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COUNTER CULTURE: THE HARD WORK OF SELLING MYSELF SHORT/Stada /. N. Decker THE SAME DAY I was officially put in charge of shoes and used clothing at Store 5, I came home to my run-down apartment in northeast Washington, DC, to find my first grad-school rejection letter. I thought I was going to be stuck in retaU for the rest ofmy Ufe. The soles of my feet were expanding with a new ridge of caUuses. Td dropped enough weight that I worried that people would think I was bulimic when I scuffed my knuckles at work. I now looked upon short acrylic nails as an investment. When another manager gota new tattoo, Ibegan to jones for another one, too—on my left hand. I found myseU cashing my entire paycheck and "banking" out of my top dresser drawer. I carried fifty- and hundred-doUar bills for the first time in my Ufe—and understood what breaking one first thing in the morning entaUed for a smaU estabUshment. I paid my rent with money orders. I caught myself considering district manager as an aspiration. I was a fuU-time, fiftyhours -a-week member ofretaU management. Power dressing wasjeans and a tiger-print tank top. Instead ofgoing to lawschoolorgettinganothergovernmentinternship when I graduated from coUege in Washington, DC, I had started on my applications for graduate writing programs and taken a shit job at a trendy clothing and housewares store on M Street in Georgetown. It was the fifth store of a nationwide chain; we called it Store 5. I had tried to get a real job at first, but it hadn't worked out. I went to the career center on campus, but all they had were binders fuU of outof -date advertisements for unpaid internships. I didn't know anything about recruiters or placement firms or resume-posting websites; I didn't know that the better positions are rarely advertised. I appUed for some Capitol HiU jobs without any luck. I read through the classifieds in the Post, but nothing looked interesting, and I didn't have any specific experience or business-writing samples. I sent in some résumés, but when I tried to follow up, I would find that the phone numbers of the places Td appUed to were unUsted, or I would be transferred among departments until I was cut off. I ran into a former classmate who gave me a good lead on a company housed in the Watergate. I was a shoo-in, he assured me; they hired Zofs of Georgetown grads. They didn't hire me. It took them a month, three interviews and a take-home test to decide that they wanted a candidate with more 34 · The Missouri Review business background, a conclusion they could have reached in the two seconds it took to scan my résumé. I had every superficial sign of capability. I had been valedictorian of my high school class and graduated magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa from a top-25 school; I was considered a success. But I felt as if I couldn't do anything, couldn't deal with what I thought of as the "real world," couldn't navigate its economic system, manage the basic obligations of being an independent adult and a real person. After realizing that I didn't reaUy want any of the serious jobs Td thought I wanted as a kid, and after a month of unemployment following my college work-study summer extension, I was completely disoriented. For the first time I could remember, I wasn't a student. I didn't have a job, so what was I? I had been living on Pop-Ice and cans of corn, waiting for the Watergate gig to come sailing in with its promised good money. The day after I got the Watergate "no thanks" phone call, I walked into the store on M Street and fiUed out an appUcation on the spot. I knew I should be worried about what was wrong with me, but I had been secretly and dreadfuUy curious about a counterculture career ever since my disappointing, disorganized semester as a White House intern...


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