I’ve misplaced the jump drive I use to store my site-related content, so I’m going to fill out the week with more entries in this feature. This will also let me work through all the early outliers in my collection with one slightly staggered swoop.
In the opening weeks of 1983, the local paper announced that the Can Man would be stopping by the local package (that’s “liquor,” for you non-Boston folks) store on Presidents’ Day weekend. This was before Massachusetts instituted a “bottle bill” mandating a refundable deposit for beverage containers. If you wanted to convert empties into cash, the wandering Can Man was the only game in town.
My pal Artie and I saw this as a golden opportunity to reap a financial windfall. North Woburn may have lacked such longed for amenities as an arcade or a comic book shop, but it had no shortage of empty beer cans. Armed with a pair of contractor bags Artie swiped from his old man’s garage, we set out to harvest our neighborhood’s bounty of discarded glass and aluminum containers. No trashcan, vacant lot, or teen hangout escaped our scrutiny.
The biggest haul came from a hard-partying auto-salvager who let us search through his assortment of wrecks for empties. That alone accounted for three quarters of a single bag, roughly half of what we’d collect in total.
Even though the spring thaw had arrived early that year, it was still mid-February in New England. The unusually warm weather actually made our collection efforts more arduous, as it was easy to forget that there was still four inches of filth-encrusted snow on the ground. Melt from the snow soaked our sneakers, which in turn froze up again as we continued to trudge around in the slushy mire. At the end of the day, I was suffering from a painful-as-fuck frostnip of the toes, and spent the evening dangling my feet into a tub full of warm water and Epsom salt while getting yelled at for my lack of common sense.
After weeks of dreaming and plotting and scheming about all the things we’d with our pending fortune, C-Day finally arrived. My dad dropped us off at the package store parking lot and we waited in line for our goods to be evaluated and cash dispensed. The Can Man, who resembled Jeff Lynne in a meshback Skoal cap, examined each item carefully. The “good” ones went into a bin and were added to the payout tally. The “bad” ones also went into a bin, but were not added to the payout tally. The Can Man knew very well who wielded the power in this business relationship.
Our final take from two contractor bags of empties, a weekend’s effort, and a case of early stage frostbite came out to just under three dollars, split two ways. There would be no Atari 2600 cartridges, new BMX bikes, or fancy-ass boomboxes for Artie and me. Instead, we hit up the Zayre’s across the street to see what our buck and change would bring us.
I eventually settled for this…
…a 7″ of “Rock This Town” by the Stray Cats. Artie bought a Billy Squier single. “Everybody Wants You,” I think.
The Stray Cats are a band that I’ve loved since childhood, but would never classify them as a “favorite.” One of the first pieces of music apparel I owned was a Stray Cats baseball shirt I found in a remainder barrel at a flea market, and I have a newer t-shirt of theirs that still gets frequent wear.
At this point, the band’s sound and gimmick are nostalgia twice removed — a callback to my early 1980s childhood in the form of a musical callback to the 1950s era of rock and roll. While the Stray Cats may have rejected the “new wave” tag, they exemplify its value as a blanket term to describe the weird and diverse array sounds which emerged in the wake of the punk scene and led to a brief golden age of catch-as-catch-can pop music.
It may be the temporal bias speaking, but I’m glad I became musically conscious at a time when the “Come on Eileen,” “Rio,” “Rock This Town,” “Mr. Roboto,” and “Mexican Radio” all shared space on the Top 100.
My copy of the “Rock This Town” single didn’t get much play. When it did, it was mainly for the b-side…
…a rockabilly cover of the Supremes’ “Can’t Hurry Love” which got some radio play before getting muscled off the airwaves by Phil Collins’ (inferior) version.
Mostly, though, the record ended up collecting dust on the corner of my dresser reserved for “runner up” field day ribbons, a Led Zeppelin consolation prize carnival mirror, and other harbingers of a life lived not-quite-good-enough. My original copy went missing during a move, but was replaced by one my wife found at a yard sale. She wasn’t aware of the single’s significance. She just knew I liked the band.
Fun Fact: My most faithful feline companion was named after Stray Cats frontman Brian Setzer.
Her original name was “Miss Kitten,” which was changed to “Little Baby Setzer” when we thought she was actually a male. We didn’t bother changing it back again when we discovered (s)he was pregnant. She’s an absolute doll, and her utter devotion to me almost breaks my heart.