Dead Letter Office
The Shirts

dead Letter Office is a column of letters written by Todd Hutlock to a friend named Jimmy, who may or may not exist. The column details real-life experiences regarding work, life, and how Hutlock's obsession with music runs them both.


Okay, I am officially relying on you to tell me straight if I am retarded or not. I know what your answer usually would be, but please actually read my story first before you decide.

A few days back, I finally got around to unpacking and putting away (in one of those stackable wire cube unit things that you have to put together yourself and was a massive pain in my ass to assemble) all of my T-shirts. They had previously been languishing in garbage bags in the back of my apartment for a few months because I had nowhere to stow them. Plus, I had a bunch of newer shirts already unpacked that were just sort of stacked on top of my dresser—there were a few white ones, some black ones, a couple of greys, and a couple of colors, so I was covered for the most part. Plus there were some other hanging in that useless closet in the record vault/front bedroom. But the bulk of them were in these bags.

Frankly, I was astonished as to how many I had. No, really, more like appalled. How the fuck did I accumulate so many? I couldn’t remember having bought more than two or three in the last few years. Had I really gotten that many freebies from people? Or, as I was slowly starting to realize, did I just never throw them away?

Now, in general, I am not good with weeding out old clothing. I tend to buy things of “classic” style (rather than of current trends) and so unless they totally wear out, I can keep them for years. I have one yellow shirt with grey polka dots that I bought in 8th grade (yes, that makes it about 20 years old). Another favorite flowered shirt was from a year later. I still wear them fairly often and likely will until they fall apart entirely.

Sadly, I seem to be able to misguidedly apply this logic to things that I actually need to replace more often. Things like socks (I have a pair of socks with the Flintstones on them that literally have no toes in them from 1995, but I love them so much I can’t bear to throw them away), boxer shorts (again, I do have one pair given to me as a gift in 1992, which are actually still in pretty good shape, but still...), and apparently, T-shirts.

Promo shirts from some junk-ass record labels or video game company were the first things I got rid of. Unless it was a really cool shirt, of course. So that took care of, oh, like 7 right there. Not much of a dent when I have well near 200 of these things clogging my place. I actually tossed a few really cool old comic book shirts with that retro Jack Kirby art on them. That sort of bummed me out, too, but the ones I tossed had those awful yellow armpit stains and all that and I pictured Mel seeing one of them and the horror on her face and the choice was made.

The shirts I can’t seem to toss, though, are the ones from concerts of my youth. And for the most part, I have kept every one since 1986 or so. I can say that with some degree of accuracy because I still cling to my shirt from the Smiths gig at Cleveland Music Hall in August of that year.

This thing really is in sad shape. It has long since stopped being white. The yellowed armpits are actually hardened into a sort of crust. The once brilliant pink letters have faded and altered to a bizarre shade of peach. I would never think of actually putting the thing on my body again. I don’t think I could wash it for fear that it might just fall apart entirely. And yet, there is no chance at all that I can throw it out. Same goes for that Bunnymen shirt from ’87, or New Order from ’89, or really, any of the rest of them.

Okay, so considering my total lack of space (which gets worse with every single CD or record or book or toy or whatever I buy), how much sense does it make for me to keep these things that I know I will never again use for their intended purpose? I can’t reconcile it in my head, and yet, I can’t just cast them aside as if they are meaningless pieces of cloth either.

Because after all, when your brain is as jammed full of meaningless, trivial shit as mine is, what else is going to remind me of these things other than souvenirs? I look at that shirt and I remember Morrissey falling into the orchestra pit headfirst while Johnny Marr pissed himself laughing. I remember Jim and William Reid playing basically an entire set with his back to the audience. I remember Ian McCulloch singing the opening lines of “Going Up” to a backdrop of dry-ice smoke and camo. I remember jumping off the stage from between Pete Shelley and Steve Diggle and cracking my glasses in half, straight down the middle. I remember Bobby Gillespie winking at me and Martin Duffy walking over to give me a high five. It all plays in my head like some perfect film.

And sad as it is to say it, I don’t trust myself to remember these things on my own without these little mnemonic devices. There’s just too much in there. Maybe I need to let go of some of my mental baggage before I can clear out some of these physical items. I can think of quite a few things I would love to forget all about and just can’t seem to.

In any case, I am relying on you, my dear friend, to set me straight here. Am I just being impractical about this? Or is it okay to hang onto these basically worthless scraps of cloth strictly in the name of nostalgia?

So you tell me, my man. But if you give me the wrong answer, I’m not going to listen to you anyway.

Your man in the Midwest,

By: Todd Hutlock
Published on: 2005-02-07
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