Hot Topic

When I was in middle school, I had a hard time figuring out who I was. I began sixth grade still wearing clothes my mom had bought for me at who-even-knows-where (probably Wal-Mart and Marshall's). When I was made fun of one day for doing so, my overly-sensitive ass demanded to be taken to Old Navy, of all stores. I guess tech vests were in, or something. Just a few weeks later, I realized that Abercrombie was to Old Navy what Old Navy was to Wal-Mart, and spent the remainder of sixth grade shopping there and only there. Once the middle of seventh grade rolled around, I was both bored by Abercrombie and also capable of coming out of my shell a bit more. Maybe my musical tastes had evolved to a point where they could be somewhat distinguished from any other middle school kid's, but for whatever reason, I decided to toe the water in the "punk" scene. Studded belts, steel ball necklaces - you know, the works. My wardrobe was capped off by a budding collection of t-shirts featuring bands I was into at the time: New Found Glory, Midtown, Linkin Park, and Me First and the Gimme Gimmes were just a few of the gems I can recall. And where does a thirteen-year-old boy acquire studded belts, steel ball chokers, and pop-punk (at the time, strictly known as "punk") band tees? Why, Hot Topic, of course.

In hindsight, it's really strage how much my Abercrombie years and Hot Topic years overlapped. I don't think I've set foot in either of them since ninth grade, and would certainly be embarrassed to do so now. What's especially strange is that, amid my "finding myself" period, I wore both Abercrombie clothes and Hot Topic clothes with equal frequencies. I'd show up one day in a sweater and some nice khaki pants - "preppy" to the extreme, you know? And then the next day I'd come in with a studded belt peeking out from beneath a skin-tight Good Charlotte tee. Ugh. I don't think I could blame a single person for hating middle school me.

Let's contrast the two stores for a moment. Abercrombie kids were popular, rich, and cool. (I was none of these things - was I really just a sad, impressionable imitator? Probably, yes.) "Punk" kids on the other hand were into music and being themselves and just not giving a shit about the Abercrombie kids at all. (In hindsight, I probably fit into this category a lot better. Except for the "not giving a shit" part. In fact, I gave such a big shit, that I couldn't decide on any given day whether I wanted to dress in my Abercrombie stuff or my Hot Topic junk. Poseur? Absolutely.)

At any rate, in my delusional state of confusion over just who the hell I was, I frequented both stores. A lot. And I can say this about Hot Topic: it's full of wonderful people. (At least, it was eight years ago.) Abercrombie? Not so much. Just a bunch of self-important dicks and sluts whose only goal seemed to be to look better than the customer. Hot Topic, meanwhile, had some totally ugly people working at it. Acne-ridden, rail-thin, fat as whales, you name it. But they were some of the nicest and most helpful salesclerks I've ever been attended to by. They may have been "losers" in the middle school sense of life's heirarchy, but by and large, they were toally decent people.

The same cannot be said for every Hot Topic customer. Look, let's not beat around the bush; Hot Topic is for two kinds of people: middle school kids and weirdos. Alright, fine, maybe even the middle schoolers who shop there are weirdos. (But I got out! I made it away from that lifestyle, dammit.) South Park really nailed it a year or two ago when they depicted a bunch of pseudo-goth kids buying their Twilight paraphanalia at Hot Topic. I could go on and on at length about the number of piercings, amount of black latex, or excessive make-up that I've seen on some customers there. Instead, I'll finish this up with an anecdote about the Warlords.

The Warlords were a group of people who my friends and I met one time. I think it was in the middle of eighth grade. They were loitering around outside the entrance to Hot Topic. They were heavily pierced and tattooed. I have no idea, looking back, whether they were 14, 18, 25, or 37. Seriously. I just remember the way they greeted one another (or maybe just passed time? It's tough to say). Two guys would face one another, toe to toe, and stick their hands in each other's front pants pockets. They would then proceed to kick their shoes together a couple of times, withdraw their hands, and hold both hands up making "W" signs. To conclude, they'd loudly proclaim, "Warlords!" (This is why we came to call them the Warlords. I mean, is there even any other name, once you hear them do that?) Oh, and the shoe kicking looked all the more absurd because the guys wore heavy stomping boots with a slight heel and pants that flared out at the leg bottoms to more than a foot in diameter. The whole thing just looked so... foreign. It was incredible. Very polished and practiced, but still obscenely ridiculous. We saw maybe three or four different Warlord pairs greet one another in this manner before they finally yelled at us for staring (and laughing) at them.

I more or less stopped shopping at Hot Topic right after that. But it'll always have a special place in my heart, and hopefully, in my mall as well; when the mall here in my college town replaced its Hot Topic with some other generic "conformingly counterculture" music and apparel store, I must admit, I was at least a little bit disappointed. Even if only because it further reduced my probability of ever running into the Warlords again.