Not That 1984

“I wasn’t sure there were still bookstores,” he said. “Poor bastards.”

Sometimes I work the music counter. It’s actually a pretty sweet deal. I get to see the new releases and keep myself current on all the band names so I don’t look like the out-of-touch old man I am when young whippersnappers ask for the Chainsmokers.

One time, back in my longhaired days (the ones before my haired and unhaired days), I’d just pulled into my Pawpaw’s driveway in my Ford Ranger while I blasted Metallica from its shitty factory speakers, which prompted him to say, “You playin’ that Three Dog Night?” Sometimes I’m tempted to say that to youngsters when I hear the unmistakeable tinny sound of eardrums being destroyed point blank. I’m sure they’d be confused if they heard me, but I’d get a kick out of it and that’s all that matters.

Ten years and a lifetime ago, I applied for the position of Music Manager. I was sure my experience bustin’ heads for Sam’s Club would make me a shoo-in. I’d been tossing bargain books around at Ye Olde Books & Caffeine Emporium for a few months and I felt like I’d earned a promotion. Unfortunately, I lost out to a charismatic fellow who’d gotten terminated from his previous job for running a discount scam. We all make mistakes. If I hadn’t gotten caught fudging the payroll to cover someone’s missed lunch break, I’d still be doing 70-80 hours a week for Wal-Mart Stores Inc. between (and during) hangovers.

Ten years ago today.

I was disappointed, but I’m grateful that train was derailed while my brain was still relaying rail to Company Man Land. Yank on your bootstraps hard enough and you’ll find yourself on the ground with leather in your hands. Down low is a great place to start when you’re rebuilding. Foundations are important, and it’s easier to spot assholes from underneath. 

Ultimately, the company downsized that title out of existence, and for the past couple of years I’ve had the honor and privilege of performing the duties I’d so sorely missed out on a decade ago anyway, except without any change in position or pay. 

There was a time when I would have unfurled the red banner and barricaded myself inside the customer service desk if I’d been asked to take on additional responsibilities without due compensation. However, the entanglements of circumstance have only highlighted the impracticality of rebellion. I’ve often wondered how people with so much to lose are able to rush into danger. They must be more courageous than I, or at least a little more irresponsible. Maybe I’ve just learned to pick my battles. A van full of small squishy humans will do that to you. Plus, we’re not fighting fires here. We’re carrying out convoluted corporate orders in a dying industry.

I spent my little days hanging out at the Trumann Public Library, where I was allowed to shelve books and check people out, so it’s no surprise to me that I’ve ended up here. If anything else rhymes with my past, it’s the teenage hours I spent in video stores and music shops. Perhaps something echoes further back, like the memory of Van Halen’s 1984 in the front window of Hot Dog. A cherub smoking a cigarette? I was enthralled. Eddie’s guitar licks still do their thing, and I have to tell you, I’ve never quite trusted anyone who preferred Van Hagar.

All in all, shelving records (it may be on vinyl, kids, but they aren’t vinyls) isn’t a bad way to burn time until the next recession. We’re all poor bastards here at the end of all things. The Glorious Workers’ Revolution can wait until these albums go to that big clearance sale in the sky. They say (the word on the street, book ninja scuttlebutt) the last stickers you receive when you’re going out of business are not red, but white. Every time a register rings, an item gets its wings. I think I can hang in here until I have to shuffle 1984, George’s and Eddie’s, off this mortal coil. After that, who knows? 

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