minimum (w)age.

Girls should not wear tuxedo shirts made for men.

Especially 13-year-old girls with newfound breasts and fresh insecurities too big to hide beneath unforgiving fabric.

But that was part of her uniform in 1987 at the Lincoln Theater in her tiny hometown:

– tuxedo shirt, thin
– button-down vest, maroon
– black bowtie, clip-on

It was her first real job.

There are times when it would be hard to argue that growing up in a small town can be a limiting, I-just-can’t-breathe experience.

And there are other times when there is beauty in the everyone-knows-everyone way of life. And the lines of faraway big city rules blur in your favor.

Like landing your first real job years before it is considered “legal”.

She had always been a few steps behind cool. She had a handful of friends, but she never found herself comfortably in the right space, in the right crowd, at the right time.

She was not setting trends.

She was not passing notes on Monday morning, recounting the amazingΒ party on Saturday night, with words written in whimsical cursive and heart-dotted “i”s.

She wore her anxieties under baggy rugby shirts and last season’s Guess jeans.Β But she also wore a thin tuxedo shirt, a maroon vest, and a clip-on bowtie.

She had a life outside of her teenage angst and she would punch her fears of not being “enough” every time she slammed her weekly time-card into the metal slot in the clock.

She had this.

It was an adrenaline-infused rush for her to fly behind the concession counter at the frenetic start of a Friday night, scooping buttery popcorn with ease. Counting change in her head while lining up wax-coated cups down the length of the soda machine, timing each one so that the perfect amount of liquid was dispensed without spilling a drop.

She had this. It was hers. And there were no stories good enough on Monday morning to take it away from her.

She made just pennies over 3 bucks an hour.

Her first paycheck was 56 dollars. And she felt like the richest girl alive.

read to be read at

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46 thoughts on “minimum (w)age.

  1. Love this! Takes me back to my own first job (at age 13 – again, years before it was “legal) and the empowerment it provided at a time when it was so desperately needed.

    Great blog – so glad I subscribed! I’ve let my own lapse but you inspire me to keep it going!

    (obligatory plug: find me at

  2. There is something very satisfying about gaining confidence as a teen. My first job was as an intern at the local summer theatre and it was a crap job (long, long, long hours and terrible pay), but I was so darn proud to do it. I did the audition and interview all by myself, no parents around making connections. Loved this post!

  3. This is great. Reminds me of my first job at Revco (drugstore), except I wasn’t as good at my job as you obviously were at yours! And for some reason, the theater job reminds me of Fast Times at Ridgemont High. I’m really dating myself here.

  4. What a wonderful story! It could be the lyrics to a great indie rock band song too πŸ™‚ It is classic πŸ™‚ I had so many 1st jobs, which one counts? Baby-sitting? Camp Counselor-in-Training? (read: Unpaid. Read: Mop up the cafeteria. Read: Stay behind on field trips with the sick kid).
    You are really coming in to your own with your blogging and I love being on the journey!

  5. Oh I loved this. great imagery. But I hated working in a theatre. So many people, too many Demanding, getting inpatient! Oh how I loathed that job! I’m glad you enjoyed yours and that it gave you a sense of independence!

    Really nicely written!

    • Thank you so much! I have such fond memories of that place. I worked there from age 13 – 19 (through my community college days before I transferred to university). So many free movies, so little time.

  6. I love these memories of your first job…what a difference it can make. I had to wait until i was 15 1/2 for my first “real” job and I’ve been working ever since.

  7. This is absolutely not how I remember you. Here’s how I remember you: girl with a super cool family who had real conversations and that loved her. She was hecka smart and good at MANY things. She had a small gaggle of friends and fit RIGHT in. Her sense of humor is fabulous, even today and she is GENUINE and a very loyal, lovely woman with it all in the right row! Loved you then and now. xoxo

    • Oh, G! Thank you so much for these kind words. I sure DID feel that loved by my family and for sure by my close friends (you among them!) but oh, I felt awkward. I just never felt “right” in my skin. It’s funny looking back now the difference between our perceptions of ourselves and reality/what others were seeing! Thank you – love you! xoxo

    • Thanks, Gretchen, that’s how I saw her too! The only struggle I saw was if a guy from Rob’s group wanted to date her it was always that she was the underclassman but we all reached that Senior status later. Oh wait, I’ve reached it again but not in such a good way now…. Da Mom

  8. My best friend growing up wore a similar uniform at her movie-theater job. Must be required for the profession. I love how you tied the uniform into your life and not being one of the “cool kids.” I also love the phrase, “whimsical cursive and heart-dotted β€œi”s” because I had to write like that when I did the cool kids’ homework. πŸ™‚

  9. Oh, Melisa, that job so makes me think of the Coast Guard guys and the panic you felt. You should tell that one! Credit to the Coast Guard: NOBODY has ever dealt with Mamma Bear’s fear/anger/rage quite as well as they did!! Still makes me want to cry when I think of how you felt… XOXO Mom

    • It’s funny (not ha ha) that you mentioned that, Mom, because I was literally just telling this story on Saturday night at that BBQ! I will write it down and tell it some time…. Love you!

  10. I know this girl! And I started working before I was legal as well. It’s just what we did, we had jobs. Minimum wage was reality but it put cash in my pocket to buy myself some of the things I wanted that the parents couldn’t/wouldn’t. Plus, for you, sneaking into the back of the movie theater (or that’s what I would have done.)

  11. The feeling of independence and hard earned money is so great, isn’t it? My first jobs were filing in my dad’s office and I had always wished that I worked somewhere more “cool.”

  12. Nice post! This paints a great picture of working out small town teenage frustrations. It’s amazing how what looking back was so little money can actually mean so much.

    Also, posts like these totally make me see how my grandparents were like, “Here, have a nickel” and expected us to be impressed. Inflation is rough stuff!

  13. What a great story!
    Your descriptions were so good, I felt like I was there with you. πŸ™‚
    Awesome work!

  14. Hey, I left a comment on this earlier. It might be in spam folder. In any case, I re-read and love it still. The first job is a wonder and the details you include are just pitch perfect. You nailed this.

  15. That is awesome. I think I would have felt so much less isolated if I could have gotten a job like that. I imagine you at a drive-in, for some reason, though I think you are referring to an indoor theater, not that it matters. I love the confidence of fifty six dollars that the partylovers simply don’t have.

  16. Pingback: yeah write #66 summer writer’s series jury prize winner | yeah write

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