Differences between the past and the present.
In the early 1980s I was able to afford, on less than five dollars an hour, a two-bedroom townhouse apartment, off Route 161 in Columbus, Ohio. My weekly food budget was twenty dollars, and I had about fifty dollars a week for disposable income—which I spent on clothes, decorating, houseplants, fish tanks, LPs. I was a Pier One shopper, buying those peacock feathers 80s people displayed in floor baskets; giant floor pillows, too, with a folkish loose-woven fabric, and straw mats I used for wall hangings. One purchase I carried from house to house for several years before it fell apart was a twenty-five dollar rattan chair, bought with Christmas money from my grandparents (typically a check for twenty-five dollars).
I used to hurry home on my lunch break in those days to watch videos on MTV (and at Gold Circle we didn’t have to clock in and out, so I pushed the time). I was crushing on the band Split Enz, loved Elvis Costello, bought an album by Squeeze on the strength of a Rolling Stone review. (Agreed with…however, reviewers in those days had the power to snuff out a lot of good music. The internet’s democratic openness is an improvement.)
I had the Steve Miller Band for “Fly Like an Eagle”… I had a couple of Styx albums (when I was a teenager I thought “Come Sail Away” was the most beautiful song), but I started to go off them in the 80s. Of course, “Mr. Roboto” is immortal.
Check out this Tommy Shaw solo number from the 80s. A truly great song that wasn’t the hit it should have been.
The job I had was general clerking in what I think was called the Merchandise Information Office (I’m not sure about the “I”) at the chain’s central office in Worthington (next to the Jack Maxton car dealership). People from the region—but also from California, where a string of stores sat detached from the others—will recall GC as Kmart-like.
They had (the one on Morse Road, the one I shopped at) just before I quit my job started stocking a little section of higher-end brands, as a marketing experiment…
So, in that last month or two, with the employee discount, I drove off in my Chevy Chevette (I think it was a stick, light metallic blue, only AM radio) to shop for a brand I liked, Outlander. One purchase was a silk-angora blend collared sweater in off-white, that I paired with a turquoise pinwale circle skirt. The waist on this was too tight; I had to fix it with a safety pin…so not the most successful look. I liked the turquoise and white combo, though. One of my 80s outfits was a pair of huge parachute pants I wore with a white eyelet-collared blouse. I still have an Outlander red lambswool blend with three-quarter sleeves and v-neck, now somewhat moth-eaten, that I wore with a long midwale corduroy dirndl, dark brown (bought during a Myrtle Beach vacation), and some Nine West boots, dressy in cinnamon with a stacked heel.
Why so much detail? Just to paint the picture for you, if you remember those fashions. And because a lot of things in life are measured in clothes. (If you don’t remember, you’ll have to Google parachute pants to get the full sense of them.)
There was a sort of dynamic I didn’t understand, coming into the work world as a poorly socialized eighteen-year-old. Once, for example, some of the supervisors were throwing a party for the office staff at Chuck E. Cheese’s, and I didn’t want to go. It was an after work-hours affair, so I understood it to be voluntary. I got the impression my opting out was being held against me, in a background gossipy way.
There are voluntary things on the job that are not voluntary, such as overtime. (But I’ve steadfastly refused overtime whenever I could.)
And I still think a lifetime of never setting foot in a Chuck E. Cheese has done me only good.
Favorite Foods of the Day
Lender’s Garlic bagels, that they stopped making. Toasted, with peanut butter.
Granny Smith Apples. (There are lots of great, crispy apples these days, but back then, you could have Granny Smiths or mushy, bland golden and red delicious.)
Honey Nut Cheerios
Stouffer’s Mac and Cheese (This always had to be made in the oven to brown the cheese topping and bake the filling to a custardy quality. Microwaving wouldn’t do. But, last time I bought any, they’d changed it weirdly and it tasted like it sat open in the refrigerator for a week.)
There was a candy, a type of M & Ms called Mint Royales, that I loved.
And once, you could get really good Dolly Madison Danish. I think they’ve gone by the wayside.