I was walking past the Gap last night on my way home — the one in the East Sixties.
They were taking down the store — apparently, it is closing. I got nostalgic for a moment. I had an illustrious turn as a Gap employee when I was young. First, at the Gap in Brentwood Village, and later, out in the The Valley. Both places were hives of blonde wood and steel and the busy energy of teenagers and twenty-somethings pushing khakis and denim with the fervor of petty dealers.
I say this ad nauseam: working retail was the best preparation I had to become a lawyer. Retail is the proving grounds for the next generation of America’s service industry professionals. You learn to sell; you learn to negotiate; you must master the art of difficult confrontation; you are taught that “the customer is always right…UNTIL…”; you develop an understanding of what “until” means. Retail teaches you humility, too.
When I started, I had no idea how to flat-fold, or dress an mannequin, or anything. Over the time that I worked there, I became an expert in creating those impeccably-folded stacks of knits, wovens (though the denim wall always presented a challenge). I would work mindless overnight shifts to help stock the store as the season changed. I was trained in mannequin-dressing — yes, that was real sales associate sub-specialty.
Deep in the throes of one Southern California summer, I was busy outfitting muslin forms and mastering the art of not repeatedly stabbing myself with T-pins when I was asked to help a team “take down” a Gap store that was closing.
Taking apart a store is much more interesting than putting it together. We put the store together all the time: we’d move the men’s section to the side the women’s was on; we’d swap kids and baby; when the new season’s inventory came in, we basically had to remodel. But to take it apart was to strip it to the bones and tendons; the struts and girders. Even if one’s work is retail, it is rare that one obtains a glimpse into a store in such a vulnerable, splayed-open state with its stock and fixtures rearranged, and the blonde wood tables and chrome racks empty. The whole thing looked like an upmarket IKEA in a dream sequence.
We catalogued what inventory was going to other stores; most of that process could be tracked with hand-scanners and was uninteresting. But taking apart the fixtures was fascinating. Tables, rounders, mannequins — all denuded of their industrial importance and reduced to mere furniture.
Do any of you want any of these? One of the regional managers asked as we loaded the tables and racks into a truck. He waved his hand over the dusty mannequins and squeaky sales rounders. Everyone demurred. Except me.
Can I have that? I pointed.
I had pointed to a hat stand — run of the mills in Gap stores, it was the thing upon which they displayed the baseball caps (or seasonal hats, depending). I set it aside, and at the end of the workday, went to collect my prize.
I’ve had it ever since. The hat stand has moved with me throughout California; to Washington; to my life in New York City.
Involved in those moves was always the Boy I Was With At The Time. There was George, and there was my ex-husband, and then there was Bill. George grew wary of the hat stand at one point when, during a particularly heated argument, I slammed the bedroom door, then threw the hat stand through it. Neither one of us knew at the time that we had hollow doors.
When George and I split, despite having once had the thing hurled at him, he asked me if he could keep my hat stand. Absolutely not.
Years later, as Andrew and I were separating our belongings, I noticed something funny. We’d been married four years, and still had sealed boxes of wedding gifts. We owned two of everything. Nothing of ours had ever fully integrated — except for the fact that he had put his few hats on my hat stand.
Are you going to take that? he asked, pointing to it, as I prepared to clear out of Battery Park City.
Of course I’m taking it, I said indignantly. He was making off with everything else. Why on earth did he want my hat stand?!
Finally, Bill asked the same thing of me as he was clearing his things out of my apartment. It took every once of willpower I had not to turn around and throw the thing through the door as he shut it behind him. (The doors in this apartment, however, are solid.)
As the world is well aware, I have a well-documented love of silly hats. And what would a hat-lover be without a hat stand?
It’s true, you know. The love you take is equal to the love you make…and no one has been enough of a lover to get his hands on my fixtures.