Elizabethan Dry Cleaning
My old man never went past the tenth grade, but he once gave me a piece of advice that, for all my university education, I've been turning over in my mind ever since. He owned a dry cleaners, the one that I own now, and back when I was a fresh-minted college grad (B.A. English) I had the idea the he needed to raise the profile of his business, which lay on the tattered hem of the old industrial city where I grew up.
"It's a dry cleaners, for Pete's sake, what do I need an image?" he groused--he was an irritable man, especially with me. "If the clothes come back clean, people are happy. If they don't, I'm outta business."
"But you could attract a more affluent clientele," I said.
"Cleaning is a local thing. People aren't going to travel far."
"You might be surprised. You could draw them by using a catch phrase."
"A catch phrase."
"Kind of a like a verbal logo. Think about it. If say Coca-Cola, what comes to mind?"
"Taking rust off a chrome bumper."
"But a phrase--in the ads."
"Coke . . . it's the real thing."
"Exactly. You think of the one and immediately the other comes. How about Greyhound?"
"Um . . . leave the driving to us."
"See? So my idea is 'Able Cleaners--out, out, damned spot."
He looked at me blankly.
"It's from Macbeth," I said.
He shook his head in wonder and walked away. I went after him. "What? It's Lady Macbeth talking about her guilty soul. And there's no copyright issues. It's be a good business move."
He walked back to his little office in the rear. "The last business move I made was the first, calling it Able, put it right in the beginning of the yellow pages. Only nobody uses yellow pages anymore, so what does it matter."
"But, Pop, think about it. Shakespeare."
He parked his hands on his hips. "Okay, Mister College Degree. One thing they obviously didn't teach you but you've gotta learn--not just in this racket, but in life--you don't succeed by making someone feel stupid. What are you, gonna offer a special on starching Elizabethan collars? Pressing cod pieces?"
The old man surprised me. "That's funny," I said, impressed.
"Let me give you an example, a perfectly good example. Back in whenever, when Gore and Bush were running for president--"
"The election the Supreme Court stole."
"Forget that. Listen. There was a debate, early on, and someone asked, "What's your favorite book? A softball, Bush says, I dunno, Winnie the Pooh or whatever, something simple. Gore, he says, The Red and the Black."
"Stendhal. You know that one, Pop?"
"I didn't quit school because I'm stupid. I had to go to work. My point is, I never heard of the damn book, and most voters probably didn't either. I looked it up later. And it wasn't even written by an American. I said to myself right then, the election is lost. The Supreme Court only cooked up a reason. But back to before," he went on.
"The average Joe or Jane that comes in here with their shirts and dresses doesn't know Shakespeare. They're not gonna get it about 'damn spots' so I say to them, 'It's Shakespeare,' mimicking me, 'It's Lady Macbeth.' They're gonna feel stupid, and they might decide to go to Star Cleaners, where the people working there don't care crap about that stuff and aren't worried about a clean soul the way they are about a clean shirt collar. No, forget the catch phrases and logos and slick business moves. Run at honest game, give people what they want, you'll do okay."
The old man was right, God rest him. Now I run Able Cleaners, with two locations, and we do a very good business; and when I want Shakespeare, I go to the theater.
David Daniel has published more than 100 short stories, most recently in the anthology Insanity Tales. His novel, The Heaven Stone, won the St. Martin Press/Private Eye Writers of America award for best first mystery. He lives in Massachusetts, where he teaches at an inner city charter high school.