Volunteering At American Apparel

My first job after graduating from college was at an American Apparel. I moved to Los Angeles on July 5, 2008 and, within a week, I had a job at an American Apparel. I felt like this was a fitting job since it was a very LA brand and I was newly LA hoping to become very LA: the store could teach me about the city and about being an adult. I never got paid to work there though because I quit before I could ever get my first paycheck. I volunteered at an American Apparel for two weeks.

This was in the months of 2008 before the recession “hit,” which happened immediately, everything disintegrated in our palms as we watched. This was a time when Dov Charney and the brand were opening stores as fast as they could. I worked at the American Apparel at Hollywood & Highland which was literally four blocks from another American Apparel, at Hollywood and Cherokee. They were officially called LA7 and LA6 in company speak. In the time I worked there, two other American Apparels opened in the city. This was before American Apparel had a sale rack or a dedicated men’s section. The dream of genderlessness was as alive as the company’s capital. Everything was unisex and expensive. Even the dresses.

I applied for the job while walking as far as I could without a car from my aunt’s place in Franklin Village. I interviewed with the store’s manager, Jack, who looked like a Ken doll without muscles. I looked him up on Facebook later and found that he was a musician. He wasn’t very good. He was nice and gay and I don’t remember anything else about the interview except that I knew getting this job would solidify my status as a cool kid. I mean, I knew this but I wanted validation. I wanted a real job not at American Apparel but, as I waited for my career to find me, getting a pat on the back for being cool would be good enough.

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Jack called later that day and told me that I got the job. I was hired with three other people: one was a guy who looked like a mechanic and had a really shitty beard; another was a girl with an asymmetrical haircut named Chan who was secretly 35 and was in a band that she claimed was “big in Japan” (Lie.); and there was Manuel, who was at least 6’5″ and very nice and very thin and with tattoos and gorgeous and Mexican and “with a girlfriend” and he drove a truck and he liked to wink at me. We all trained together and learned a very complicated clock-in process that would literally scold us if we were late. We learned about various hangars, specifically some called “Picos” which were these cheap thin plastic hangars meant to hang various dresses. The thing hung most on them was a new bandeau dress with way too many ways to wear it thanks to long floppy bunny ear ties that you could wrap around your neck or shoulders or boobs or arms. The idea was that it was versatile, thanks to the long floppy bunny ear ties. The thing was impossible to hang.

Nadia was Jack’s Assistant Manager. She was an early thirtysomething black girl with a pixie haircut and some “in” with the factory staff Downtown, which meant she was constantly given weird clothing experiments like a plastic faux-leather trash bag dress and dip-dyed jeans. They were like class projects gone awry but I believe she got them for free so she didn’t really care how they looked. (Plus, the cache of 2008 American Apparel made them cool by brand name alone. They didn’t have to actually make sense. They just needed to have a good resale price on eBay.)

There was another Assistant Manager whose name I don’t remember but I know it was something boyish like “Clark.” She was from Las Vegas which I remember being fascinating because I had never met anyone in my life who was from Las Vegas. I didn’t think it was possible to be from there. She looked like a button: she had a perfectly round face and impossibly tight ringlet curls and neon red Coke bottle glasses that were non-prescription. She always wore a cardigan. Sometimes she only wore a cardigan. She sometimes wore berets. She always looked to be in character as this girl from Troop Beverly Hills. She was mean and everyone hated her because she was the bad cop of all the managers and she wouldn’t let people drink at work.

You only had one of four jobs when working at American Apparel, unless you were one of the hot and mysterious boys who rode skateboards, smoked pot, and stocked shit in the back all day: you were a greeter near the front door who made sure no one was stealing and that you were maintaining a “nice” demeanor (so that people would stop thinking American Apparel is just for hipster snobs); you worked the register; you were a “runner” who handled all the “go-backs” and generally helped people on the floor; or you maintained the dressing rooms, which were notorious for people getting their fuck on in and for people to steal clothes from. The person who maintained the dressing rooms also made sure that all bathing suits or underwear that was going to be tried on had a plastic sticker placed in the crotch so no shopper’s crotch parts would touch the clothing crotch parts before buying. This person had to also ensure the stickers were on clothing items with no crotches, things like slingshots attached to tank tops.

