Seek and Ye shall find

A hundred years ago, or thereabouts, I was a young boy of only 15. I had my bicycle and a piece of a job earning $3.15 an hour. And that was good money for a boy in the mid eighties in the midwest.

I recall the days that I spent rolling my 34 pound Raleigh Capri ten speed, which I still own, all over the city of my youth. The streets were mine to see. I was fully aware that because I rode while others drove, I saw things most missed. In a very real sense, I did stop to smell the roses.

I also knew the joy of pop music and good tunes in my ears. Granted the headphones of the time were foam and huge or the size of a Susan B Anthony and delicate, but the sounds of the season I wanted were easily heard. My 7-Up clear plastic, portable, cassette tape player had the latest Phil Collins or Roachford song singing about cuddly toys or how I should take a look at him now. I used to sit anxiously by my radio, fingers hovering above the play/record toggles waiting for Rick Deez to shut up so I could make my latest mix tape of the hot summer jam. And when I couldn’t wait any longer, or just had to own it, I’d hop my bike and race to the local Peaches Records for a cassette single or Lp to slap on my turntable. It was that way I learned how to ride a bike with one hand. Not a good idea, but it’s what I did.

The record stores were palaces of sound. Rock. Pop. Rhythm and Blues. Soul. Hip hop. Jazz. Classics. Southern rock. A newcomer; acid jazz. Spoken word albums. All available on cassette, Lp, 45, and sometimes in the clearance section an 8-track or two. I still have a Pink Floyd 8-track today. Nothing to okay it on, but I have it!

The smell of those record stores was something you don’t have today. The smell of new vinyl mixed with magnetic tape all wrapped in the flimsy plastic and packaged with care by some far away press where a studio producer was sweating his job and some singer was praying for a miracle. The sounds of piped in music echoed in every corner. There were music performer posters and promotional discs everywhere. Kids and adults stalking the aisles one are the other hoping for a misprinted price label so the recording could be had for less than full retail.

It is this hunt that I lived for. Finding hidden gems I’d never seen or heard of before. When did Prince make this? Who is Patti Smith? What’s a Mandrill? Didn’t that bay have a few other records in it last week? I saw some cover with a guy or men surrounded by flowers but I can’t recall who the group was. Hmmm. It is a first world problem to try and tap into my primal hunter gatherer instinct. My weapon was my fuzzy memory and my wallet. My quarry a new music release. My senses were heightened as I prowled the aisles and dark corners of the store seeking a deal. A rare pressing. A limited issue picture Lp. An out of print cassingle. Yes that’s what the audio cassette singles were called then; cassingles.

Soon the quarry got wise to me and my fellow hunters. We sought the new earwig. The compact disc. But is wasn’t as hard to find at first. The industry knew they were a hot item. So they put them in HUGE boxes both for visibility and as a theft deterrent. Almost taller than a 33 1/3 Lp and half as wide, these odd creatures peeked up and out over repurposed cassette and Lp cases hoping to be seen by a would be hunter. It never ceased to amaze me that the case was so big while the actual case and cd were so small. As if it was trying to be something it wasn’t. To pretend to be more than it really was. The sights. The smells. The sounds. Nothing like it.

Todya the hunt continues, but it’s not as much fun.

Today, the record store is a niche market and not as ubiquitous. Tower Record Stores are gone from my hometown. I once had Peaches. Then it became Coconuts. Now, I have no idea what it’s called. The hunt for records by and large has become victim to the instant gratification culture. The only real surprise now is finding a new song by an old artist on iTunes only because I was perusing websites their discography link.

The precious tactile sensation of holding a physical album that you physically put in some time and effort in seeking and ultimate satisfaction is not so common now. Today, you just look for an Amazon or iTunes link, click buy and its quickly downloaded to your computer or portable device that has few, if any, internal moving parts. The HD art image of the content is a pale and ultimately unsatisfying approximation of the huge double sided inner fold out of the old Lp’s. Who can forget the inside pictures of any Ohio Players album?

Records are still being made. Both consumer and professionals use them. DJ’s for mixing and parties. Consumers for collectors items. Something to keep the masses interested. I recently saw a Sleigh Bells Lp that had a full sized school notebook in it with a dozen pages filled with “handwritten” lyrics. So very necessary because the songs are virtually impossible to decipher without it. Or a lyric search on Google.

Maybe something has been lost. Maybe more has been gained. I’m now able to get a recording of a favorite Hikaru Utada or Hideaki Tokunaga or Claudia Acuña or even a Los Budos Band recording without having to travel to Japan, South America or California to get it. But then again, isn’t that part of the joy? The point isn’t just the getting there, but the work put in to getting there in the first place?

