2. Turning The Dial.
I rolled myself another cigarette and paid my bill, finding the outside world just as I had left it: dark, gloomy, pregnant with rain and cold winds. I pulled my jacket in tighter and screwed on my hat, if only to make sure that I hadn’t left it in the bar. The Bug was around the corner, and elderly Volkswagen that I traded a friend for, only because it reminded me of a car I spent much of my youth inside. It was the perfect car for me, as it took well to my slow learning curve, is very conducive to spell-grafting to keep the gas prices low, and was still relatively functional given the clumsiness with which I took to the streets in a vehicle. It’s fairly difficult for me to do anything intentionally dangerous, and it is this simple fact alone that has prevented me repeated visits to the hospital in it, too.
I dropped my bag in the passenger seat and strapped it in, then started the car using the complicated series of hand gestures and doodad fondling I’d worked out over time. The car sprang to live and the radio began to sing out, “I’m About A Mover,” but slowly faded as a voice shouted, “The Diamond Hour with Frankie Diamond here on the most powerful station in the Blazer Nation, KLOW, and we’re bringing ya the biggest and the brightest, the sharpest and the whitest college and indie bullshit you’ve ever heard bumping out of the room where everyone’s doin’ blow, but instead, you’re listening to klow… K L O W, that is. Now we’ve got a very special Bryan Ferry fashion block going out to our good buddy Miles Smiles down at You Spin Me Right Round – ”
I pulled himself out of my routine of getting the car ready and began to listen. This was, in fact, where I was going, and Miles – I assume that “Smiles” was Diamond’s tacky nickname – must be Miles Dangerfield, the owner of the store.
“ – Records, and we hope he’s doing great after everything that’s happened recently. Stay as frosted as a new wave hairdo, and we’ll be back on the other side with more of The Diamond Hour, with Frankie Diamond, king of Portland Radio here on the mighty KLOW!”
I changed the dial quickly to KXRY, and began putting some pieces together. As a long time practitioner of music magic, it didn’t take much for me know who these players all were. Miles had owned You Spin Me Right Round Records for years, not only making the store a hip place for disaffected youth for decades, but creating a little name for himself, getting seen at shows and other hot events with the typical kind of VIP status that an old-school rocker usually commands. I’d never met Miles, but I certainly picked up some Jazz sides from one of his locations, and also passed off a Dylan bootleg I’d milked for all possible magical secrets long ago to another location when I was desperate for cash. Miles has had plenty of impact on just about everyone who had any interest in records, even if they don’t know it.
But what happened? And why does Frank Diamond know about it? I usually try to avoid his show, as Frank is the worst example of hipster bullshit and local trash that the city has seen in quite some time. Yet, like most of these assholes who talk shit about your 7”s when he full well knows that his collection is inherited, Frank is the kind of guy who will walk around looking for the biggest crowd at a show, then stick around for the scene more than the band. Even worse, he has ingratiated himself with some of the hipsterati around town, and makes a lot of promises that he can keep. Not beneath payola, it has long been established that Frank is someone to be owned, and while there has never been any paper trail to corner him, it is clear he only plays bands who let him into the party, so to speak, and he’s built a fairly lame empire for himself that has the only real-world consequence that someone gave him a fucking radio show.
This wouldn’t be as much of a problem if it weren’t for the fact that there are a lot of hard-working and well-intentioned DJs in town who were banished to the nether-regions of the middle-of-the-night schedule. The reason music magic is so powerful is that the forces at play behind music are so contradictory: a song can represent a real and extremely important emotion that is presented to you in the most constructed and artificial way imaginable. Music is of the moment and highly artificial, in almost every instance of you hearing it. It is this disconnect in meaning and form that offers so much space to extract magical essence, where the artificial / realistic disconnect makes the biggest leap in believability. With all of this comes the problem that really awful people participate in a way that that they can paint as genuine as easily as an honest person is dismissed because they aren’t using the right hair product.
I pulled out of the hellish traffic, stopped the car, and listened to the radio as I made a few notes on an index card. It seemed to me that KLOW might be just as lame as I remember it, and yet I might have to swing by later.
I immediately regretted stopping, as getting back into traffic was abominable. The City has sprawled into a huge mess in the last 15 years, as what was once a medium sized yet easy to get around place has turned into a snarling, disgusting mess with long commute times during rush hour and periods of motionlessness on stretches of surrounding highways and freeways. Getting around was not only quicker by foot, but offered only one benefit to anyone in a car: lots of time to think.
