It was my senior year of high school, (or maybe Junior? I blacked it out) when I took my first ‘W2’ job at a pop-up Halloween store. My resume to that point consisted of regular babysitting jobs and for some reason a friend getting a job at a Halloween shop inspired me to do the same. It was my first interviewing experience, and to this day probably one of the weirdest. My interviewer posed such thought-provoking questions as: How would you answer to someone who says Halloween is satanic devil worshiping?
Needless to say, it was an experience. Recently on Man Repeller I read this gem of an article about a summer job as a grocery store clerk. (Here) It got me thinking about my days working at Halloween Express – a job I frequently look back on and cringe. Now an adult, I have a regular job in marketing, something I love and feel good about at the end of the day. It’s such a far cry from my days stocking shelves with masks that I felt inspired to talk about it. I mean, how many people can say that they worked at a Halloween store?
Like most pop-up jobs, it was an eclectic mix of people. Being from a white, traditional good-ole American neighborhood, it was culture shock to me. It was located in a more industrial area of town with people that had odd piercings, jet black goth hair, heavy boots and other assorted fashions you’d find at Hot Topic. The only person I knew of my ‘kind’ was my friend, who actually quit after a week or two – leaving me to work the good fight on my own.
And, I hated it.
We started with long shifts of assembling shelves. Followed by long shifts of stocking them with boxes and boxes of overpriced, cheaply made costumes. The store was in an abandoned Home Goods and was massive – leaving me to work hours on end in sections by myself. In general: it was a job of solitude. Even when open to the public, the store being so gigantic – not to mention off the beaten path, was never exactly bopping. We were assigned sections and told to stay in that section with no breaks. Meaning, I’d shelve and reshelve costumes for hours on end while listening to the same spooky soundtrack looping over and over. It was the first time in my life I was truly ‘on my own’ and it felt awful! Several days I’d be in tears on my drive home and when I walked in the house my mom would ask me why I didn’t just quit?
But I never did.
By the season’s end, I still hated it as much as the first day – but I’d adapted to my new surroundings. I learned to mingle with the crowd of coworkers with ease – even though I full-heartedly knew I’d never speak to them again after my last day. It was then that I learned how to be a social chameleon, capable of holding my own in a conversation with literally: anyone! I learned humility. One extremely slow day my boss had me and a rough-around-the-edges (she spit, a lot) female coworker dress in costume and stand out on the busy street with a sign to recruit customers. It was probably the first time goodie-two-shoes me ever broke the rules when we both said F this and trotted off to the mall. We walked around the mall fully dressed in costumes, soliciting odd looks everywhere we turned and somehow I didn’t care.
You learn a lot about yourself spending 8 hours essentially alone with Halloween masks and makeup. With only my own self as company I developed games on straightening and sorting items. It taught me to enjoy your free time because when spending 8-10 hours at work with only 30 minutes free for lunch, you’ll literally savor each and every one of those 30 minutes. It taught me commitment. My stomach was full of dread on each and every drive to work, but I still went. It taught me sometimes the best part of your day is when you get to get in your car and leave!
I also learned empathy, for each and every person employed by a pop-up Halloween shop ever since.
It was the most awful, and yet one of the most formative experiences I’ve ever had. While I hated every moment of it I grew a lot in that short while. It wasn’t about the money, I could’ve taken other babysitting jobs and earned more (without tax deductions, to boot). But I got so much out of it, that grind of being the low-low-man on the totem pole: a Halloween store employee.