I found the Johnny Cash vinyl in the discount bin, sandwiched between an ancient looking Meat Loaf “Bat Out of Hell” and the Soulja Boy remix vinyl. If I wanted to infiltrate a strip club in some backwoods Alabama town and decided to hop on the one’s and two’s, I could easily put those rednecks in a Budweiser-and-tassel induced trance that would result in them either having a little Paradise By The Dashboard Light or the urge to Superman a ho. I took the train into Philly where I read in the paper that a big promoter is throwing a three day festival in Vineland, South Jersey. The brainchild of the same guy who put together Leeds, Reading, Lollapalooza and Austin City Limits festivals is moving to a farm in the ‘docks of Jersey. Blew my mind. It was originally intended for Fairmount Park in Philadelphia. It would have worked at either place, but maybe now South Jersey will get its due. A half suburb half farmland stretch of land that actually has some nice beaches. Over-priced and over-manicured, but you still get the mentality. Peace of mind has a price. Walking up from underground, I have to put on my glasses. Living in a room with no windows really starts to take a toll on the retinas. I made my way past my friends apartment where I usually live on drunk weekends and in between bar crawls in Old City. I’ve slept in the hallway a few nights and I’m not ashamed. I found the record shop on the corner. The thing I love about these used depots, beside the fact that I don’t acknowledge the hundreds of dollars drained into them, is the other audiophiles and nostalgic types. I wish I learned their names. One couple were in this place at least two times a week. Old camo jacket man and his tie-dyed wife. Imagine the husband from Roseanne. Now imagine him in a camo jacket and sweat pant shorts. Finally, throw at least three days worth of facial hair and you got yourself one fine American specimen. His wife looked more like a soccer mom shaman. The kind of lady with the peace sticker on the minivan. I really hope she doesn’t have a “God Bless America” ribbon-magnet on the bumper, but I wouldn’t rule it out. Of what I could gather, they lived in the apartments across the street. They have one son. They also had a soft spot for classic rock and rockabilly vinyl. I’m guessing they had one of those love/hate relationships, only because I would hear his voice rise with his temper, and her trying to quiet him down. Then him getting louder. Her, in turn, finding a rare zeppelin or velvet underground and shoving it in his face. “buy it for me” she would insist.
Why not ask our son to just download it? He would say.
“It’s viiinnyllll, you know it’s different.” Her voice never seemed annoying, kind of flowery if anything. I could see it getting annoying after the first ten years of marriage.
I moved on to the dvd corner. I love the three dollar section. These movies were once in theaters. Agents pulled strings to get their talent on the marquee. The actor’s will tell stories of the Hollywood premiere party when so-and-so got so wasted off mimosa’s she puked orange on the subway on the way back to the apartment. But for now, they’re four for ten dollars
I could hear that the camo guy found the folk section. He pulled up a Dylan “Bringing it all Back Home” album and must have thought back to his at the Vietnam army base coffee shop revolutionary days.
“It’s hard for our son’s generation to see music and artists as an underground political movement. When you had guys like Bob protesting those fascists and singing ‘don’t follow leaders, watch your parking meters’, we would listen and act. With world leaders today acting as crooked as ever, who is going to stand up and speak for the I-pod generation? Damn kids are too scared to”.
I was sorting through movies, but I wasn’t paying attention to the titles. For some reason, I had one band in the back of my mind. Johnny Hobo and the Freight Trains. I could never find his cd’s at any record store or garage sale, but the internet is a force to be reckoned with. The lead singer, Pat the Bunny, hops on trains with his acoustic and plays free shows wherever the tracks take him. He also takes donations, people gotta eat. He’s got the modern day Dylan thing going. He says every good punk is at least part hippy. One line in his song “Jesus Does the Dishes”, says
“And so you're asking me, who does the dishes after the revolution? Well, we do our own dishes now, we'll do our own dishes then. And it's always the ones who don't who ask that fucking question.”
This same guy called Jesus a dirty, homeless, hippy peace activist who said drop out and find God to anybody who would listen.
