My current job-very grown up, very mundane—affords me a lot of time to peruse the Internet. I sit at my desk, wait for phone calls to come in, for my co-worker to bring in more baked goods and for lunch to roll around so that I can finally step outside and smell the fresh air.
Recently, while at my desk, I read the worst headline: "'Hot Dog On A Stick' Files for Bankruptcy". After 68 years of selling freshly made lemonade, hot dogs, and cubes of cheese dipped in batter and fried on sticks, Hot Dog On A Stick is no longer serving with style and a smile. Foot traffic in malls is down; people trying to eat less breaded and fried meat; and as a result, the once-iconic mall chain is filing Chapter Eleven.
When I was fifteen I spent a lot of time at the Santa Monica Mall. My friends and I would browse through clothes we didn't have any money for before stopping off at the food court and buying as much food as we could afford to share.
All Hot Dogs on A Stick are very similar in design—they all have the red, blue, and lemon-yellow sign, the three jugs that prominently display the cherry, lime and original flavored lemonade—and give off an air of "enthusiasm". The deep fryers, therefore, are off to the side, hidden behind a very useful barrier that keeps customers from being burned by hot oil. The best thing about Hot Dog on A Stick is the staff uniforms: a pair of eclectic blue polyester shorts, a striped, red, white, blue and yellow shirt, and a hat that sits on the top of your head like a flattened dunce cap. Every stand of hair must be tucked in that cap and your name tag must be attached to the front.
One afternoon at the mall, I approached the counter for my order. The employee handing me my food gave me the brightest smile and asked, "Hey, how old are you?"
I gave her my age. "You're cute," she said. "Wanna work here?"
She was named Wendy. She had a beautiful toothy smile, a long acrylic ponytail that she fit perfectly under her hat, and the scrunchiest socks. With time, I would learn about her belly button was shaped like a cinnamon roll, making it difficult to pierce.
But on my first day, I only learned about party batter, or the breading on the hot dogs; to never ever call them "corn dogs;" and that the lemonade is mostly fresh lemons, sugar and a substance called "stuff" that you should not breathe in directly or you will pass out.
I was ready for this place to be my own personal Fast Times At Ridgement High. It was the most exciting thing to happen to me in a very long time. I came home smelling like deep fried cake and felt like an adult, kicking of my shoes at the end of a hard day.
But I was unpopular at Hot Dog on A Stick. We were all friends at work, but I started to hear my co-workers talk about extracurricular gatherings—dancing, drinking, doing drugs. I was too shy to ask if I could come along, but I realized I had to do something so that they knew I was also cool and edgy. Maybe I went to raves and didn't invite them.
I thought about what I was lacking that all the other cool girls had—how was I the odd man out in this situation? And then it occurred to me: I need to get my belly button pierced.
It was the late nineties. Every cool girl had her belly button pierced. So a friend and I drove to a tattoo parlor on Sunset and batted our lashes. The guy took one look at our underage faces and kicked us out. I thought about having my friend ice my belly down and do it in the bathroom at school, but when the needle got close enough I started to cry and she stopped. I turned to the coolest adult I could find: Wendy.
Wendy and I headed down to the Venice Boardwalk in our brightly striped uniforms and she introduced me to the bro piercing me.
"Lay down, lift your shirt up, and don't move."
This felt very intimate for something that was basically taking place outside with tourists walking by. I closed my eyes held Wendy's hand and it was done. I had a ring in my navel and I was cool. I was never asked to raves, but I still felt badass.
I met my date for junior prom at Hot Dog on A Stick. He was one of the few boys brave enough to put on the uniform. It was the first place I felt truly responsible for myself. Staff at Hot Dog On A Stick were always treated like a part of a larger team; your best interests as an employee were considered, your opinions were valuable. I didn't realize until reading about Hot Dog on A Stick's demise how much of my self-confidence comes from my first summer working there.
It is sad to lose this piece of American kitsch. In the movie Valley Girl you can catch a glimpse of Hot Dog on A Stick, which is fitting; both the film and the restaurant are now throwbacks to tacky enthusiasm with a bit of thinly veiled sexuality thrown in. Hearing that mall traffic is down made me sad. My teenage years were lived in the mall. Where are moms dropping of their teen-age daughters? Where are peppy young women getting their first sense of freedom?
At my current position, I read articles about how sitting most of the day is killing me. I remember the days when I would stand for hours, in a shack looking out at the ocean, on that brightly lit platform in the Santa Monica Mall. I miss my body always being an active participant in my work. But mostly I miss how great I looked in a pair of electric blue polyester shorts.
LaShea Delaney is a writer and theater artist based in Los Angeles. You can read about her newest projects and her love of British teen dramas on twitter @lashea_delaney and lasheadelaney.tumblr.com.