Living stars in my hands

I cannot remember just how many nights I’ve spent out of doors as a child. The many evenings I spent prowling around my yard and neighborhood when the day was done and the sun had retired for the night.

Day was my time to be in school, so out of doors was relegated to recess and running to or from the bus stop. I spent more time outside than in because outside was freedom.

I was free to explore. To be The Shadow or the Incredible Hulk. To be Evil Knievel or Starsky and Hutch. Well, not Starsky and Hutch. More likely Huggy Bear.

At any rate I had a world to explore and the only one responsible to me was me. Homework done, I could have the run of the neighborhood. I would ride my new 10 speed all over creation. From my home to the park. Or perhaps even to the tree covered dirt bike trails not designed for my ride, but I rode them anyway.

I’d take the roads up Grandview to Ditch Rd and then up another street to my secret trail. Hilly. Covered by trees and shrubs. Behind it all was a waterway. Creek or river. Didn’t matter. I heard it. I saw it. And I loved it.

I would sometimes meet up with others I didn’t know. We would have impromptu races around the interwoven routes in that small patch of heaven. The sun couldn’t see me, but every leaf knew my name and when the wind blew I heard them all whisper to me in a glorious chorus.

Later I would return to my yard. Sweaty and chest heaving with exertion. I didn’t yet have glasses so nothing escaped my attention. The graveled edge of my driveway that housed the Lindy 2 camper and the garage that had our Snapper riding mower. That mower had given me and my grandfather many rides both around the grassy yard and up the street. Often to cut someone else’s lawn in an effort to make some spare change for Bazooka Joe gum or another issue of the Amazing Spider-Man.

But the maple tree in the front yard didn’t hold me long. I ran into my backyard. There was the fruit kingdom. Trees and arbors abounded. I had two or three apple trees, a cherry tree, even a pear tree. Then the grape arbor. And all conspired with my mother to make jelly, wine and preserves for cold winters or breakfasts yet to come. In the foreground was my sand box. The many adventures I had there would’ve made George Lucas jealous. I carried into and lost more action figures in that pit; even though it was only three or four feet square. I’ll never again see my Luke Skywalker or Hammerhead or GI Joe action figures. But I will never forget their permanently cupped hands ready to clutch a light saber or a blaster or a high powered and completely implausible high caliber weapon.

As night fell and my mother knew I was home she would wisely ask me in for dinner. Usually there was bounty from the garden my grandparents lovingly tended to and I wouldn’t admit to liking. I enjoyed pulling the weeds and tilling the soil. It was only thirty or forty yards long and maybe three or four meters wide. But it held such wonders. Okra. Kale. Corn. Beans. Chili Peppers. Squash. Cucumbers. I was amazed at how things were born of soil and yet were edible if cared for properly.

Then the show would begin. The main reason I stayed out after dark.

The lightening bugs.

I felt then as I do now that they were there as earth bound guides to the stars. I couldn’t be in the sky, but the sky sent them to me so that I could be part of it. Even with my limits. My arms were far too short to box with God and I certainly couldn’t reach the heavens. Since I couldn’t dance and play with my stars, my stars said “…let us send our little ones to him. And we will all dance together in the some way…”

My lightning bugs and I had an agreement. That so long as I released them we could play. I’d have a jar. Or I’d have my hands. They would float to me slowly enough that I could catch them and better see the light that they kept within. I don’t really care what science says in answer to bioluminescence and all those words of higher education. I knew they were magic. That is all. Anything that could fly, live, play with a little boy, and glow was nothing short of magic. They showed me where the borders of my yard were and they taught me how to handle life carefully. Be gentle. Do not be so rough. Life is precious and precarious. I didn’t need to feel the sting of death from a lost friend or family member, through I did soon enough. I learned that death is coming for all of us whether we bring it upon ourselves or it is out of our control and usually it happened because of simple curiosity or negligence.

My lightning bugs decedents may never forgive me for the many great uncles I caused the premature passing of. But it is with great sorrow I look about me now. In a new latitude. Far from home. And still I search for my old friends.

To no avail.

It has been a long time since seeing my old friends. Once I was sure I saw a few in a field recently. But no. I was mistaken. Have they gone forever? I hope not.

Recently, I saw a moving van encouraging folk to relocate from my home state. On the side was a giant depiction in all it’s anatomical correctness my old friends. Instantly I was teleported back to the late 1970’s and images of summers returned to me.

I do not recall lightning bugs looking like that. My memory is that they didn’t have legs quite that long and a thorax (if that’s what it’s supposed to be called) that misshapen. I recall Tylenol shaped bodies with subtly flexible butts under inflexible shells that protected many wings. Not at all like the ghastly creature before me on the van.

I reflexively closed my eyes.

My memory must remain unsullied. I want to remember my childhood the way I want to remember it.

And I did.