Why I Buy Records This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

June 11, 2015

Harry and I had been good friends long before he married Marge. An old name, Marge. They’d met at an auto show. There was a ’57 Sting Ray there. I had seen one before but couldn’t remember where. Marge worked as a cashier at her father’s booth, and they sold honey from an apiary. Harry had made some corny joke about honey, about it being sweet and her being sweet, and Marge laughed, and they got married a month later.

That was a year ago. I’d go over to their place on slow Sunday afternoons and play vinyl on his father’s turntable. Harry’s dad died a few months before their wedding. It’s funny to me that people listen to vinyl again. Before long, it’ll be cassettes. Then music boxes. I have one that plays “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.” My father gave it to me, but he’s dead now too. Harry and Marge would laugh and chat and schmooze on a couch of cracked red leather that they got from their registry, and I’d sit across with a rock in my stomach. I’d laugh at Marge’s jokes, almost as loud as Harry, even when they weren’t very funny.

When I’m not with them, I mostly take photographs. I learned how to use a camera at college and then bought my own by working weekends in a dive bar on Bleecker. Working there made my clothes smell like gin and varnish. I don’t even like gin. I wear my gin and varnish clothes to the park every day to sell photos. They’re mostly of old women smoking, buildings at sharp angles, mirrors, and winding stairs. Stuff people like to see, stuff that’s pleasing to the eye. I usually sell two or three a day. There’re always a few interested people who just look. Why buy a photo you’ve already seen? That’s what that one guy said the other day.

He was a gaunt, tall man who bent over the photos like a street lamp. His sunglass-covered eyes seemed to move rapidly. I couldn’t really tell. My only hints were the palpitations of the tiny creases by his eyes.

“Anything you like?” I said.

“No, no. No, thank you,” he said.

“Can I help you with anything?”

The man straightened. It looked like it took serious effort. And then he said that thing I told you. He asked why someone would buy a photo they’ve already seen. He said I’d make more money if I didn’t let people see them before they bought them.

“Then how would they know what they’re buying?” I asked.

He stroked his chin, whatever lingering fat he had coming together at its point. Then he pushed a pale finger at the carpet where the photos lay, shining like glass. He told me to just describe them on index cards.

“That one with the water going down the car window. With the sun in the background,” he said with his finger like it was still holding the carpet at gunpoint.

“Yeah?”

“Just call it ‘Rain.’ Just write ‘Rain’ on a little card and people will want to see the rest of it. They’ll want to see what ‘Rain’ means,” he said. “Trust me. I’m a businessman. I know what you people need.”

I thanked him for his advice. He left without buying anything.

Harry and Marge’s first son was born a few months ago. They introduced me to him. His name is Leonard. That was her grandfather’s name, who died in World War II. The story goes that he was in a battle somewhere, not a famous one, not one you read about. Something sharp cut him in an explosion. He bled out. Then he was gassed. Then fire bombed. Then run over by a tank. By the time the battle was over, you couldn’t recognize old Leonard. That’s what his mate said, the one who had to tell his widow. You’d probably need an index card.

Harry and Marge’s Baby Leonard was really something. He had just a few clouds of hair on his round head. Swirling clouds, slightly dark, like they were about to rain. When I met him, he had his hands on his feet while he was sitting. Marge said he does that a lot. He can’t go anywhere, just rock side to side. She told Baby Leonard to call me Uncle Josh. That surprised me. At this rate, I might be a great-uncle before I have any children of my own. Not that I hadn’t thought of it. Little Baby Leonard rocking side to side made me think about it too.

Marge loved little Baby Leonard. He laughed at all her jokes. And not just at her jokes. He laughed at everything, laughed hard, until he cried. He kept on laughing. I don’t know what Harry thought of him. I think he loved him. Fathers are supposed to love their kids. Not as much as mothers, but a good deal. Whenever Baby Leonard laughed, Harry seemed to go blank, flick-of-a-switch fast. He went blank a lot now. We hardly talked much when I was there. Marge would watch Baby Leonard rock side to side and laugh, Harry would sit, flickering out, and I would play records on the turntable. I played mostly jazz. I didn’t like it too much, but Marge said I couldn’t play anything too loud because it might upset Baby Leonard.

I don’t go over there as much anymore. It doesn’t seem right. I still call Harry sometimes and we talk about films and women until he flickers out. Then I make an excuse to go, like I’m busy, like something happened. They’re a family now. They need family friends.

