Music Memory

I have a pretty extensive music collection on my near-full 160GB iPod Classic and sometimes I run across something that I haven’t heard in a long time and wonder why I haven’t.

Depeche Mode

This morning I’ve been listening to Depeche Mode 101, a live concert album they did in Pasadena, CA, in 1988. It reminds me of my first job.

Back in high school, when I was 14, I got a job at a local dry cleaner. I actually got notified of the opening through a long-time friend of mine and, for a time, we both worked there, though he left before I did.

It didn’t start out well, at least, it didn’t in my 14-year-old mind. My first task, on my first day, was to get a bucket and brush and scrub the walls in the tiny bathroom in the back. Pretty nasty.

As time went on I got more responsibility and, after a year or so, was tending the shop solo. I wasn’t running the equipment, but after the folks doing the actual cleaning and pressing had gone home, I’d stick around and handle the customers coming in to drop off or pick up clothes

  • write up the order tickets for people, play cashier, that sort of thing. I can still remember the general pricing structure - $3.80 for a shirt/blouse to be dry cleaned, $0.50 extra for silk or rayon because they needed to run in a separate load and took extra care when spot cleaning; $1 for a washed/starched/pressed men’s dress shirt.

When folks weren’t coming in, I’d clean the place - sweep up the lint that accumulated on the floor, mop, wipe down the equipment - and prepare things to be cleaned the next day - separate clothes into different bins based on which load they needed to run in, undo all the buttons on the dress shirts to be washed and bundle them into bags for washing, and so on. Eventually I got to a point where I could run the washer for the shirts and the Permac dry cleaning machine.

You’d get to know the customers who came in, what they usually brought in, how often, and so on. There was one lady who always came in driving this Porsche 964 Turbo with rear fender vents. We always looked forward to that - it was the coolest car we’d ever seen. She offered to take us for a ride in it, but none of us ever took her up on it.

It’s amazing some of the weird skills you pick up when you work places. I can still usually tell by feel if something has silk or rayon in it, even blends (faster than checking the label when pricing things). I can unbutton all of the buttons (sleeves, collar, front) on a button-up shirt in a couple of quick movements (gotta be unbuttoned for washing and pressing).

Anyway, hung on the back wall, above the giant washing machine (actual washing with water, for the men’s shirts), was this boom box with a tape deck. It was covered in the oily lint that got all over the place. The speakers were detached from the body and hung about four feet on either side of it. On the Saturdays when I was there minding the shop, I’d break out my 101 tapes and pop those into the boom box. I listened to them enough that they got demagnetized in places and the tape was sort of stretched and weird sounding in others. With Depeche Mode cranked in the background, I’d get into a work flow and take care of business.

It’s weird how music can make you remember stuff. Now, every time I hear 101, it’s like I’m back at the cleaners on a hot Saturday afternoon, waiting for that Porsche to roll in. Maybe this time I’ll take that ride.