Wednesday, July 05, 2006

The sweat of the working man

Peering down the long list of less-than-stellar jobs I’ve held over the years, it can be easy to overlook the summer I spent working at the dry cleaners.

Now, without going into any specifics yet, it’s probably easy to deduce at least some of the reasons for the job’s crappiness just by studying that first line. Summer. Dry cleaners. Working at a dry cleaners in the summer, even in the best of circumstances, is just a little bit like being in the furnace room in Hell, only with fewer pitchforks and more cancer-causing chemicals. The whole business of dry cleaning is based on steam and various hot appliances. This leads to sweat, lots and lot of sweat. So if you’re wondering just how clean your pants really are when you get them back from being pressed at the dry cleaner, well, I’ll get to that later…

So my Dad knows the owner of one of the local dry cleaners and gets me a job for the summer between my junior and senior years of high school. Really, I can’t hold this against my Dad, since I could have gotten a job own, plus the last time he had gotten me a job with someone he knew at a catering company, I had a great time (and got paid five bucks an hour – under the table!). I’m even willing to forgive my Dad for the fact that the owner of the dry cleaners was a total ass hat.

Having had this job almost 20 years ago, some of the details are a little fuzzy now, but there are some distinct pleasant memories that linger with me. And remember, when I say pleasant, what I really mean is crappy.

First off, I wasn’t on what you would call a “schedule”. When the ass hat owner decided he needed extra help, or the regular help hadn’t shown up, I would get a phone call, usually the morning he wanted me to work. Not that big of a deal, really, when I got the call at home, since I didn’t have a lot else going on. Slightly bigger deal when I get the call at 7 on a Saturday morning when I’m staying at my friend Peter’s house after a night of “experimenting” with beer (seriously, experimenting, without the quotation marks I guess, since at that time, it took holding down all the gag reflexes I had to finish a bottle of Budweiser). And it’s not like I worked a lot of hours. One week, I went to pick up my check after having worked 25 hours the previous week (at the 1986 minimum wage) and the owner made a point of telling me that I had a big check for the week. Yup, $71 after taxes, right on my way to buying Park Place.

And then, there were my work duties at the dry cleaners. Or more specifically, my work duties in the yard of the owner of the dry cleaners. Apparently, I had been hired to be the ass hat’s $3.35 an hour landscaper. Sure, the first week or so, I used some of the starch machines and other dry cleaning apparatus, but one of my main duties would be mowing my boss’s lawn. Just in case I wasn’t sweating enough inside the drycleaners, I would get to spend an extra three hours in the blazing sun, struggling to keep the line’s in the ass hat’s lawn looking straight.

Still, mowing the lawn was preferable to pressing pants. This was the only other task at the dry cleaners I was deemed capable enough to do, and even then, there were restrictions. I was only allowed to press the pants of State Troopers, apparently, because the pleat down the middle of the pants should have been easy to line up, leading to efficient pressing. But, like many things in life, I struggle even with that seemingly simple task. Goddamn if I could ever get the pleat lined up right before I pressed the pants. And this did not go unnoticed A.H. boss told me that some of the troopers were complaining because they were getting their pants back and the pleats were off, which led me to believe that there was an epidemic of State Troopers pulling over motorists and then getting laughed at because of the wayward creases in their pants.

But I would have my revenge as I struggle to keep the crease for our state’s finest. As I may have mentioned, the dry cleaners is a very hot (Infernoesqe) place. And it doesn’t take a lot for me to get the sweat flowing. Not being one for headbands (even in their height of fashionliness in the 80s) there was nothing to stop the sweat from flowing from my head directly onto said trooper’s trousers. Crease, steam, sweat, press, repeat. At least I never got any complaints about the sweat stains.

Eventually, I think I just got called less and less over the summer as my big $71 checks started to dwindle to $33 checks. The dry cleaners would be the last job I had before going to work for Purity Supreme (still the job I held for far longer than any other to this point) the next winter.


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