I wanted to burn that cd and find the camo jacket guy next week and let him know that all hope is not lost. Maybe, just maybe, he would appreciate it. Maybe he would burn it for his son. Maybe his son will stop listening to the radio and actually pay attention to the words. Maybe he won’t. Maybe he’ll take the lyrics to heart and hop on the next freight train heading towards California. His parent’s would probably resent me for it. Maybe he’d realize how good he had it back home, so he’d phone his parents and they’d buy him a one way ticket home.
The door opens and a little bell rings, letting people know right away that there is an intruder. A 5’6, 49 year old woman starts coughing dramatically. She then complains about the cigarette smokers outside. The cashier shrugs his shoulders and continues to read his magazine. She asks to speak to the manager, so the cashier points outside to the group of smokers, while one man flicks his butt into the sewer and heads towards the door. I recognized the guy as the manager right away, so I had a front row seat to the show. The woman made a b-line to the back and started looking at the new releases, saving herself further embarrassment. I guess she figured it wasn’t really worth it. I kept flipping through the cd’s.
I dated this girl, she thought she was a poet. She hated my habit. I always had to hear things like “Those cigarettes are just as commercially produced and unoriginal as everything you stand against, yet you find comfort in every prolonged drag, as the smoke wraps around your tongue like the worlds most cancer-ridden security blanket. And don’t get me started on that weed.”
I would just tell her she looked hot when she said stuff like that, and she would roll her eyes. Hey, I wasn’t lying.
So I had a discount funk compilation in one hand and the new Death+Taxes magazine in the other. I headed to the listening section and took a seat. They always have those hair mannequins holding the head phones. Why is it always a woman. Why is the hair always shaved off. It’s not edgy. It’s not controversial.
I was sitting next to a girl in her 20’s. She had short blonde hair. I made a joke about the Madonna album on the wall and she noticed the Guy Ritchie movie next to it. I love a girl who knows her pop culture connections. She was listening to an old Flaming Lips record. I tried to hide what I was listening to. Her mom was next door at the hair salon and she was killing time. The subject of school came up and she found out I went to college. She’s taking time off from school and work and living at home. “It’s so liberating” she said. It sounds like the opposite to me. We talked about the role of teachers versus students. We agreed that most of the police in this town only exist to protect property and meet quotas. We talked about modern authors. Then, like a terrible prophecy, she started talking about holistic medicine, which then, oddly enough, shifted to the Dixie Chicks. She loves the Dixie Chicks. “They’re so brave”. I decided to sabotage this relationship from the get-go. I really don’t like the Dixie Chicks. It wouldn’t have worked out. She’ll want the wedding song to be “Fly”, and if we split up she’d just blast “Goodbye Earl” out of the windows of her Black Jetta, throwing flaming pieces of my mail onto our neighbors lawn.
I needed a good way to end the conversation. She was a partially intelligent waitress taking some “me time”. She worshiped Obama. She had a “Not My President” patch on her hemp backpack. Ladies and Gentlemen, I’ve found my scapegoat. I started talking about my increased involvement with the Republican Headquarters in Trenton and how I really don’t understand the reason behind the Confederate flag being racist.
You should have seen her face.
She started looking around for her things and the once comfortable atmosphere had completely disappeared. Nihilistic is a word often thrown around.
She had to go check on her mom, and I told her I had to get going because my TIVO was broken and there’s a new O’Reilly Factor on.
I was tempted to say Seig Heil and goose step towards the counter, but then I’d blow my cover. Plus, I couldn’t say that shit with a straight face. It cant be hateful if it’s ironic, right?
One thing she said, before the untimely destruction, has stuck with me for a while. Being a student of any kind should make you feel fortunate. Some of the luckiest people are the ones who are able to continually learn, well out of the classroom. They see the world as constantly changing, and work to help others realize their own potential. I appreciated what she was saying, but so many people say that at some point in your life you have to realize how to successfully balance all of your passions and ethics and go to school or get a job and live happily, but more important independently. When she left she hoped in her moms car.
