If you Jeanketeers think I sit on a chaise lounge eating bonbons all day, you'll be surprised to learn that I applied for, and got, a part-time job at Kinko's. See, I thought working at Kinko's would be easy. The only other time I'd been there, to photocopy a disintegrating old column by Ann Landers (R.I.P.), it was late at night, and the clerk on duty was reading a skateboarding magazine. Boy, was I in for a rude awakening! That place gets swamped!

The customers can be really picky, too. Even though I was clearly wearing a "trainee" name tag on my apron, they still yelled at me about botched orders that I had nothing to do with, and forced me to get down on my hands and knees to clear paper jams from the copiers. When you're a generously proportioned gal like me, that ain't no walk in the park! One lady, a fast-track executive type, got impatient with me, because I couldn't figure out why one of the computers wouldn't read her disk. When I suggested that she keep a copy of her data in longhand on ruled paper, she asked to see my supervisor, Cory. The sourpuss told Cory that he should keep me away from the customers, because I obviously didn't know what I was doing. (What can I say? I can barely tell a PC from a teepee.)

That lady brings to mind something that has always irked me: women who are unsympathetic to other women. We gals should stick together, like in Sex And The City, instead of back-stabbing each other. (We'd be ruling the world if we'd come around to this—think about it, ladies!)

So, back to Kinko's. After two weeks of hard labor, I decided that I deserved to call in sick. (I was starting to have paper-jam nightmares!) After getting off the phone with Cory, I noticed that I'd forgotten to bring my hanging ivy plant in from the balcony, so I opened the sliding-glass door and walked outside. The ivy was shriveled from the cold, but I found the crisp air invigorating. Autumn had truly arrived! I had a brainstorm: Instead of eating a box of SnackWells and watching Wayne Brady, I could commune with nature by taking a drive around town. I threw on my autumn, leaf-patterned sweatshirt and headed out the door.

Driving along in high spirits, I felt an uncomfortable twinge as I neared the exit to the strip mall that used to house the Fashion Bug where I once worked. I hadn't been to the area since I was laid off more than a year ago, so I figured it was high time I confronted some old ghosts.

Pulling into the strip mall's nearly empty parking lot, I saw that Fashion Bug's space had been divided into a Western Union office and a comic-book store. I'm no comic-book fan (puh-leeze!), but I noticed some toys in the window of the store, and being a kid at heart, I couldn't resist taking a peek. Unfortunately, all they had was a bunch of ugly action figures of Superman and Batman and some other characters I didn't recognize. They were practically the only "action" in the store, so, feeling chatty, I went up to the clerk. Save for his long hair and pierced eyebrow, he was the spitting image of hubby Rick!

"Slow day, huh?" I said with a chuckle. "It was like this when I worked at the old Fashion Bug. I guess all the business is over at the real mall." "I don't care," he replied. Boy, he had Rick's surliness, too! I pressed on and asked if he carried the Cathy dolls. "Cathy? Cathy who?" he asked. I had to smile: The generation gap is alive and well! I said, "This can't be much of a comic-book shop if there are no Cathy dolls." Ha! Zing! See, we old fogies can be just as smart-alecky as the young whippersnappers!

I made my triumphant exit and walked down the familiar, cracked sidewalk flanking the stores. I peered into the Western Union office, which was all done up in fake-wood paneling. The H & R Block was still going strong, but the frame shop had a "going out of business" sign in its window. That left the Hot Sam. The lovely smell of baking pretzels lured me in, just as it had in the days of yesteryear, but the two cheery workers who always giggled when I came in on my break were no longer working there.

Even though I was proud of myself for confronting my strip-mall demons, I was happy to go. I headed to the park, hoping that the blazing colors of fall would rejuvenate me. When I got there, I was stunned to discover that most of the trees had been cut down or severely pruned! Then, I remembered having heard on the news that blight had forced the town to chainsaw a bunch of the park's trees. As I sat at the picnic table in the near-treeless field and ate my pretzel and drank my Mr. Pibb, I almost wished that I had gone to work. Are these my only options in life? Working at a job I hate or sitting around with nothing to do? The ice in my Mr. Pibb was making me shiver, so I decided to leave.

I noticed a Ryder truck parked in my apartment building's driveway when I steered in. As I walked up the path to my building, I ran into Sean, who was carrying a set of lamps to the truck. Jeanketeers might remember Sean as the college student who wrote a Jean "fanzine" called Blossom Meadows. I didn't get a lot of it, but what I did understand was pretty unflattering, especially the essay called "The Tragedy Of Jean Teasdale." I hadn't spoken to him much since I read that. When Sean saw me, he looked like a deer caught in the headlights. We stood there for a few seconds without saying anything. Finally, I broke the silence and said, "Howdy, stranger."

"Hey, Jean," Sean said. "I've been meaning to talk to you for a while, but you're never around." (Ha!) He told me that he was moving to Chicago to finish school. (Apparently, Concordia College wasn't good enough for him!)

"I have to admit, I'm going to miss this town a little," he said. Then his eyes widened, and he told me to follow him back to his apartment. Once inside, he went over to an open box by the living-room door and pulled out an old rotary-dial princess phone, colored pink.

"I read in your column that you wanted one as a kid but never got it," Sean said. "I found this at a garage sale. It's a real Bell model, too, not a cheap knockoff. It still works. Or you can put it next to Miss Beasley in your curio cabinet."

I murmured my thanks. I didn't know what to say. This was the most thoughtful gift I'd ever gotten. I wished him luck with moving and started up the steps to my apartment, but then something occurred to me. I turned around and asked Sean if this incident would be in his 'zine. He looked startled. "Uh, would you prefer that it not be?" he asked. I said yes, I'd prefer that. I said that, in this case, I'd like to have the last word. "Yeah, sure," he said. I don't think he understood why I asked him that. Maybe he does now.

I think I'll quit Kinko's tomorrow.