Dexter started to weigh his physical state of being a bit as he maneuvered his way in the general direction of the record store. The physical toll of the case before, with several consecutive nights without sleep and too much booze – plus the added stay with friends the night previous – had accumulated into a hazy (and somewhat confusing) attitude about everything that was going on. There was far too much obvious connection between traveling for days and feeling in a daze, and the difficulty with which I was having pinning certain events down to certain parts of the last few days, and it was clear to me that clarity was something that may elude me. But the message from Suzanne was pretty adamant, and I could easily meet with Miles, take on the case, and then camp out in a hotel room for the better part of a day before having to take any real action. Part of the appeal of travel is the fog that it throws you into, where you can skim across the surface of reality and not have to take things in too heavily. But in my line of work, I often didn’t have that luxury, and while I usually tried to keep the party going no matter what my circumstances are, I was going to need to get some sleep.
I used my annoyance with the traffic and my own hazy perspective close the gap between my car and the record store, and soon enough I was trying to pull into a parking stop, wondering if I smelled a little too boozy for the hour at hand. You Spin Me Right Round Records is one of those shops in a bit of a strip mall, with a head shop on one end and tailor’s shop that always seemed to have something going on there that didn’t involve tailoring. The Record Store had expanded into a couple of the surrounding spaces when those businesses had failed, but had been in the location for years, and was very well known by the local kids, and as a consequence, band stickers and fliers littered every surface for a few blocks in each direction, and the remains of joints and drained cans of beer spoke to the after-hours scene, too. At any given time, there was at least one guy working on skateboard flips in the parking lot.
I chewed a stick of cinnamon gum and replenished my stock of index cards, then slung my bag over my shoulder. Miles did not know when to expect me, and didn’t know who I was per se, so I had time on my side. There were a few ways I could play this, and the closer I was able to act the part of someone who belonged in the store, the better off I was. I traded out my satchel for a messenger bag I kept in the back seat, and put my jacket in its place. From inside the messenger bag, I removed a hoodie, threw it on, and lit a cigarette. Across the street was a coffee cart, and I picked up a cup of something hot and sipped it thoughtfully. The best approach would be to go in and do a bit of shopping first, to see if anything caught my eye.
I poked my head in, then slunk around the aisles, thumbing through the stacks while I took in the store. For the middle of the day on a Thursday the place was hopping, but there weren’t that many clerks for the crowd in the store. A few couches surrounded a listening station and a comically small stage, where a few kids were swapping skate rock tips. Over by the used CDs a few raver burn-outs were snatching up $4 electronic discs, and there was one guy pouring over the 7” records, taking each one out, examining the vinyl, making sure the item was of a quality he could tolerate in his collection. Behind the counter was a busty and heavily tattooed girl in an Exploited t-shirt, doing her best to keep the attention of the clientele as she spun Rembrandt Pusshorse for the kids. I stood in awe of this magnificent red-head with spex, and my thoughts turned to the bartender from before, and the longing felt somewhere vulnerable and easily stirred.
I went through all the things in my head that I used to worry about in situations like this, and tried to pick a record that would be a conversation starter. What was most likely to get her attention if I showed up at the counter with it in-hand. Clearly she was sending a few different messages today, and as she paged through a Leonard Cohen biography, I realized that I couldn’t just pick an old Bad Religion album and call it good. I toyed with Mission of Burma and Wire, but felt as if those were obvious ploys that she would see right through, and more pointedly, she would get suspicious of the fact I didn’t already have it. I thought of trying to go local, and ask about the older Sex Crime 45, but the more I thought about it the worse the situation became. I was desperately clutching at straws when I imagined a 45 Gave record, and finally grabbed a Traveling Wilburys disc along with a Boys II Men CD, figuring I could at least try the irony tactic, or make up a “gift for a family member” excuse.
She looked at the CDs, then looked at me, and said, “Your line better be good.”
She was good. I immediately feigned an extremely exaggerated form of hurt feelings and said, “But I practiced all day! It can’t be that obvious.”
“Like a cowbell.”
“Would your opinion change if I was looking for first LCD Soundsystem single?”
She wrinkled her nose and frowned.
“Kings of Leon?”
She game me a micro-half-smile. “Now you’re just fucking with me.”
“I could just use my line?” I offered.
She leaned forward a tad and pushed her chest out slightly. “If it’s a line about a Ween album cover I will stab you here in the store and put you next to the goth records, so I can pose you with Black Metal records.”