I’m in line behind the camo and tie dye couple and she’s buying the Beach Boy’s “Pet Sounds”. Its on cd though. I’m guessing her excuse is the bonus tracks. I really think she wants to secretly burn it onto her sons computer. Her husband’s choice surprised me. Joy Division’s “Substance” on vinyl. I would love to look at his record collection. Maybe he sells them all. He might actually make a living off of it. Hitting up all the local record stores and selling them at a flea market. My parent’s friend did that throughout college. Made enough money for coffee and cigarettes whenever the mood struck him. No log term goals, sure, but ask him back then if he’d be complaining. I had all these questions and I had to do something. The guy started walking away and the cashier wished him a good night. He stopped and turned to the cashier. He said
“Super perfundo on the early eve of your day”.
This guy was awesome.
“That’s from waking life” I said.
He shot me a smile that reminded me of the time I got a Sega Game Gear one year for Christmas. Like he was expecting someone to pick up on it. The cashier failed his little test. I passed with flying colors.
I threw my bounty on the counter. One Saul Williams cd, a “Funk You Very Much” compilation, and “Old School Soul Party” on VHS. I spent five bucks even. Not bad for a Tuesday afternoon. I threw them all in my backpack and went outside. I saw the couple smoking cigarettes by the trash can, peeling off stickers from their cd’s and whatnot. I introduced myself and we started talking about our collections. His name was George. This here was his wife, Ashley. He invited me over for a drink. It was only three in the afternoon. I told him I had a date down near Penn, but I would smoke one with him. I lit the cigarette and he just jumped right in to it and asked me what I did and what I want to do. I explained my situation to him and what I plan on doing in the next few months, but when it came to years I had no idea. He works for the post office. I asked him if it’s like how Bukowski described it, and he said there’s more alcoholism but not as much isolation. That’s not saying a lot. My cigarette was almost finished. When you hit the ink, you’ve only got a matter of seconds. I knew I had to make an impact on him, so I asked him if he had any advice for the kid working to pay off his school debts and living in the recessed Bush economy with warm Decembers and freak weather storms; and if it’s ok to resent the, as Jeff Rosenstock said it, “Edward Scissorhands village where privileged white kids date rape girls and taunt me in their SUV's”. What he dropped was a knowledge bomb. An egg of smarts right over my dome piece.
I would be expected to say something like “do what makes you happy”, or “look deep inside yourself and you will realize what you enjoy doing most”. But this is bullshit. Ask anyone if they are doing, everyday, what makes them happy. Most of the time, they aren’t. We’re brought up with the mentality or working to live and living to work. We all have debts, bills, and a need for continuous electricity flow. We all have obligations that are greater than our own personal happiness. We all fell incredibly crushed by our own daily obligations. We all have fears of the unknown, just try and explain religion without it. Something like 90% of the people in the world hate their job. Including me. Now ain’t that a shame?
I agreed and asked him if that’s why he seeks out these rare albums and pieces of history - to find an escape. He just nodded. Almost like he was saying “Riiiight, now you get it!” I said I’d probably see him around again and hoped on my bike. I had twenty blocks to go and new music for the ride. Things were looking up. The ride gave me time to think.
Without our need for creativity, or in George’s case his weekly record shop sweeps, we start to lose confidence in the human spirit. The fact that we can create and interact should make us excited! Kinda makes you feel all warm inside, right?
We get caught in the pattern of living for other people. Look at the supposed record shop liberal who darts at the sound of anything controversial. The destruction of our own spirit is only successful in making the shallow people stronger. Simply put: The masses are asses. Don’t read what everyone else tells you to read, or listen to what everyone else is listening to. Don’t speak the same language or have the same outlook. It’s okay to be indifferent. I mean, that‘s how this country was founded, right? But that’s just opening up a whole new can of worms.
I dodged a taxi that was making an illegal left and got my tires stuck in the trolley tracks. The bike stopped, but my body continued moving forward. I landed a few feet away. I was laying on my back looking up, and all I heard was fresh tunes in my headphones. Vitals were good.
It was when two people came running out from their row homes to check me out that I realized my mantra. Faith in human kindness is not only genuine, but sensible. Hey, it’s not drastic. It’s not earth-shattering. Wonderful in every sense of the word. Not nice, but hopeful.