When I was eighteen, I got a job at Hot Topic as a “key holder.” It’s not as cool as it sounds; in fact, it was fucking awful. Being a key holder was essentially having the responsibility to handle money, open the store, and take blame for everything that happened if management or the sales associates didn’t want to take the fall for something. Did I mention I was also getting paid less than a sales associate? No? Welcome to my Hot Topic experience.
Hot Topic was never cool in every way you can possibly interpret that sentence. It was only a nice gig because I didn’t have to put on a wig to cover my blue hair; I could just show up to work and let my not-quite-out-of-the-emo-teenager-phase wardrobe be itself. In a strangely conservative area of the Bay Area, this was one of the best retail jobs a young metalhead could get. It was serendipitous timing; I had just quit my job working at Rosetta Stone because the commute wasn’t worth it. Six months later, I found myself back at Rosetta Stone thanking the gods for the opportunity to wear the black and blue uniform once more.
I imagine there must be some Hot Topic store employees who enjoy their jobs. You’d think it’d be a chill environment, but alas — my store was fraught with problems before I had arrived. The manager was on leave so I was in the company of one really awesome and really gay assistant manager and one assistant manager I would have no problem with watching a horde of zombies eat alive. There was no telling whether or not it would be a calm day behind the register hearing about the latest trends in the Castro, or meticulously folding shirts and dodging dirty looks.
When I started, we had a temp store manager; I should have heeded her word of advice that a storm was coming. It all started on a Wednesday morning when I opened the store by myself and no one was around. With Amon Amarth’s Surtur Rising just added to the store mix, the day was looking up. It was probably around 11am when the district manager walked in. She was a short, wide woman with a leopard print bag that was filled with paperwork, a fat wallet, and makeup. At no point did I ever see her smile. In hindsight, I wonder what exactly made her so miserable that she needed to take it out on everyone beneath her in rank.
“Pretty quiet this morning,” I said when she approached the register. As she wiggled her way behind the counter, I began feeling uneasy.
“Do you even know what day of the week it is?” she said.
Yes. It’s Wednesday. I know when I’m supposed to be here. I’m not an idiot.
“Look at this paperwork,” she said, waving a piece of paper in the air and slamming it on the desk. “You’re not even close to your store’s monthly goal. Do you know how to do your job?”
Do you know how to be something other than an asshole?
“No one’s actually trained me on this. I just started.” I think I was giving her the deer in the headlights look as hard as I possibly could. It seemed like the safest option at the time. The words to invoke the Dark Lords had momentarily slipped from my grasp.
“That’s no excuse. Just go back to what you were doing and I’ll wait for one of the assistant managers.” And off I went to fold t-shirts until someone else showed up, who also got a nice telling off. Later, one of the assistant managers apologized to me for not informing me sooner how much of a bitch the district manager was. At least there was some commiseration. It was the first and last time I had to deal with that wretched woman. Hail Satan.
And that’s just the icing on the cake. Near the end of my six months, I found out there was a sales associate making much more than I was. Because I was the step down from an assistant manager, I decided to take it up with HR to seek some fair payment. This was what really pushed me over the edge, and it’s also something that I would have handled way differently if it happened to me now.
A casual call to HR told me that yes, that sales associate was making more money than I was because she had a “promotional” wage. I’m assuming the situation at the store was so bad that they had to advertise better than average wage for sales associates. But would they pay me more? No. “We don’t want to take away from your potential to grow in this company.”
Fuck. That. Shit. For me it was back to Rosetta Stone with a higher pay rate, free language learning, less responsibility, and nicer people in general. Because why make minimum wage when you get 10% commission on your sales that always range in the hundreds? As luck would have it, there was a new location not far from where I was living at the time. Finally all those sacrifices to Satan had paid off.
The moral of this story is that you never miss your daily offerings to your devils of choice. You could also interpret this story as yet another case of why corporations and people in general need complete reform. A little mental health goes a long way, y’all.