Spray Tan and Kingdom Hearts: A Talk With Elle Nash
I don’t know why I like reading about people’s jobs so much. It’s not like I go to parties and stand there blocking the way to get to the beer cooler or the wine, saying to everyone, “Oh, and what do you do?” In person, I’d rather talk to people about what they like. Maybe you don’t get to choose what you do for money most of the time, so it seems. But you do get to choose what you love, so in a face to face conversation I’d bug you about bands you like or places you want to go visit. But for some reason I can’t read enough about the crappy jobs artists have worked. Back in January, Elle Nash had a killer essay on Hobart called On Beauty: The Year I Sprayed Fake Tan On Rich Women For Money , that essay made me want talk some more with Elle about some of the different jobs she has worked over the years … and here’s that talk.
Elle, what kinds of jobs did you work as a kid?
Like as a teenager? My parents always made me do the worst chores they didn’t want to do. Like cleaning up all the dog poop in the backyard. Also, my dad would make me alphabetize his entire DVD collection, which is what, at the age of 17, I told the hiring manager at GameStop to get him to hire me.
When you could finally drive, and you had some freedom of choice to get money, what did you do?
My first real job when I had a car was working at Papa Murphy’s on the pizza line. I got hired because my best friend worked there, and that on top of free pizza that I could make however I wanted was like a 16 year old dream come true. That said, I will never eat there again. After that, I got a job at Gamestop, where the manager said they wanted to hire me to balance out all of the dudes in the store. I ended up working there for about six years.
What was your worst job?
Oh god. Right after college I got a job doing in-store marketing and designing the Sunday inserts for a local appliance company. I had to work the floor on Black Friday still, and the owner would even send me on spy runs to Best Buy and other chains to see what their Black Friday deals were so that I could report back to him– he would end up lowering his prices to beat Best Buy’s on all of the refurbished work. It was bad mostly because we burned through at least seven marketing kids in the year that I stayed. I think we had a staff of about 5 or 6, and so many people came and went. The owner liked to micromanage everything. We would turn our work into an inbox at the end of the day and he would look over it– grade it with a smiley face if it was good, and if it was bad, he would leave us a little tape with all of his comments. Each of us had little voice recorders with headsets on our desk so we could listen to them– but many times, if we couldn’t discern what he wanted, the comments would be degrading regarding our intelligence or something like that. He would always yell or curse at employees, especially in the bullpen in front of others. I left because he wanted me to write a press release about an employee that had died. The manner in which he wanted the publicity felt too much like exploiting someone’s death, and I couldn’t ethically go through with something like that. I walked out during lunch and didn’t go back. Afterwards, the CFO of the company called me and said that I would be leaving with a big hole in my resume by leaving, that I would regret my decision, that I would be unable to find work. Of course, none of those things turned out to be true.
Which was your best job?
I worked retail at the Buckle for some time. I loved working there because my manager was amazing, very team oriented and super supportive. She knew how to teach her employees the skill set they needed and motivate her workers without treating them like shit. Also, the customers fucking love you during the holidays– way different than working at a video game store during the holidays. Can’t tell you how many times people brought me Starbucks or gift cards or tipped me under the table for helping them find a good outfit. I really loved it. Also, 40 percent discount on the most amazing jeans. For real.
What was the strangest experience at work?
One time, I was working as an assistant and spray tanner at a high end salon. During my first weeks there, a very rotund older Mormon guy and his wife came in, wanting to get a spray tan while they were on vacation. I was the only person working and didn’t really know what I was doing yet, and the guy mentioned that he’d have to be naked since of their temple garments. I told him that we couldn’t spray tan people completely naked, but we had these white disposable paper thongs we would give to clients who wanted them. I was pretty uncomfortable with the idea of spray tanning men and tried to avoid it, but my boss was adamant about the client since we had no other appointments that day and I was just kind of scared to lose my job, having walked out on my previous job at the appliance company. The paper thong was extremely flimsy (especially when faced with an airbrush gun) and very ill-fitting. That was the most awkward spray tan of my life.
What kinds of ‘stupid shit’ have you done in fear of losing a job?
