32 Welcome to the Machine

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Ch.  Welcome to the Machine

 It was a long, dull winter in Boston. Bart and Michelle moved into a nice one bedroom in Allston, right on the T line, while I got myself a cheap studio sublet in the Fenway from a Berklee student who was abroad until September. Michelle worked at Tower and got me a job there as a clerk by telling them I knew something about jazz. As it turned out, I did know more than most of the other clerks. Bart spent much of the winter doing some studio backing musician type gigs while I worked six days a week. Most days I punched in at 1pm and worked until 9pm, others I worked 4pm to store closing at midnight. It took me exactly eleven minutes to walk from my apartment to the store, unless my clock at home was wrong, which was always a possibility. A bus ran from the corner of Queensberry right to Newbury Street, but because of the weird fucked up way that Boston’s streets run, it sometimes took longer to ride the bus than to walk. Besides, I could never get a bus that got me there exactly at 1pm, which meant I walked in the snow and winter rain and other weather-type crap, but this was not a big deal compared to the amount of walking I did in Providence. My walk took me right past Jack’s Drum Shop, where despite them name they also sell guitars and other instruments, and the Berklee Performance Center.

Technically I worked in the jazz department, on the third floor separated from the classical music section by glass partitions which are meant to be soundproof but really aren’t. Thing is, there wasn’t always that much to do in jazz, other than stand at the cash register. The questions people tended to ask me fell into one of two categories, those that showed how very little the customer knew about jazz (like “Do you have a trumpet section? I’m looking for a really famous trumpet player.” Me: “Do you remember the name?” Them: “Oh, let me see, it was… wait, I got it. Benny Goodman.”) and those that showed how very little I knew about jazz. (I’ll never again send someone to the hip hop section looking for Herbie Hancock. Promise.) Lucky for me, all the time I spent in school ignoring what was being said had made tons of room for the memorization of the smallest trivial details about pretty much every recording artist I cared to read the liner notes on. Management let me play what I wanted out of the new releases, and with all the classic rereleases coming out on CD, I got a pretty good jazz education pretty fast.

But when things were especially slow in jazz, which was about every other day, they pulled me or the other guy who sometimes worked with me (an art school student named Jay) down to the second floor for various dumb retail duties. The dumbest of these was rack combing. People have this tendency to browse and pick up things, and carry them around the store. Then when they find something better/cheaper, they abandon the first thing at whatever bin or shelf the second thing is found in. By the end of a week of rabid browsing, the racks would be full of misplaced crapola, hence the task of rack combing. For some reason, the jazz department didn’t get as shuffled as the pop and rock sections, and this annoyed me, and the fact that it annoyed me also annoyed me.

I generally started an afternoon’s combing with the bargain bins. People left a lot of junk there, which always caused aggravation for the cashiers, because people would find stuff there that wasn’t on sale, but then try to get it for a sale price because it was in the bin. (We’d never give it to them.)

Here was a stack of like twenty or so copies of a record by what looked from their album photo to be a kind of cross between Duran Duran and Psychedelic Furs. Their name was Platinum Blonde and there were three of them, sneering in parachute pants, on the cover. A Sade album was visible in the middle of the stack, obvious by the dark blue edge of the album cover. I pulled the Sade out–it wasn’t even her new one–and fingerflipped through the bin a bit more. My god, there was another Platinum Blonde album, four copies. I had to guess that their distributor or record company or someone just decided to sell off their overstock. I got a sad feeling in my stomach thinking about it.

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