Most afternoons found my buddies Pat, Ken, and me hiding in Music Plus’s stockroom, throwing thumbtacks at the cork bulletin board. The tricks to winging a tack are: A) make sure it’s a metal tack with a large body. Perhaps “pushpin” is the right word; B) Pinch the body in the first joint of your index finger; C) Throw with a motion similar to passing a football. We pissed away so many hours back there that eventually I could throw four at a time, one in each finger. I felt like an office supply ninja.
Pat and Ken both sported the Mike Patton shaved sides ‘do, both surfed, and both loved Fishbone. The day Angelo, Fishbone’s front man, came into the store was like the second coming, but he was neither the first nor the last musician to walk the stacks at Music Plus. Thomas Dolby came in one afternoon. He signed copies of Aliens Ate My Buick for a couple of guys, so that was pretty cool. Jane Child was a regular. She eventually had a huge hit with 1990’s “Don’t Wanna Fall In Love,” but we all just knew her as the chick with the chain running from her ear to her nose. Even Sinatra dropped in once.
“I’m in a band” was uttered so often that it was no more than the hum of the air conditioner: I didn’t even hear it anymore. Everybody was in a band and everybody wanted me to ask them how it was going, so I did and they bragged and I rang up their purchases or video rentals and we all left happy.
A long-haired dude plopped a bunch of tapes onto the counter one afternoon and started baiting me: “We’re in the studio, we’re thinking about working with this producer,” that kind of thing.
“Oh, you’re in a band?”
“Um, yeah?” he said.
“You guys having any luck?”
“Um, yeah?” he said.
“Oh yeah? What’s your band’s name?”
“Um, Mr. Mister?” he said.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” I said. He didn’t need to know that I was apologizing for his band’s career being over.
And it wasn’t just musicians. I never knew who I was talking to unless they told the truth and bared their souls from the get go, like Joey Barry. Every time that weasel came in he made a big deal about being a producer, announcing in his New York accent, “I’m a produce-uh!” I drew the short straw one day and had to ring him up while listening to his loud, rambling bragging.
“Hey, Mr. Barry, you’re in produce, right? What’s in season right now?” I asked.
“No, I’m a producer,” he said.
“You know what I like? Peaches. Do you sell peaches?”
“I’m a producer!”
“Nothing better than a ripe peach. Can you get me some freestones?”
“I’m a producer! Music and movies and such!”
An adult film director named Jim Holliday used to come in all of the time, too. He never bothered to tell us he was a big [money] shot, but he brought in a huge box of porn for us to divvy up. Mine was a compilation of ’70s stag loops, and I think I only kept it for a week or so rather than risk a porn blow-up with Jody.
One time a middle-aged dude approached the register with Robbie Robertson’s new album. “Great choice,” I said.
“Think so? I liked his Color of Money score better,” he said.
“Oh, all of his Scorsese collaborations have been great, but come on—The Band? You can’t deny that stuff.”
His eyes closed to slits. Someone unleashed an Ennio Morricone whistle. “Yeah, but they were better as Dylan’s backing band,” he said.
“You want to talk backing bands? Check out their time as The Hawks backing up Ronnie Hawkins.”
He smiled at me. “You’re good,” he said, and he flipped his card onto the counter. “Give me a call Monday. I’ve got a job for you.” I stuck the card in my pocket and didn’t look at it again until I got back to the Su Casa apartments. He was the president of Capitol Records.
We were here for the non-Jim Holliday film industry. That was Jody’s dream, and I hitched my wagon to it. I didn’t want to be in the music business, but eventually my ramen noodle diet talked sense into me and I called the number on the card. “I’m sorry, he no longer works here,” I was told. Maybe he was ousted for hiring too many music geeks.
The important thing, though, was that it finally clicked for me that everyone who walked into the record store was a potential lead. I asked anyone who made the mistake of talking to me what they did, and then I swore that I had no other goal than to do that thing. I met actors, set decorators, lighting guys, electricians, and produce guys who didn’t sell peaches.
I even met a collage artist who made his fortune writing, recording, and producing for Cricket, the bright yellow children’s records I owned as a kid. “I loved Cricket records, and I’ve always wanted to be a collage artist,” I said. I got a free dinner out of that one under the guise of an assistant/apprentice interview, but I didn’t get the gig.
And so I plodded along at Music Plus, hanging with my buddies and playing thumbtack darts in the storeroom. Occasionally we crossed the street for a Mickey D’s hamburger. Walking back to work once Pat said, “Check it out,” and he waved his burger ahead of us. A tall, slender woman in heels and fishnets swayed in front of us.
“Damn,” I said.
“She’s fucking hot.”
“I bet she’s a hooker.”
“So what? She’s hot.”
“That is a nice ass,” I said.
As we spoke our pace increased. The swaying stopped when the light changed. She waited to cross at the same corner at which we needed to cross. Not a word passed between Pat and me, but a tense cloud of anticipation enveloped us as we realized that one of us was going to have to cash the lascivious check our big mouths had been writing out of earshot of this woman; otherwise, we’d be all talk. We reached the corner, the video vixen turned and faced us, and She. Was. A. Guy.
I don’t mean that she was a masculine woman, nor do I mean that she was transgendered in the manner of a Jim Holliday cinema spectacular. No, she looked like Henry Winkler dressed as a Rick James backup singer.
I’m not really sure where I’m going with all of this. I guess the moral of the story is this: Be nice to everyone, because you never know who you may be talking to. And never commit from a distance, no matter how sexy the miniskirt.