the one story i never wrote all year

December 30, 2009

(as previously published in The District’s end of the year issue)

A few months after I moved to Long Beach, I was prowling Craigslist’s gig section for some minimal-effort extra cash. I hadn’t yet learned the art of freelance writing, and so helping a closing record store in Long Beach set up an eBay business sounded like a good financial prospect. After sending over my resume and a link to my moderately-maintained personal eBay account, the owner of the place—we’ll call him Harry, because I can’t for the life of me remember his real one—e-mailed back saying he liked my resume and I could stop by whenever for an interview.

The storefront was wedged in between an urban-style hair salon and a school-uniform retailer on North Atlantic Ave., set off from its neighbors by black paint and purple cursive signage. When I approached the closed security gate and yelled into the open front door, I was greeted by a yippy junkyard dog covered in patches of thin, wiry hair. His frayed rope collar held no dog tag, but soon Harry came shuffling out, telling the mutt, Scrappy, to shut up as he hacked a wet cough out of his last cigarette drag and unlocked the gate for me to enter.

If the mangy dog was any indication of what was inside, then Harry was a rooftop billboard. With a matted, grey punk mullet leftover from the mid 1960s, the longtime owner of the record store—which we’re not naming because it’s just too sad—looked like a homeless man who had been graced with the luxury of limitless packs of Pall Malls. Forever hunchbacked (presumably from years of shelving vinyl) and permanently barefoot (for no obvious reason), Harry ushered me inside the now-defunct shop, giving my personal introduction a dirty, weathered, calloused handshake and making no apologies for the state of his once-pristine establishment.

Inside the dark and dusty space was a post-apocalyptic testament to those about to rock. The display cases were broken, and shards of glass covered pins, patches and knocked-over collectable Kiss figurines. The wall behind what would have been the point of sale still held old band T-shirts, unsold and unloved. The floor was lined with stacks of uncategorized boxes filled with dusty, unkempt vinyl. The remainder of the merchandise was still resting on the decaying, wooden display shelves that ran all the way to the back of the large unit. From the looks of it, this store didn’t just shut its doors—it had been closed since Reagan was president.

Harry led me to his “office,” a computer desk surrounded by a moat of record-store scud along the empty left slat wall. He cleared off an assortment of power cords from a folding chair and offered me a seat. My feet stuck to the floor as I made my way over, and I could feel the stale cigarette smoke seeping into my clothes. His dinosaur computer was covered in grime so thick you’d think it had been in a mechanic’s shop since its purchase in 1990; and the workspace itself was a disheveled mess of old paperwork, cigarette butts and half-empty two-liter bottles of Cactus Cooler.

He sat down and immediately went back to his slow-connection online poker game, which he clicked away at while debriefing me on his eBay plan.

The lease was up on the unit, and Harry was looking for another place to move his store into. It had to be cheap and have an apartment attached because he and several homeless, recovering crack addicts that he hired as shop help currently lived in a makeshift bedroom in the back. Until that happened, could I sell his Jan and Dean posters, Laserdiscs and not-so-limited, ill-maintained vinyl online for him?

Sure.

We set up an eBay account, smoked a joint and bullshitted about life, hookers and his TV-pilot script, which followed Ozzy Osbourne and Dr. Dre running a record label together (most of the jokes centered around the language barrier). After an hour or so (and no mention of music), he casually said that he was also looking for an heir. Harry was getting old, and having no children (that he knew of), he needed someone to take over the business when it moved—and since he saw a lot of himself in me, he thought he would throw it out there.

Sufficiently weirded-out by the offer to be a homeless-looking man’s daughter and not really wanting to set foot in the grimy, dusty half-abandoned storefront again, I sold one round of products before jumping ship.

After cutting off contact with Harry, I got a legitimate job at a coffee shop and forgot all about the decaying Bixby Knolls record store. Now that I write for The District, however, I am constantly on the prowl for interesting Long Beach stories—and part of me wishes I knew what happened to Harry, Scrappy and the live-in shop help so I could share more than just what was told to me during a weed-induced “business conversation.” But since there is hardly a record of the shop existing in the first place—much less a possible new one—this will have to do.

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