By any measure, I am a spoiled. I state this with no illusions. Now, don’t get me wrong, as a child I heard the word “no” often. There were things I desired I didn’t get, because money was tight, my behavior was less than stellar and/or my parents thought it wasn’t the right decision. As I aged and my parents became more successful, the distance between no’s became greater and greater. Even if I did hear a no, my paper route or job as a bag boy at a local supermarket helped fill the gaps.
As my senior year of high school came to a close and the day I would be off to college loomed, I knew the days for my 1981 Chevy Silverado were limited. “The Caucasian Warrior” more than fulfilled her duties as a part time shuttle for my brothers and me. Her days of tearing down country roads with my foot on the peddle were coming to a close. Always thinking one step ahead, I began to devise a plan for my next mode of transportation.
All of my friends were getting brand new shiny cars for college. Of course, I also needed a brand new shiny toy for college. Having used all of my money to fill those gaps, I knew I couldn’t do it alone. I needed my parents help.
I began researching cars on the internet and quickly fell in love with the 2002 Mitsubishi Lancer OZ Rally Edition. Costing about $17,000 before tag, tax and title, I knew it would be a stretch. I put pen to paper and figured out how much monthly payments would be over the course of five years. I did my homework on interest, gas mileage, speed, safety and anything else I could get my hands on. I needed to be ready for my parents, especially my dad.
My proposal to my parents included brochures from the dealership, all of my research and an ask for help. I asked my parents to help cover half of the monthly payments. After much discussion, visits to several dealerships and a test drive, my parents surprised me on the day of my senior prom with a brand new yellow 2002 Mitsubishi Lancer OZ Rally Edition; the same car I drive today.
To help cover my part of the bargain, a bargain I would eventually default on (I still kept the car, because I am spoiled and my parents are the best), I began looking for jobs in and around Edmond, OK. I spent the first few weeks at UCO working at the campus bookstore. As the buying period slowed, I was let go. My next logical conclusion was to head to Quail Springs Mall. Abercrombie was still relatively a big deal and they were still making their presence known in my closet. Being a sucker for mind numbing work and a discount, I and a friend applied.
Now, we should pause here. I wake up every day and within a few moments stare at myself in the mirror. I don’t do this out of vanity. I do this, because the mirror is between me and the toilet. We must cross paths. It is our daily dance; a dance had in passive aggressive lines. When I stare in that mirror, presentable to the world or less than so, I have no illusions about the face staring back at me. The wonderful human being I am dating right now tells me I am handsome. Which is sweet and a part of his contractual obligation to me. My mother has also told me the same long before I had any idea what she was saying. Needless to say, these two people whom I love dearly have a vested interest in my happiness and a bias toward me. When I look in that mirror, I know I am not an Abercrombie model. I am not the guy on the side of the bags, in the magazine or plastered on the walls, as you meander around the store engulfed in cologne and techno music turned up to 11. I am a normal, run of the mill, average looking, American guy. I am not going to turn a lot of heads with my chiseled abs and perfect dimples. My looks are also not going to scare you into believing in an unfathomable hell. I am Nathan. Nathan is normal looking.
Abercrombie knew this. As they took my application, they saw my average face. As they called and interviewed me, they remembered my normal, American male aesthetics. As they offered me the job and invited me in on a Sunday for training, they recalled the young man filled with a willingness to work and a comfort with his reflection in the mirror. In a two week time span, they knew who they were hiring. Which makes what happened next a surprise.
My friend and I were up early for a 9 A.M. meeting at the store. It was supposed to be our training day, as well as an opportunity to meet fellow staff members. We arrived a few minutes early. As we entered the backroom, we were confronted with skinny blonds, boys with dimples, young men with muscles and women with just the right lift in the bust. Instantly, I was confronted with my sense of being average. Never in my life had I felt so out of place. Still, to this day, I have never felt that way. While I was unconfident with my looks, I was confident in my ability to do the work. We were here for a training and I quickly made it my mission to do the job better than those who supposedly looked better than me.
As the training manager quieted the room, my friend and I were asked to meet with another manager. Singled out, we stepped aside. We were thanked for applying and our troubles for coming to the training. We were then told something I will remember for the rest of my life. I will remember these words, because it was the first time in my life someone made me feel unattractive and less than. We were told, “You are both qualified and we believe in your ability to do the work, but part of working at Abercrombie is the look.” “Sadly, neither of you have what we are looking for or what our customers associate with Abercrombie.” “So, we are going to let you go.” “Sorry for your troubles.”
I don’t remember my reaction. I don’t know the expression my face held. I remember uttering, “thanks.” Shocked, we left in disbelief and rejection. Driving home, we recounted the entire process filled with anger and a little pain. Arriving back at UCO, we parted ways. Spending some time alone, I reflected and determined then and there in my dorm room to never allow anyone to make me feel this way again.
13 years later, I am more confident than ever. My confidence comes not from my looks, but my compassion, my sense of curiosity, my intelligence, my caring, my friendships, my family, my love for myself and where I’ve been and the things I have accomplished, as well as those things left to do. My confidence comes from knowing these things about myself and a rigid determination to never feel that way about myself again either by my own mind or by the words of others. For that, I must say, “thank you Abercrombie.” I also must say a hardy, “f**k you.”
Be good to each other,