I went to the museum the other day. It was right across from where I was selling photos. I didn’t use index cards, and I wasn’t doing too well. It was about four, and I hadn’t sold a single one. It was pretty empty. There were just a few museum employees and an old lady who looked like she was looking for something but had forgotten what it was. I guess it was too nice outside to go to a museum.

There was a hall full of stuffed animals. There was a cougar sleeping, a hissing python with a clutch of eggs. A lion. A bear. All the regulars. They looked real, all of them. I’d never seen a lion, but it still looked real. They all did. At the end of the hall was this bird, a dodo bird. I knew they were extinct. Its feathers were all perfect, nice and neat. Someone had spent a lot of time on it. Everything was great except that it had two heads. One on each side, with a beak and eyes and all that makes a head, a head.

I asked the museum guy what was wrong with it. He said it came that way. That someone had put two heads on it and no one knew why.

“People are pretty upset, but it’s hard with extinct animals,” he said.

“Why?” I asked.

“It’s tough to prove them wrong since no one knows if there were some that did have two heads,” he said.

We stood for a bit, our two heads looking at the bird’s. “So it might’ve had two heads.”

“We’re closing soon.”

I spent the evening with Baby Leonard and Harry and Marge. We watched TV and talked. Well, Baby Leonard didn’t. He laughed a bit, but not as much as he used to. A rerun of “The Six Million Dollar Man” was on that channel that airs old shows.

“We could rebuild him. We have the technology. We can make him better than he was. Better, stronger, faster.”

We talked over the show. Marge had gotten a new job. She was a copy editor for a newsletter about restaurants in Queens. We celebrated with wine from the corner bodega. I brought it. I didn’t know how to say wine in Spanish. So I just pointed to grapes and a clock. It didn’t work, so I went to get the wine myself. I pick by the label. We stayed up late, past eleven, drinking our wine. Baby Leonard was in bed. Then Marge went too. She had to get up early. She had to make a good impression.

So Harry and I talked. He told me about work, about how his boss was too strict and how his desk had a snow globe on it. From Rio, he said. That’s where he and Marge went on their honeymoon. He asked me what I was doing with myself.

“Selling photos,” I said.

“Still?”

“Still.”

We sat in silence for a bit. I sank into his couch.

You could hardly taste the grapes in the wine. It tasted sort of watery, but from a dirty tap. I didn’t like wine that much. Harry let me out after we were done sitting. After a good-night. After a hug where our arms just met the other’s back then lofted off.

I went to a record store on Fourth the next day. I wanted to find something new. Why I buy records is kind of a funny question. I don’t really have a reason. It doesn’t sound different from a CD or iTunes track. I don’t believe people who say they can actually tell. I buy records because I like how the paper sleeve feels when it floats on my fingers. Its diamond slit where the vinyl waits. How I can read the words because they have those inserts, those nice ones with the lyrics. Sometimes they have pictures too.

There was a girl in the store today. She had red hair, real red hair, like burnt rosehip. She was looking through a box that said “Oldies.” I said hello to her because she was cute. I told her it was because I liked “Oldies” too. She laughed and said most people didn’t. She had all these records but just liked to see if they were still there. We talked for a bit. She had a cat. She was from Schenectady, where Harry’s father was buried. She liked to watch French films without the subtitles and make up her own words. I thought that was funny.

I told her about the dodo bird I had seen in the museum. I told her about its two heads. “What do you mean?” she asked.

“It had two heads, one facing this way,” I said. I rotated my head to the left, then back to the right. “And one facing this way.”

She didn’t believe me. She didn’t think dodo birds had two heads. I told her that some did. We talked more, but then she said she had to go. She said it was nice talking and I should look her up on Facebook and we could go see my bird with two heads. She told me her name.

I don’t think I’ll look her up; I don’t think I want to. I wrote ‘Girl’ on an index card so I wouldn’t forget about her.

I went to the museum. The dodo bird with two heads was gone. They had shipped it out to New Jersey. They were going to incinerate it. I thought about the girl from the record store. She would never see my bird with two heads. I went to sell photos across the street for a bit. It got dark early. I sold one photo of some joggers to a lady with a stroller. I thought about Baby Leonard. Maybe he’d be a jogger some day.

I began to pack up my photos. There was one of an old man wearing an army jacket with a thick cigar in his mouth, and another of a middle-aged woman reading Nabokov in the park, her ankles crossed over her thighs as she lay on her stomach. Some others, too. I took out my index card and crossed out ‘Girl.’

I wrote her name.

Nora Valentine. 

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






Post a Comment

Be the first to comment on this article!

Site Feedback