I was mostly a runner. I exclusively wore short shorts and tank tops and ran around the store being as gay as I could as I encouraged fat midwestern girls to try on tank tops I know they’d spill out of. Nadia also gifted me the store’s pair of roller skates, which I glided around the store on most shifts as I said hello to tourists and reracked clothing. I adopted two pairs of fake glasses like Clark. Jack vaguely hit on me one day and I thought it was cute (and I wanted him to fuck me but I never actually talked to him because he was the boss and all bosses scare me). Manuel always flirted with me and even told me that he liked my legs. “You got nice legs,” he said as he winked. “I can appreciate a good pair of legs on a woman or a man. I’m equal opportunity.” I wanted to take him up on that but I never did. He quit days later but not before taking me and his girlfriend (Ugh.) to a bowling alley in the valley called Pickwick, which felt like we drove through four countries to get to according to my new LA eyes but I’ve come to learn we simply took the Barham pass. I wondered for a long time what happened to Manuel and eventually heard from him five years later, when he yelled at me from a passing car and looked entirely alien: he had just moved back to Los Angeles from Oakland, was delightfully not bones anymore, and was apparently a firefighter in Pasadena. I know this because he yelled out his phone number to me as he passed and demanded I call him. I texted, “I don’t know who this is but you just yelled at me.” He then filled in the rest.

The three people I associated with most were Nadia, Hannah, and Robert. Nadia was just nice and cool. She was the kind of girl who didn’t wear a bra and loved smoking up. She bounced around from store to store and seemed to be an A.A. groupie. She told me which stores you could get the best deals at and what Dov Charney was really like. I wanted to meet him so badly. I wanted him to “discover” me and then force me to be a slutty boy for him in a campaign. I was okay with him even forcing me to suck his fat, hairy cock. It was a part of the A.A. spirit. I ran into Nadia two years after working the job at some fashion show and she was still with the company, still as a manager. She just loved A.A.

Hannah did the store’s window displays. She looked like she was an extra from Almost Famous, like she just awoke from a party in the 1970s at The Roosevelt and found work at the A.A. next door. She was just so cool and six feet tall. She was the perfect A.A. girl. I think she modeled for the company too which was something I dreamt of doing but would never be able to do because I didn’t grow the two or three inches necessary to be a male model. I dreamt, though. We’re still friends on Facebook and she wears a lot of big hats in Northern California forests.

Robert was also a wannabe actor. His age was impossible to pinpoint but I knew he was older than me. He’d speak to me in Spanish and tried to convince me all fourteen days that I worked at American Apparel that I had to go to Venice Beach with him and spend a night there. “You can just sleep on the beach: it’s that chill there,” he explained. “You just bring some booze and a joint and you hang. It’s the best.” I never went with him because Venice seemed too far for carless me and Robert had an extremely rapey vibe to him. Like Jack and Dov, I lapped up the sex appeal. He may have kissed me on the cheek, I may be making that up. He friended me on Facebook years later and I occasionally pop in to see if he’s still following his dream of acting. He is. He still hasn’t made it but I love that he is more committed to the dream than I was.

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I interviewed for a job as a development assistant in reality television after a week and a half of being at American Apparel. This was a Wednesday. I worked before the interview, the day after, and the day after, which is the day I got the news that I was going to be hired to work in TV. I spent the Saturday going to the American Apparels Nadia mentioned as being best to use the discount. I spent as much as I could to stock up on clothes. I called Jack and quit the next day. Since I was young and sheepish and had never quit a job before, I didn’t ask about pay or anything and I refused to go back in to face Jack in person (who actually was super nice about the quitting). No check ever came in the mail. I just started the new job and didn’t ask any questions about anything. I put American Apparel behind me, with the short shorts and roller skates. I don’t even think my paperwork had time to process. I’m not even sure I ever filled out a timecard.

LA6 doesn’t exist anymore. LA7 has been remodeled and half of the goods in the store are on sale. I still own two pairs of corduroy shorts that cost almost fifty dollars but now are almost free. I got rid of the hooded t-shirts and tanks that were big enough to be dresses. The non-prescription glasses are in a drawer with things one needs to make a Halloween costume. I don’t work as an assistant anymore and I’ve lived in Los Angeles for over seven years now. I wonder how much that check would have been for my work at American Apparel? I wonder if I’m in some database somewhere, if it was even recorded that I was at one point a part of their system?

It doesn’t really matter. The job was a fake job anyway and the best transition from full college freedom to the lack of slack of a real job. A job at American Apparel is great for a life transition. Sometimes I think about if I get fired and my life goes to shit that A.A. might hire me. They did it once and didn’t pay me: maybe they feel some sort of guilt? Maybe they could validate my cool instead of pay me again? I hope I never have to find out the answer.

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