The Music Box. That was the name of the record store I visited on my first day as a resident of Langley Park, Md., in 1980.
Among the many people who reminded me of the name after my column last week was Faye Brown, daughter of the Music Box’s late owner, Jerry Brown. She even remembered the girl I mentioned who once worked there, Terri.
I don’t care what people say. Washington is a small town. (And by “Washington,” I mean that city, along with all the hamlets that make up our entire area.)
When we’re young, geography informs memory. We mark our lives by the stores we shop at, the restaurants we visit, the bits of architecture we pass so often that they become ingrained in our brains, as fixed and reliable to us as a mountain range or a waterfall was to our Cro-Magnon forebears.
So, for some of us, that seemingly immutable marker was the Music Box.
“It had a great neon sign that flashed a record back and forth,” wrote a reader named Joel who lives in Deale, Md. “As a collector of old Washington, D.C., junk, I wish I had tried to obtain the sign.”
For others of us, it was Waxie Maxies. (There was one in the shopping center on the other side of University Boulevard.)
Or it was Penguin Feather or Kemp Mill Records or Harmony Hut or the Wiz.
William Hoffman Jr. said the Music Box is where he bought his first album: “Meet the Beatles.”
I bet that when a song from that album comes on the radio, William thinks not only of that particular song, but of that physical album — of holding the cover in his hands — and of the store where he bought that album. It’s all tied up together.
To live in one place for any stretch is to construct an imaginary scaffolding comprising time, place and action — and to decorate it with sense memories.
My Langley Park recollections unleashed a flood of taste memories of an ice cream shop called Weile’s Creations. It was in the shopping center catty-corner to the one with the Music Box. Founded by Eric Weile, a German Jew who had escaped the Nazis, Weile’s was famous for its outlandish ice cream creations. (Even so, Robb Mapou said when he was a boy, he liked to get the Whipped Cream Supreme: “nothing but whipped cream and sprinkles in a tall cup.”)
Eric Weile died in 1980, and his ice cream shop is long gone, but you can find scans of his 16-page menu online, meaning it might be possible to reverse engineer such confections as the Drip, the Killer Diller and the Lincoln Memorial, which cost $30 and required a day’s notice to construct.
Our today is built upon the bones of yesterday. Michael Willis of Laurel, Md., remembered that the Kmart I mentioned had, before that, been an E.J. Korvettes. And before that, it had been a Lansburgh’s, that homegrown department store. (Today the building houses a furniture store and mini-mall.)
William Hoffman Jr. — he of the Music Box Beatles album — reminded me that the Langley Park liquor store I mentioned had a unique distinction: “You could get liquor to go, and individual drinks to go. In a drive-through!”
You had to get out of the car to order at Famous Delicatessen, whose subs I devoured through college.
Ben Klopman worked there between 1971 and 1980. “I have fond memories of the Gruber family who owned the deli and its function as a gathering place of the various local business people in the area, many of whom were characters and were quite funny,” Ben wrote.
“I know that ‘you cannot go home again,’ but I do wish that there still was a Famous Delicatessen so that I could show my children the deli that I worked at growing up, as I often share my memories of this time in my life with them.”
On my first day in Langley Park, I walked into the Music Box and asked Terri, the girl behind the counter, if the record store was hiring. I’d done the math and figured I was going to need to work at least 20 hours a week.
No, Terri said, but she knew someplace that was.
That’s how I ended up in the shipping department of a photography lab up Route 29 called Colorfax, where for half my shift I wore white cotton gloves and slipped fresh prints inside envelopes, and for the other half I drove all over the area — from Fairfax to Baltimore — delivering them.
But that’s a story for another day.
For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/johnkelly.