Garage sales are all the same catalogues of past loves and past lives. While the contents change, they all share a similar notion: moving on. And where others move on, I move in. I’m a record buyer and I know what records are worth something and what are not. Reissues, first prints, crossovers, B Sides, anything that’s scratched the surface of anything tried, loved and true is something I know. And often garage sales are full of wax diamonds. Sure to some it may seem like I’m capitalizing on the unaware, the unsuspecting, the vulnerable, but to me it doesn’t really feel like stealing if they don’t know what it’s worth.
As I walk into yet another garage sale, with yet another stone path leading into yet another backyard, I expect much of the same: the eyes of a three dollar cat clock following you everywhere you walk, knick knacks from the Sandals Jamaica, a rich woman and her two dogs always in the way, and two copies of Barry Manilow’s Greatest Hits rousing my almost immediate outburst of “God fucking damn it,” every god fucking damn time.
But I know that, by the winds of Zeppelin, I’ll find the Frank Wilson’s ‘Do I Love You (Indeed I Do)’, or The Beatles’ ‘Til There Was You’ (10” acetate).’
I walk through the vine covered chain link fence from the back garage into the yard. To my left behind a table and a register that is at once acting as a register and also for sale, is an old man looking like he hasn’t had a sip of water in decades. I give him a warm smile, a “Well, hey there, sir,” and I go for the 12 boxes of LP’s sitting across 3 tables. The old man flinches and looks at me like a Sports fan looks at a Jackson Pollock. An older woman holding a coffee as big as her head says, “I’ll take that table,” Her two shitzuhs bark sudden and loud. The old man, barely moving his mouth but with a booming baritone that’d pierce a cock fight says, “Which? The dirt cheap one?”
I laugh, see a Hillbilly across the records in Kirkland overalls and a Bass Pro Fishing Hat, who’s also laughing. His gums are full of tobacco and the one tooth he does have is yellowed. I wince, and swiftly get back to business.
In every record collection, regardless of who or where it was, you can often expect the same players: Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours, Chicago, The Band’s Last Waltz and of course Barry Manilow, and two of them. I continue flipping through these boxes and that’s what I’m expecting and year in year out what do I see. This garage sale is no different.
“God Fucking Damn It”. I step back, “EEP,” on the tail of a shih tzu.
The woman immediately calls her dogs over, “Foo-foo, Fee-Fee, come here snookums.” I’m half surprised she hasn’t already taken those Manilow records herself.
Deciding to give my eyes and ears a rest, I look around the garage sale at the tacky knick knacks and finally fix my eyes on a plastered face of someone I know is some sort of old movie star, “Hey, is that Vincent Price?” The old man looks forward to stand. I can’t tell if the creeks are from his back or the chair.
The hillbilly spits into his half full Pilsner, looks and says, “I reckon it’s that fella from Gone with the Wind, right?”
“You’d reckon correct, son.” The old man says.
“What’s his name again?” I say.
“Gable. Clark Gable. My wife’s dream guy. Never stood a chance, I did, ya hear.”
I chuckle as if there’s actually bad blood between the two.
“Well, hell, man, at least you’re still around,” the Hillbilly and I smile. Yet the old man lets out a big breath, settles into his creaks, and says, “Yeah, I am around, ain’t I?”
The silence is unassuming.
I look around at the pearls on mannequins and fabulous furs, and doing the assuming for myself, I don’t reckon this guy is the cross dressing type. Now the contents become particularly empty and priceless. I turn through each record again: Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Horton, Townes Van Zandt, Miles Davis, you know, it went on. I couldn’t really focus. I look back at the old man putting on his reading glasses, wincing at an unfinished crossword puzzle and chirp up to say, “Hey, you much for music?”
He looks up and hangs his reading glasses off his nose, “No, son, I was never much for it, save a few, it was mostly my wife’s thing.”
I knew not to ask. Who was I? A record collector with no ties to this music other than for profit. Mine is a love, it’s just a different love. I shake it off, run a few more flips, and finally feel like I’ve dusted these boxes long enough. With one last flip, BAM. How could I have been so foolish and suspicious? I finally hit it, the holy grail: a German 1940 issue of Woody Guthrie’s Library of Congress.
I shriek, this time not with the Shih zhus. I look around to make sure there’s no Nazi paraphernalia. We’re clear. I look back down, breathe in and out and admire my hard work. The feeling doesn’t last long when I look around at Coca-Cola bottles from first dates, fur jackets from proms, priceless pearls from weddings, and a plastered face of Vincent Pri- I mean, Clark Gable.
I say, “Mister this is quite the record,” and he just grunts. “But two bucks is a stretch.”
The old man rumbles, “A dollar fifty then.”
Stupid and frail as we both are, I say salud to the hillbilly and avoid looking back towards his tobacco-filled gums, walk to the unsold register, and slide the old man enough money for what the record is actually worth and 5 bucks more for the Gable head. He says, “Thanks, son. Try to enjoy it.”
I say, “I will. Thank you,” and start to walk away.
I stop. “Hey, I actually don’t mind taking those Manilow records off your hands.”
The old man jolts his head forwards, “Manilow? No no son, them’s aren’t for sale, them’s are mine.”
God Fucking Damn It.