In 1982, the year 1999 seemed so far away. Thanks to cable television, a channel called MTV, and a young artist named Prince, the turn of the century was all the rage, though. It was hard not to see the video for the song “1999” (from the album of the same name) and it’s followup, “Little Red Corvette”, if you watched even the slightest bit of Music Television, as these two were heavily played in the channel’s video rotation. Since I watched a tad too much MTV, I became a Prince fan.
When the 1999 concert tour made its way to Greenville’s Memorial Auditorium on February 22, 1983, I was there – on a double date with a special female friend and another couple. I seem to recall one of the parents driving us, so we weren’t as grown up or cool as we thought, I guess.
Along the way, the same young lady gave me a cassette of the 1999 album. Eventhough that particular relationship eventually ended, the cassette still meant something to me. As I entered the driving world in 1983, borrowing my mother’s car when I could, I almost always took along my music, and 1999 was almost always along for the ride.
It was early summer of 1984, and my friend and next door neighbor, Tim, told me they were hiring bag boys at Community Cash, a now defunct grocery chain where he worked as a bag boy. My bank account was already pretty decent thanks to the neighborhood lawn mowing I’d been doing for a few years, but I went down to the grocery store and talked to the manager – my first ever job interview.
I can’t remember the manager’s name, but he was a very tall man with large pointed nose and a bushy mustache – very intimidating to a skinny sixteen year-old kid. He wore a wrinkled, white, short-sleeved dress shirt and an ugly tie. He may have even smoked a cigarette while he asked me questions up in the manager’s security “crows nest”, an area in the front corner of the store, elevated above the cashiers so he could keep an eye on things. Despite my friendship with Tim, the manager hired me, and I had my first real tax paying job.
Bagging groceries in 1984 was a bit different than today. First, we used paper bags. There was none of this one plastic bag for each item stuff. No, sir. We could pack an entire grocery cart into just three or four large paper bags, never mind that the poor old ladies probably couldn’t lift the bags out of their cars when they arrived home. That never occurred to me until many years later.
Second, we were allowed to accept tips. This made for super lucrative Saturday shifts. In addition to the $3.35 per hour minimum wage, I could count on at least an extra $1.00 to $1.50 per hour in tips, leaving the store after shift with $10-12 in cold, hard, tax-free cash in pocket. Back then, this was enough to treat your best girl to a movie AND popcorn at the Bijou Cinemas, just down Wade Hampton Boulevard from Community Cash.
Finally, part of our uniform at The Cash (or the Trash, depending on who you talked to) was wearing ties. I’m pretty sure my tie wardrobe consisted of just two squared-end knit ties in garnet and navy. These ties worked great with the few golf shirts I owned or the one or two dressier button down shirts I occasionally wore.
One busy Saturday in summer of 1984, I was going about my business of bagging groceries, while wearing my tie. On this particular day, I wore a shirt with a front pocket, where my 1999 cassette was stored for safe keeping – or so I thought.
Towards the end of the day, I noticed my pocket was empty. I searched around the checkout counters and the bagged ice cooler, where we often stored our break time drinks. No luck. 1999 was gone, and I felt bad. Sure, I’d lost the girl a year before, but losing the tape seemed to add some kind of strange finality to it. Soon, I replaced the tape, using tip funds, but I can’t say it sounded the same. Maybe the tape deck just needed cleaning.
Later in the summer, I used more tip money to head to the Bijou and check out a new film. Perhaps you’ve heard of it – it was called Purple Rain. Prince went on to win a Grammy for the title song, and I went on to buy the movie soundtrack and wear out a new favorite Prince cassette. To this day, the opening song, “Let’s Go Crazy”, is a staple on my run playlists.
I never found out who exactly ended up with my cassette. I’ve often wondered if some little old lady found it in the bottom of one of her heavy bags. I like to imagine her putting the cassette in her car’s tape deck to take a listen. Then, I laugh at the look I imagine on her face.
Now, it’s 2016, and 1999 seems so far away – just in the other direction. Unfortunately, Prince is now gone, and unlike my old lost cassette, he cannot be replaced. RIP, Prince.
I was dreamin’ when I wrote this
So sue me if I go to fast
But life is just a party
And parties weren’t meant to last