywhere. People call them "Mooks" and give directions by them, like "Go down a couple of blocks and turn right at the Mooks."
The Mooks next door to The Clothing Bonanza is like the one that time forgot. The counters and stools are pink vinyl and chrome, like in an old diner, even though the Mookie's Donuts corporate colors are yellow and orange. It's sort of fitting that the only Mooks in town that missed out on being renovated is the one next door to The Store Caught in a Time Warp. Of course, this Mooks doesn't take the retro theme any further than the stools and counters. The employees all wear Mookie's Donuts pee-and-cheddar-cheese-striped polo shirts, which you'd think would be an equal opportunity fashion disaster, but which look particularly hideous on girls built like me. Not that I'd ever consider working there under any circumstances.
The Clothing Bonanza, thank God, has no dress code except No New Clothing! The Florons, which is what my boss, Claire, calls everyone who works on the main retail floor, wear a pretty wide variety of vintage clothes, often mixed with more modern touches like blue hair dye, tats, and piercings. Mod is very popular with the Florons--monochromatic polyester minidresses and the like--as are Glam, Goth, and what I like to think of as Gloth, which is a look that's kind of both. And kind of neither.
My own look is a little hard to define, or at least I like to think it is. I'm all about individual pieces. If they speak to me, I buy them, even if they don't fit. Back when my mom didn't cringe at the sight of me quite so much, we used to do all sorts of dumb, crunchy activities together. So I actually know how to sew pretty well, which helps if you want to wear a dress that is a couple of sizes too big or, as is more often the case for me, too small.
Most of what I buy and what I wear is stuff from the fifties, although occasionally I'll venture out of my decade for the right piece. The only thing I skip is the shoes--fifties girls' shoes are death. I stick with men's stuff like two-tone creepers and bricks, good clompy shoes that go with everything. I also have a pair of Chuck Taylors, and a pair of bowling shoes that I only wear in the winter. But from the ankles up, I like girly stuff. Tulle crinolines, full circle skirts, bolero jackets, silk dressing gown jackets, beaded cardigans. Especially beaded cardigans. I'm also a sucker for anything with fruit on it. Cherries, pineapples, lemons . . . I even have a watermelon dress. The fifties were all about fruit.
Today, under a ridiculous number of layers of pink tulle, I'm wearing my (men's size eight-and-a-half wide) black and white two-tone creepers, which are uncomfortably hot but not as bad as bowling shoes. When I swish on over to the Mooks, there's a line out the door there, too. It's not Pickers, of course. In fact, it seems to be a lot of the Florons. I recognize two of them, Zoe and Ginger, right off the bat. They are in line a few people up from me, but they're very noticeable because Zoe's like a full head taller than anybody else and Ginger's got bright pink hair and a squeaky laugh you can hear about a mile away. They seem like they're probably about nineteen or so--enough older than me that I'm simply not on their radar, even though they've been on mine since day one.
Zoe and Ginger are pretty much always together. With the exception of their shared appreciation for thick black eyeliner, they look about as dissimilar as any two girls possibly could. Zoe's look is over-the-top Gloth. She's also, as I mentioned, an Amazon. She's got a jet-black Cleopatra hairdo and these va-va-voom black outfits that a drag queen would envy. Ginger, on the other hand, is short and skinny. She's got a long horsy face, big eyes that shift from side to side like one of those fifties cat clocks, and long, stringy hair that changes color practically every week. She dresses mostly in shapeless sixties shifts and white go-go boots. She's also fond of Hello Kitty baby barrettes.
I get in line several people behind them and wait. Bill is there, so I give him a noncommittal nod. Bill is an old guy, maybe twenty-five, with a long, straggly ponytail. He sounds even older when he opens his mouth, because he calls everyone "man" and says things like "heavy" to mean that something sucks. He's also the closest thing I have to a friend at work. Unfortunately, he seems to think he's my ex, because at the beginning of the summer, when I first started working at the store, I went over to his apartment after work a couple of times to watch movies and eat nachos. I guess he thinks that meant something. I think it didn't. When I stopped coming over, I told him that it wasn't him, it was the goddamned Weight Watchers. Nachos are just plain not worth the points.
Plus, he's boring, but I didn't tell him that.From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from Vintage Veronica by Erica S. Perl. Copyright © 2010 by Erica S. Perl. Excerpted by permission of Ember, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.