Episode 22 – Heading North

I decide to head North…to Harlem…as far from school as possible. Fuck ’em all! Figure I’ll pick up some cheap clothes in one of the zillion stores along 125th Street. Not sure what’s gotten into me, but I’m totally sick of sticking out like a sore thumb…lusting after a pair of ripped jeans and a tee, maybe a wool cap. Sneakers are outside my budget unless I find some in the trash.

As I walk, my clothes dry. It’s a warm day. The grass is emerald green and the trees are bursting. Mom’s and nannies are everywhere…like an alien invasion. Around 2:00 or 3:00, I see high school kids…worry what my family’ll think, if the school’s even notified them, but I shut it out…committed to my new life as a dropout.

Finally reach 125th. Buy everything I need for fifteen bucks…even sneakers from a bin. Leave my soiled pants, and old life, in the garbage…feel totally free. No way I could fit in at Griffin…too many assholes.

Walk a little further, pass an upscale store (what’s it doing there?) with a help wanted sign….ignore it at first, but it sticks in my mind. I’m definitely gonna need a job, so I go back. A huge Afro dude’s at the counter. looks me over. “Can I help you?”

Clear my throat and stick out my hand. “Mr. Hooker here wants to apply for the job.”

He looks surprised, frowns. “You’re not what we had in mind. Any experience?”

“No, but I know a lot about clothes. I sort of collect ’em. What’d you have in mind?”

“Well…somebody local. How old are you?”

“Sixteen.”

“Working papers?”

“No, but I could get them,” then realize I can’t because, like a dummy, I tossed my wallet. Realize that was kind of hasty…have to go back and find the fucking thing…and my cell. Shit!!!

A girl walks out from the back. She’s young, not as young as me, but oozing with sexy style. “What’s up, Dad?” I’m floored by her looks…wool cap riding a cascade of shoulder-length hair, huge dark eyes, pug nose like mine, lush lips…all set off by a tight sweater with a cat’s eye over each tit…bare midriff…skinny jeans. Incredible!

“He wants to apply for the job.”

“God, I love your outfit!” I exclaim. “That sweater’s so fucking cool!”

She and her father exchange glances. Gotta watch my mouth.

“So,” she asks. “what makes you think you could help us?”

I think fast. Gotta say the right thing in ten words or less. Blurt out: “I love the inventory…the edgy style blows me away…so many awesome styles and colors.” Okay, so sixteen words!

She nods in agreement, but doesn’t say yes or no…just: “Dad and I need to talk. Could you step outside for a minute?”

“Sure,” I reply. At least it’s not an outright no. Stand out by the window hoping to catch a word or two.

They speak in hushed voices at first, then the father says sharply, “but he’s not black.”

“True, Dad, but he’s got a good vibe…might attract a wider clientele. We don’t want to be just another Harlem store.”

“I know,” the father says, “but he’s not an experienced salesman. He could be a total bomb!”

“But, Dad. We don’t want some jive-talking street guy. We want someone fresh and attractive who knows fashion, and that kid’s it. Let’s at least try him.”

“Damn, Pearl,” her father says. “You know I can’t refuse you anything. We’ll try him a couple of days, but if he doesn’t work out, we’ll run some ads. We want this store to be be a home run!”

“Let him start tonight. I’m staying late, and I’ll watch him like a hawk. If he fucks up, I’ll ditch his ass in a heartbeat!”

They wave me back. “Where do you live?”

I take a deep breath. No way I want ’em to think I’m a snotty kid from the Upper West Side, but gotta sound credible. “My parents are dead so I bounce between relatives…nobody really gives a shit, plus I just dropped out of school, so I need work.” Wonder if that sounds too harsh. Don’t want ’em to think I’m a loser.

“Why’d you drop out?” Pearl asks.

“You won’t believe this…especially the way I look now, but I was into experimenting with wild outfits, unusual colors and period styles, but the jock crowd didn’t share my enthusiasm. I caught ungodly shit 24/7, so I finally said, fuck it!”

The father shakes his finger at me. “Don’t use filthy language in the store. We want to run a classy place.”

I totally back off. “Jeez, sorry. No worries…I’ll be on my best behavior!”

Glance at Pearl, who smiles at me. Seems unfazed by my indiscretions. Explains they’re going to try me for a few days starting with the 6:00 to 10:00 pm shift. It’s only 4:15, so I have almost two hours to kill. Thank them profusely and race to the park to find my wallet and cell…pray the bag lady didn’t get ’em already.

To be continued…Read next episode!