Lol, I feel like this really embarrassing. Mostly because fear is embarrassing. But here goes: Working off the clock– the owner of the salon would text me at all hours when I wasn’t working (I was hourly). She always wanted me to do things– send her files or tell her where stuff was. Wanted me to help with her website or whatever. The hard part was that she would schedule me for 27-35 hours a week, and then call me every morning and cancel my shifts if there weren’t any appointments, so my time was basically monopolized because I couldn’t get a second job. She still expected me to do things like schedule appointments or send emails when I was at home. Another time I let a boss curse at me a lot– the way he treated his employees was like, constant verbal abuse accompanied by leaving flowers on the desks of all the girls that worked there every Friday. It was weird. Definitely wasn’t getting paid enough for that one. That one was actually a deciding factor in whether or not I would rather be hungry and have dignity or get paid and deal with the kind of remorse that comes from letting yourself be treated like shit. I have definitely left a lot of jobs on that basis, but as I get older, it feels like it’s a lot harder to do. My debt is higher, cost of living has risen (especially with health insurance needs now), rent is twice as high as it used to be, and looking to the future scares the fuck out of me, so I hang on and deal with a lot more shit in the hopes that it will pay off in the future. Though there are things now I’d never put up with and make my boundaries known, I feel like I still put up with a lot of small of bullshit for a paycheck.
What was it like working at GameStop?
I worked for GameStop during some of the worst parts of my young life, just dealing with my own issues. Being the token (and underage for part of that) girl in a mostly male environment is really strange, but I think that environment has gotten a lot better over the last decade. I did work with some amazing women, too. I loved the people I worked with, and am still friends with a lot of them. I also started wearing a fake wedding ring when I was like, 18, because men would hit on you a lot. But also, the store was next to a military base in Colorado Springs, and we got a lot of hot dudes, too. I could probably write a memoir about all of the stupid shit I got up to while working there.
I’d read that in a heartbeat. What else did you get into there?
Haha, UGH. So much. I’m trying to protect the lives of the guilty here, man. Here’s a condensed list.
A lot of times guys would come in and wouldn’t deal with us (the girls) because of, I don’t know, an assumed lack of knowledge on their parts. Early 2000s World of Warcraft players were a good example of this. They were always crusty as fuck and if there were ever any mistakes in getting a pre-order to someone (like, the DVD-ROM version of the new WOW release versus the CD-ROM version for PC), it would be a 30 minute argument about how COMPLETELY RIDICULOUS it was because they couldn’t get their fix right away.
When Kingdom Hearts launched, we got to dress up like Disney characters so I dressed up as some pirate slut and my friend Bailey dressed up like a girl version of Jack Skelington. We ended up messing around with balloons and I made a penis with two balloons and a Gatorade bottle. We later tied all of the balloons to a male coworker’s head.
I conspired with co-workers to hit on our district manager, which he (professionally) ignored. I was an 18 year-old dumbass. When we got a new district manager, I made his life miserable because he was such a lloyd. He always walked with this lurch, like he was very self-conscious of his movements. His arms wouldn’t swing naturally, like he was carrying a heavy briefcase and that briefcase was filled with his depression and disgust with life. I called this his Angry Suitcase of Hate. He was a natural blonde and tried to color his soul patch black when he died his hair to match and I constantly gave him shit about how fake it looked. Honestly though he was a decent guy for not firing me, ha.
Dating gross and emotionally unavailable men happened a lot during that time, including a few military guys who I met through working there. Also lots of underage drinking, a lot of drugs, warehouse parties, and the occasional threesome (NOT with co-workers, just to be clear). Basically, every high school drama you could imagine.
Working through the launch of the Wii, the Xbox 360, and the PS3 during the holiday season was the worst. Parents were always snippy, and supplies were also extremely limited so sometimes there would be fights in the store as far as first-come first serve policies went. They’d have us calling every GameStop in the city to check inventory (since technology was not as great back then as it was now– it was only a decade ago!) and sometimes people would literally wait outside for the UPS truck to come, and then rush into the store right away hoping to be the first person in line. People were HUNGRY. Especially when the Xbox 360 Red Ring of Death started happening. There wasn’t much we could do, since replacing them wasn’t an option due to Microsoft’s “limited supply.”
I may have accidentally gotten a manager fired by distracting him when we were supposed to be doing inventory, and inventory ended up being wrong, which was like his third strike or something. My memory escapes me.
I got hit in the face with a Collector’s Edition Resident Evil PS3 controller that was on display on the highest shelf, and it ripped my nose ring out. There was a lot of blood, which was fitting for something that was Resident Evil themed.
