Saturday, February 14, 2009

I Wanted to Flea the Market

There I was on Friday, my spirits soaring because Winter Break for we schoolteachers had begun. After dropping off at the MIT Museum the sterling entries that my students had done for an art/essay contest, I noted with glee that I had a free hour before I needed to leave Cambridge. So I rode down Massachusetts Avenue for a spell and came upon a record store that is an institution in the area. It had moved from its decades-long location but--and this can only be termed miraculous nowadays—instead of closing it had relocated down the street. Not having visited the store for a long time, and with a free parking space right in front, I decided to stop in.

First of all, I knew the store didn't have a pricing structure I liked. It completely lacks variety. The standard price for a used CD ($7.99) makes no concessions to age or popularity. So it's not the cheapest establishment in Boston.

Still, I thought that I might bump into something magical. I went straight for their jazz vocals and discovered an early 1970s release by Jackie & Roy, a husband/wife team whom I love. Plus it was priced at $3.99! (Oh, there were suspicious scratches on it, but it was a contender—I WAS walking around the store with it along with another Jackie & Roy release in mint condition for their standard price.)

My shopping experience went south, though, when I overheard the proprietor of this establishment emerge from some storage area in the back of the store. I didn't look at the guy, but I heard him—he belched his way repeatedly straight to the register. He then engaged in idle conversation with a customer that made me regret all the time I used to find such chatter amusing in my youth. ("Oh, well," I thought, "that is one benefit of working in a place where the pay is so low and the customers few.")

Still not checking him out, I heard a young European woman come into the store looking for something by Jackson Browne. My proprietor, enchanted by her seemingly, led the lass to something that she wanted. As she checked out, he treated her to some of his opinions about the dismal state of the English language these days. (I believe he said that nowadays everything can be reduced to "Ah, hell" or something like that.)

Continue with his belching after she'd gone, I decided to check him out. Flannel shirt, long gray hair and an unkempt beard with thick glasses, Mr. Burp didn't appear to be independently wealthy, which is what one has to figure you are if you can keep an enterprise like a used music store going these days. I had overheard him talking about a property that he had in another state in addition to where he lived locally, so I thought he was doing all right. So avoiding the hairdresser was apparently his choice.

Anyway, this guy sapped my spirits. As I flipped through the vinyl and CDs, I was overwhelmed by the shabbiness of my environment. "This place is so sad," I thought, "Look at all these records that no one cares about. They'll never move out of here given the way they've been priced. And to think that once, decades ago, these releases were an exciting, shining moment for these performers. And now—geez, how many of them are still alive?"

It didn't help that the aisles in the store were narrow and the place was a tad dirty. I turned my attention to the records in my hand. I decided to put them back, even though not buying them would secretly depress the guys working in the store who'd undoubtedly noted that I'd been poking around for 45 minutes. I mean, really--just down the street I knew was another used music store whose inventory was 50% off in February. I didn't want to run into my Jackie & Roy releases there and kick myself for buying something for the wrong reason.

This morning as I lounged on the main floor of our house, I observed all the vinyl I had around me. I'm glad to report that none of the feelings I had in Cheapo returned. It made me think that used music stores might benefit by having far less merchandise, and instead tastefully display what they deem of value. Have the salespeople bubbling with enthusiasm over music that they love--I mean, really sell it, as I try to do on this blog.

And yes, I would have a dress code, and if you belched (repeatedly) I'd consign you to the storage area!

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