“Mission of Burma?” I lobbed, sort of as a hail mary. I was sure that she wasn’t about to do me any favors, so I mostly said it for my own amusement. But she stopped and eyed something beneath the counter.
“Are you the guy that called earlier about Bradford Hotel video earlier?” She looked me up and down, and seemed to let down her guard a bit. I got lucky.
I straightened up a bit and dropped some of the affectation. “Yeah, is it here?”
She smiled wide, and leaned over the counter toward me. “That depends. What’s it worth it to you?” I’d been trying to build clocks with enough twists in bars when I was a kid to recognize this for what it was, so I summoned my best puppydog-caught-in-the-eyes-of-a-blond look and said, “It seems at least four times as valuable as the list price if I can see you again.”
“What’s wrong with what you’re seeing now?”
“It’d be even better over drinks.”
“What if I’m not that kind of girl?”
“I’d be curious to find out what kind you are, then.”
She backed off slightly, “It’s kind of strange, isn’t it?”
“What do you mean?”
“I would think you’d be smart enough to know that there’s a never-ending parade of hipsters with boners for me, and you’re not even remotely curious as to why I’ve picked you over the hordes of other messenger-bags that are willing to buy me vintage Suicide records just so they can see what the rest of this tattoo looks like.” She gestured at her chest, something I was polite enough to pretend I wasn’t glancing at when I wasn’t looking into her huge and commanding eyes.
“Should I be curious?”
She wrinkled her brow and a look of concern crossed her face. “I would hope so.”
“Look, I get it. A lot of guys put their 7”s on the counter here and beg for you to give them a patch with your phone number on it that they can use to tug at themselves while they’re thinking of you.”
“I liked you better when you were a Kings of Leon fan,” she snarled.
“But listen, I’m a Mission of Burma fan, you’re an attractive woman, and the thought of getting nerdy on Rough Trade at some dive while we pump the jukebox is where I’d like most of my conversations in record stores to end up.”
“If that’s not a reference to the record label I will stab you.”
“I promise, I’ve barely even considered Googling the other meaning, if it makes you feel any better.”
She gave me the micro-half-smile again and bent over to get something from under the counter. It was one of those extremely intentional ways that women bend over when they want to show something off, something they know they have, and she had it in spades. When she came back up for air, she had a video cassette with a note on it that said, “Marcus Little, $20, pre-paid. 4 PM.” She handed it to me.
“You seem to be VERY early.”
“Yeah, well I thought I wasn’t gonna get here until after work, then I smoked a joint, called in sick, and came here.”
She laughed, a genuine laugh, and not one that you hear when they’re faking. Or, if she was, she was good. “That is the best thing anyone has said to me all day.”
“Wow, the guys here are really awful.”
Another smile. This was turning out to be the best case I’d taken recently, and the only thing that concerned me was a glare I was getting from someone near the back of the store. When I finally made eye contact the figure moved away through a side door.
“Here, let me put it in here so everything’s safe.”
I watched with fascination as she put the tape in the plastic bag. She pulled out a piece of register tape with a bunch of junk printed on it, and handed it to me. “Here’s your receipt. Also, here’s my card.” She handed me a ovid piece of cardstock that was shaped like a piece of vinyl. “The Record Hop: A Music Nerd’s Podcast” was at the the top. Underneath: with your host Sam Drake. And, on a third line: Every Thursday. therecordhop.net
“That’s my show. You should listen.”
I turned the card over in my hand, and looked confused. “Something’s not right.”
“What?” she asked.
“Your card seems to be missing your phone number.”
She laughed, again, a real laugh. “Wow. Old fashioned. I figured you’d message me about it later, so we could flirt more.” She snatched the card out of my hand, and wrote seven numbers on the back of it, and then a word. She put it back in my hands. “What are you, 40?”
I smiled in a way that let her figure out that she was right, then quickly responded with, “Experienced.”
Another customer stepped up and I let him talk to her, and it was immediately clear that he was a prick, and she was gonna have to stab him. I took a few steps out, and intended to get out of the store with a door from the interior opened, and a large man stepped out. He looked like he had grown up on the East Coast, spent a lot of time playing in the street and singing Doo Wop with his friends, and had relocated to the West Coast because free love was more fun. He looked right at me and said in the most stilted tone imaginable, “Oh, ‘Marcus.’ I’m glad you got your video. Come into my office and have a beer or something stronger.”
I shook my head, and said exaggeratedly, “Thank you for not blowing my cover,” and in a normal voice, “Mr. Dangerfield?”
He nodded. “Yeah, come with me.”