I firmly believe that nothing good can come from a yellow star. For eBay retailers, the yellow star shows that you're a newbie, a low-volume seller who therefore may not have your act together; for gardeners in some parts of the world, the yellow star is a nasty invasive thistle with spikes; and while I won't even begin to write lightly about that other infamous and horrible yellow star, let's just say that it was a Very Bad Thing.
At sixteen, however, of my very own volition, I branded myself with a big, yellow star, four inches wide and made of plastic. And it was emblazoned, in maroon labelmaker tape:
"HOWDY! My name's Bugs! Welcome to Miller's Outpost!"
With the surliness and desperate desire to be cool that are prerequisites for being sixteen, wearing the Howdy Star was pure humiliation. Miller's Outpost was not, as you might imagine, my first choice for employment. Tower Records, or a vintage clothing store--even waitressing at Bob's Big Boy would have been much cooler. But they just weren't hiring. So I trolled the Glendale Galleria one Saturday afternoon in October and looked for work. Sadly, there wasn't much on offer, despite the Reagan-era spending spree, and I was left with a paucity of options: Miller's, the gravely outdated Custom T Shop or that mall beverage staple, Orange Julius.
The decision was pretty easy, as Miller's didn't require me to wear either a polyester hat and bib or an atrocious personalized tee with my photo and phrases like, "Stay Cool." (And nothing, nothing at all, is uncooler than wearing the word on your shirt--even the yellow plastic repugnance of the Howdy Star.)
The Howdy Star was supposed to be reminiscent of an Old West sheriff's badge; insead, it was more evocative of Bootsay Collins's sunglasses. Most of the other sales associates--long-termers of several months or more--had become thoroughly inured to their dreadful badges, ignoring them entirely, but, as the weeks wore on, the yellow plastic seemed to me to get louder, the "HOWDY!" bigger, and it grated on my nerves every minute of every hour of my shift. When greeting customers at the entrance, or straightening racks of snap-down cowboy shirts, or re-stocking Levi's 501's in sizes up to 58" x 28", it glared at me, taunting me with its uncoolness.
The worst of the Star, though, was when middle-aged strangers would come in, squint at it for a moment, then smile broadly and say, "Howdy, Bugs! Let's see how you can help me!," which I guess they thought was friendly but instead just induced glacial stares and a Billy Idolesque sneer. (Which may go a long way to explaining why I was such a bad salesperson--I didn't even end up with enough sales points at Christmas for the hot air popcorn maker.)
I had recently taken a high school proficiency test, started classes at a local community college and was spending most nights with older friends at their shithole apartment listening to deathrock and smoking anything that could be rolled. I had also just gotten my driver's license, though I was a laughably bad driver inasmuch as I liked to go as fast as my little 1979 Diesel VW Rabbit stickshift would take me. Which was, to the great benefit of the residents of Northeast Los Angeles, not fast.
One day in early January, my brief tenure with Miller's ended rather abruptly when I showed up with cherry-red hair, which my friend Jet--his own locks a glorious blue-black to match his name--had applied somewhat haphazardly after one too many Olde English 800's. My hair had been a dull, streaky platinum-yellow till that point, the accumulated result of many bad home dye-jobs, but as I was worried that people might think the yellow mop was intentionally dyed to match the godforsaken Howdy Star, a change was mandatory.
When I walked into Miller's, forehead still lightly stained with orangeish blotches, the assistant manager gave me one look and took me to the back room, where she summarily fired me. (I knew it wasn't planned since she hadn't made up my final paycheck in advance: $30.80 before taxes--8 full hours!)
Freed from the loathed Howdy Star, I drove my wee Rabbit with inappropriate haste to my friends' place and promptly got very stoned. We then took the Star, which I had forgotten to return, and broke it in pieces, then lit each segment on fire with the bong lighter. The smell was atrocious, but the satisfaction? Enormous.
When filing our medical records into a new accordion folder last night, I was taken aback by a small canary-colored highlighter asterisk on an unused referral form from Dr. Useless--one for an R.E. who wasn't on our insurance plan. It said, *For treatment of infertility. Guess I'm still wearing that goddamned badge after all.