“Britney Spears Shirt?!” the Hot Topic Staff Repeated Over and Over.

Having the words “Britney Spears shirt” emphasized repeatedly while waiting at the Hot Topic checkout counter to pick up her order somehow made Felicity red with shame. It really shouldn’t have, of course, as Britney was and is a national treasure. And yet, perhaps because Felicity wasn’t expecting to have her purchase put on blast, it made her wary. Her name itself being a mononym of a TV show only millennials would remember, Felicity was already starting to feel of late as though she was constantly giving away her age with the references she gravitated toward. It was a phenomenon she had only recently started to notice, as her workplace was beginning to be overrun with Gen Z ilk who seemed to be in on some joke she would never understand. When had she become the “irrelevant” one? Granted, she had always possessed what some would call an “old soul”–while others might deem it purely: being a wet blanket. Not to mention having an undeniable connection with the baby boomer generation. 

Perhaps her Gen Z co-workers could sense that about her, and that’s why they turned their nose up at Felicity so overtly, seeing as how they despised everything boomers stand for and all (regardless of making no concerted effort themselves to eradicate capitalism and the material lusts thereof). Or maybe she was being overly paranoid. The point was, because there existed no one at work she could connect with due to a generational divide on either spectrum (they were all too young or too old; in other words, Goldilocks could not have handled it there), she had plenty of time to online shop while sitting within the confines of her cubicle and eating some overpriced, ultimately disgusting meal from a nearby conglomerate. 

Felicity had been seeking an affordable Britney shirt with a bit of uniqueness to it for quite some time, trolling the likes of “budget” staples such as Target and Wal-Mart until her search finally led her to an old junior high favorite: Hot Topic. Why not? she figured as she clicked on the “tailored content.” Of all the places she had seen, Hot Topic had, to her surprise, the most robust variety (maybe they had some kind of better licensing deal that had managed to go unchecked by Jamie Spears). It wasn’t just the same old Oops!…I Did It Again album cover shirt or a picture of Brit with a shit-eating grin sitting on a chair. No, they also had a “death metal” image of her holding the python from her famed “I’m A Slave 4 U” performance. A song title that Felicity was of the belief had not aged well. In fact, if it was any white girl besides Britney parading that song title, Felicity reckoned there would have been an attempt at cancelling it. But because Brit had presently been installed as “America’s angel”–belching and cursing and all–she had essentially secured herself a get out of jail free card on public judgment for the rest of her life. After all, who besides Madonna had ever endured such merciless media torment? The difference being that Madonna was never quite literally enslaved by such mercilessness.

After adding the “I’m A Slave 4 U Death Metal Tee” to her cart, she selected the option to pick up the shirt in-store. Why not? It would give her a reason to take a long lunch break. No one valued her presence at the company anyway. She was, at this juncture, a decorative piece they still saw fit to pay. Maybe because the wage was so low, it didn’t feel like any amount was even being lost. Felicity wasn’t going to question it. Unlike the employee at Hot Topic who took one look at her and seemed to decide she didn’t belong there. Even after all these years. The truth was, Felicity had never been allowed to set foot in a Hot Topic during her adolescence, when such a form of sartorial rebellion was still relevant to her age. Her parents found the store to be “horrendous” and “in poor taste”–in short, all the things a teen girl yearns for. But now it wasn’t her parents oppressing her, but the cashier who seemed to want to make it her mission to get Felicity to feel as out of place and uncomfortable as possible. 

First, she was barely acknowledged at all as the cashier, who, predictably, had a nose and lip ring, along with “oxblood highlights” in her black hair, tended to a customer she deemed worthier of the store. After she could no longer viably pretend not to notice Felicity standing there, she consented to searching for her order in the back. But when she returned, she was empty-handed, saying she’d have to look up the order in the computer. As she fiddled with the keyboard, she demanded loudly, “So it was a Britney Spears shirt?!” A boy standing in front of a rack of Squid Game-themed clothing snickered. Or was Felicity only imagining that and he was just sniffling? 

After more hemming and hawing, she called upon her manager, Dylan, to help things along. Felicity still had no idea what Oxblood’s name was, but maybe being aware of Dylan’s as she summoned him was already too much. Left to wait by the merchandise while Oxblood rang up the boy who ended up buying a Squid Game sweatshirt, Dylan approached and inquired, “Are you the one who ordered the Britney Spears shirt?” He said this as Felicity could see various employees continuing to rummage around in the back for the mysteriously absent garment. 

There was a time when Hot Topic would never have sold anything Britney-oriented–certainly not during her actual peak, when the store was more on board with shirts that said “Spear Britney.” She simply did not meet the “counterculture” mold Hot Topic was about during this era (ironically, this form of “counterculture” found its bread and butter to be in the malls of America, the least anti-establishment entities in existence… though in their present state of non-chicness, perhaps maybe they can be classified that way au moment). After her breakdown, however, Britney seemed to gain a lot more credibility with those who saw themselves as “marginalized” (if being an angst-ridden teen living in suburbia can count as such). Maybe that was around the same time, too, that Felicity began to have a greater appreciation for Miss Spears. And picturing that image of her going absolutely apeshit with the green umbrella after being pushed over the edge was all the inspiration she needed to venomously shout back, “Yeah, I order the Britney Spears shirt! So where the fuck is it?”

Oxblood looked up from her post behind the register and smirked in approval at Felicity. Almost as though this was part of the test she needed to pass all along in order to at last gain access to the thing she paid for. Because, miraculously, right as she was about to escalate her anger further still, one of the worker fairies brought her the shirt. 

“Ah, here it is,” Dylan said, as though there had never been an issue in the first place. Just as there never was for Britney until people started creating the issues for her. 

Back within the safety of her car, Felicity took off the “smart blouse” she was wearing and exchanged it in favor of the prized “I’m A Slave 4 U Death Metal Tee.” Without realizing it, she had subconsciously purchased the ideal “statement shirt” for going back into her workplace. Maybe they would “take her aside” for it, but she didn’t care. The top was too hard-won not to put it on immediately. And when she strolled back to her desk casually wearing it as though it was the most natural thing to pair with a pinstripe pencil skirt and black stilettos, she could feel the Gen Z cabal tittering as she walked past them. Like parents, they just didn’t understand. Britney’s importance could never truly be known by them. Sure, they could try to lay some form of claim to her in their little videos shared on a certain social media app, but they didn’t know-know of what they spoke (or danced to). Plopping down in her seat, that’s when she understood that she had become “old.” Because her pop culture icons could not belong to any subsequent generation, and she didn’t want them to. That wasn’t their right…nor was Hot Topic. Hell, that was still barely even her right if the day’s experience there was any indication.

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