Those are some of the less depressing stories.
Tell me more about working as a spray tanner. How’d you wind up with that job?
I actually got the job through Twitter, when I was hardly using it. Someone who worked for this high-end salon randomly found me and thought I’d be a good fit to replace someone who was leaving. At the time I was interning (for free, in an attempt to get a better job later) and living off scraps of freelance here and there, so I went in to talk to this glamorous-as-hell business owner. She used to live in NYC and had worked for Estee Lauder. I was wowed, because I’d hardly been around people like this in my life. I also didn’t understand why someone like this would live in Denver, which was not cool and where weed was not legal at the time. She was so knowledgeable about beauty and feminine shit, which I really didn’t identify with at first, until I was around it all of the time. I had never known anyone who’d worked for a big brand before, so I figured she really knew her shit. I looked up to her, wanted to be like her, wanted to be like the people who were our clients. I felt Really Important and Cool working at a salon like this.
The job was good for a while. I will always love customer service. I’m a people pleaser, and for some reason it stresses me out way less than office stuff. The craziest thing that happened was during the process of me leaving. During the time I worked for her, I did some personal assistant type stuff, too. I got gas for her once when her car literally ran out of gas when she was on her way to shop at West Elm. I helped her out with some office manager type stuff, helped her write company policies, when she was dealing with the aftermath of getting a DUI. She gave me a lot of her old clothes– nice, Nordstrom type stuff from the 90s. I think I have a D&G skirt from the 90s that I never wear but can’t part with because I’m pretty sure it was like $300 or more. She let me keep some stuff, and then had me consign the rest for her.
During the winter, business slowed. I think I mentioned some of the reasons I quit earlier. It was so frustrating to work for her, when she kept threatening to write me up for not working off the clock. When I did finally put in my resignation, she threatened to sue me if I didn’t give back the clothes, claiming she had only let me ‘borrow them’ so I could wear things that looked nice in the salon. She called me incessantly, so I blocked her number. Then she called me from other numbers, even after I asked her to stop contacting me. She emailed me claiming she’d have her lawyers contact me, and that she was launching the franchise of her business with 5000 business brokers listening to her presentation (so I was really missing out on some cash by resigning, apparently). She withheld my last paycheck, which was $37). I am really glad that was five years ago. At the time, I was so horrified she actually would sue me. I had no money, and had no tools to handle a situation like that. I did a ton of research on “superfluous litigiousness” and even contacted the Department of Labor for advice on what to do. Every option of surviving it seemed to cost a fuck ton of money. Luckily, she never followed through.
I did get my last check when another girl there picked it up for me without the owner knowing.
You write such killer stuff, but you’re also working to publish others.What’s up with Witch Craft Magazine these days?
Thank you! Witch Craft is like my child. I co-parent with the poet Catch Business. Running a literary magazine is really hard, especially when it’s print. We’re constantly working out how to balance cost so that we can break even. But the work I’ve been able to read, and the people it’s connected me with, have seriously lit up my life in a way that is indescribable. I love editing. I love publishing good work, and often times I have been able to be the person that publishes a person’s first piece. That feels really good. We’re moving into publishing full-lengths on Sad Spell Press this fall, and the work is so good, I wish you could read it now. I feel hashtag-blessed to work with such amazing writers– write now I’m working with Nicola Maye Goldberg on her first full-length Other Women. It’s the kind of work that makes me want to be alive, and be a better writer.
What are you writing now? What can people keep on eye out for?
Right now I’m putting the finishing touches on my chapbook, ‘i can remember the meaning of every tarot card but i can’t remember what i texted you last night’ coming out from Nostrovia Press this summer. I’m also currently editing my first novel, which will be coming out from Dzanc Books in 2017. I haven’t talked about that yet, but it feels really huge. When I’m not doing that, I’m furiously attempting to write essays and compose useless tweets.
Elle Nash is the author of the poetry chapbook i can remember the meaning of every tarot card but i can’t remember what i texted you last night (Nostrovia Press, 2016). She lives at the foot of the Rockies with her husband, and their dog and cat. Elle is also professional tarot reader. You can find her on Twitter @saderotica and online at tarotdarling.com.
Bud Smith is the author of F250, Tollbooth, and I’m From Electric Peak, among others. He works heavy construction in NJ. www.budsmithwrites.com and on twitter @bud_smith