By Amy Boyd
There’s a group of people who may know more about you than you think–dry cleaners.
After working all of six hours at a local doughnut shop one Saturday in the spring of 1996, I was told that maybe food service wasn’t the right job for me. My previous work experience included stacking the dishwasher with the dishes my dad had mostly washed already. Walking out of Mickey Lolich’s doughnut shop I wondered what would be the right job for me and how I would find it. A friend on my soccer team told me that I should apply at the dry cleaner’s where she worked. She was the youngest employee there and they were always looking for another high school student to work after 4pm and on Saturdays. It was at these times that the more menial tasks occurred, such as taking in and tagging clothes, depilling sweaters, and retrieving clean clothes for customers.
Raymond Trella, the owner of Trella cleaners, was a very Italian, very flashy, and very crisp man. His black hair had a shiny, wet look and his style was reminiscent of Don Johnson on Miami Vice. His white jacket, colorful T-shirt, and wicker sandals seemed out of place in the grunge era of the mid 90s and in small town Michigan, but he worked his look with confidence.
As he told me about the job I stared at his tiny black mustache and watched it twitch back and forth. He seemed sure that I could do the job and I couldn’t think of one question I could attempt to formulate about dry cleaning. In the three years I worked at Trella’s, the day I interviewed was the most time I ever spent with him. However, I learned what Raymond liked from my co-workers. He seemed to have specific preferences about store music, clothes sorting, pocket checking, and properly de-pilling sweaters. I don’t know if Raymond had specific mix tapes that he played, or if it was just a super-easy-listening radio station, but we seemed to listen to a whole lot of Phil Collins. Whether it was ‘Su-Su-Sussudio’ or ‘In the Air Tonight’ there was always the faint sound of drums or a groovy synthesizer in the background.
The first thing I learned was the most important thing of all–Rule #1–every single pocket of every single garment of clothing must be carefully checked. Often the only way to accomplish this task was to blindly stick your hand into the pocket and pull out whatever lurked inside. While you may expect to find pens, loose change, and used Kleenex, there were many other less-appealing items left in suit coat pockets or pants pockets. Used Q-tips, ear plugs, gum, sticky candy, love notes, pills, underwear, panty hose (in men’s suit pockets), and of course dirty socks–but often found in back pockets. Why would someone put dirty socks in their back pocket anyway? All of these items brought deep embarrassment to me and I dreaded sorting the clothes that came in each evening.
I also feared the black dry cleaning bags that many men dropped off at the counter with a week’s worth of shirts and suits to be cleaned. You never knew what other items had mysteriously jumped into the big, black bag. Many of them carried distinct odors as well–some would make you gag as you checked the pockets and tagged the items as quickly as possible, but other bags smelled of men’s cologne.
After the first few months I knew which customers would come on which nights and around what time. Hot Mike, as we affectionately called him, arrived every Thursday night around 6:30. He was old–like 30–but his wavy dark hair and blue eyes reminded us of the guy on the movie Clueless and we fought to assist him each week. Hot Mike’s black bag smelled like the best, most expensive cologne and we wanted to check his pockets–looking for clues about his real life. The time Hot Mike left a wool glove in his black bag I was thrilled to call and leave him a message on his answering machine. I still recall the ficticious conversation I had with my fellow 16-year-old coworker before I called. “Uh–Hot Mike? It’s Amy from the dry cleaners? You left a sparkly diamond ring in your black bag, are you trying to ask me an important question?”
We laughed for so long that I almost forgot how nervous I was to call him. I ended up leaving him a message that was a barely intelligible, fast-paced blur. It went something like “Uh-hi-Mike-it’s-Amy-from-Trella-Cleaners-we-found-a-glove-in-your-black-bag-so-you-could-uh-should-come-and-pick-it-up-thanks-bye.”
On the flip side there was Smelly Tom who came in every Tuesday night at 6:58 right before we were closing. He pulled up and over the curb in his beat-up Toyota and popped open his trunk. After moving aside the trash, he carried in two or three armloads of dirty clothes and spread them out on the counter. When I worked with Raymond’s middle-aged sister, Sue, she wasn’t afraid to strap on the rubber gloves right in front of Smelly Tom and start to pull out each item to write it on the ticket before he could leave. One night as he pulled up we were listening to Phil Collins yet again. It was the song ‘Another Day in Paradise.’ Sue strapped on the rubber gloves ceremoniously and shook her head–she smiled grimly and said, “Just another day for you and me in paradise!”
(play song) 01 Another Day In Paradise