I have never held any delusions of my social standing: As a child, I took karate classes and wore boys tennis shoes. In high school, I begged my parents to pretend to ground me so that I didn’t have to go out to parties on the weekends. In college, I sang in an a cappella group. One of my favorite movies is The Secret Garden, I went through a Hanson phase, and sometimes I wrap change for fun. I am, was and always will be admittedly very, very un-cool.
Spring smelled the stench of my eau de mainstream from avenue blocks away, and I presume she could hardly breathe when I walked into her American Apparel store on Sixth Avenue. It was June 2005, and I needed a job. I already had one of those ever-so-popular unpaid internships, and friends told me American Apparel was open odd hours that would surely fit my schedule. I had no retail experience, but I was a quick study and failed to see how I could be unqualified for a position.
Spring thought differently. I didn’t notice her when I first entered the store; I was too busy looking around at the white walls and the racks of lovingly situated cotton T-shirts whose colors reminded me of a spilled bag of Skittles. But when I turned toward the counter to begin my employment inquiry, I came face to face with the beast of hipness. She looked harmless enough: strands of straight black hair poking out from under her newsboy cap, her brown eyes blinking slowly. “Uh, hey, are you guys hiring?”
Spring tilted her chin up, but maintained a glazed expression that rested somewhere between calm and stoned. “Yeeaaah, maaaybe,” she said, stretching her words like bits of taffy. She asked my name and then gave me hers: “I’m Spring,” she said.
Sure you are, I thought, managing to mutter a “nice to meet you” before asking for an application. But instead of presenting me with one, Spring asked another question: “So, what do you want to do?”
I could feel my face reddening as I explained that, while I had no retail experience, I thought I’d be a strong addition to the staff. But Spring was not satisfied: “No,” she said, “I mean, what do you want to dooo?”
I had no idea what she meant, but then the true meaning of her interrogation revealed itself. “Wait,” I said, “You mean, like, with life?”
Spring’s eyes widened as she nodded in a smooth circular motion, leading her head forward with her chin. “Yeeaaahh,” she said. I explained to her that I was in school for journalism. “Jouuurnalism,” Spring said. “OK.”
I figured this heart-to-heart about my future plans would earn me the application, but no. Spring explained that the owner of the American Apparel stores did his own hiring and that I should try to go find him. “His name is Dov,” she said. That’s pretty “coo,” I thought, resisting the urge to chuckle at my punny-ness. “He’ll probably be around the L.E.S. store,” she said.
“The what?” I said, squinting my eyes like a confused old lady. I was from Baltimore, and the closest I’d ever come to living in New York was by being born in Cooperstown and attending Syracuse University—so what the hell was L.E.S.?
“Oh, the Lower East Siiiide,” Spring said, arching her eyebrows. In that moment, I realized I’d failed my American Apparel test of cool. I had clearly never hung out on the Lower East Side, nor did I know the lingo, and, thus, I lacked street cred. My mix and match ensemble of Gap skirt with American Eagle top did nothing to improve matters, and the only Williamsburg I’d ever heard of was in Virginia. I was mainstream Wonder Bread, and Spring had sniffed me out like a hipster bloodhound.
Spring continued her questions: “So what do you knooow about American Apparel?” she said.
“Well, uh, I know you guys are all about, you know, equal wages and stuff and no sweatshops … which is cool,” I added, hoping to align myself with the working people of the world. Spring handed me a thick black binder full of press clippings about Dov and American Apparel and suggested I read through them all. “Just pick a corner of the store and read,” she said. So I took the binder, walked to the corner of the store by the front window and started reading. Ten minutes had passed before I realized: What the hell am I doing? I didn’t need this. I didn’t care about Dov and Spring and their magical land of tiny shorts and dresses with unfinished seams. I needed money, not a history lesson.
I walked back to the counter and placed the binder in front of Spring, who wished me luck in finding Dov and watched me exit the store.
I never went looking for Dov on the “L.E.S.” for fear that I’d end up encountering the male version of Spring, and I had no desire to go through the are-you-worthy screening process for a second time. Instead, I gave up my retail aspirations all together, got another unpaid internship and forgot about my disgust with Spring and her hipster chic. I vowed never to return to her store, but even that promise couldn’t prevent us from meeting a second time.
The July humidity was making my hair rise off my head in a poofy triangle when a friend and I stopped by the American Apparel on Broadway. I often took pleasure in mocking the sexed-up photos on the store’s walls of models donning the latest in American Apparel designs, but this time as I glanced at them, something seemed strange. “Do you recognize her?” I said to my friend, pointing to a model who reminded me of Shannyn Sossamon, the “hip” girl in Rules of Attraction. But before my friend could respond, I already knew: “Spring!” I hissed.
Spring smiled coyly in a series of photos on the wall, wearing tiny white shorts and a canary yellow polo with the top buttons undone. Spring stared directly out of the frame, jutting her crotch forward as she sat on a couch. Her dark hair fell across her shoulders, and her dreamy brown eyes drove consumers into the store—and me out of it.
I never saw Spring again after that, but I never could escape the distaste she’d instilled in me for hipsters. While living on a couch in Williamsburg for three weeks this September, I saw them everywhere; wearing distressed cowboy boots and broken-in blazers; sipping PBRs at Union Pool; and guzzling mimosas at the latest brunch joints. Everything from their haircuts to their giant sunglasses emphasized just how mainstream I was. But then, during my last week on a couch before I shipped myself into Manhattan, I encountered two hipster girls sipping from takeout cups of coffee. I walked behind them to the subway, noting the perfect fade to their skinny jeans and the shaggy layers in their hair. As we rounded a street corner, one of the girls took out a set of keys. Probably going to hop into some snazzy ’60s Volkswagen, I thought sulkily.
The girls did get into a car, but it was not a one-of-a-kind ride; it was an SUV—a gas-guzzling, take the kids to soccer practice, silver Toyota Highlander. The girls might’ve been hip, but they were sporting a vehicle of mainstream America. Spring might’ve also been the toast of Hip Town, but she was just in a store ad equivalent to a glorified Abercrombie & Fitch poster. It was then that I realized that we all exist on an equal playing field; for inside of every hipster, there’s a little mainstream lameness, and it’s thoughts like these that warm my supremely dorky, totally un-ironic, schadenfreude-loving, un-cool little heart.