Working at a record store taught me a tragic truth; no matter how much you love your favorite albums, they’ll never be as popular as they deserve to be. Each month at Merry-Go-Round Magazine, I dust off some long-overlooked records, revisit my pretentious past, and explore how this music forever etched itself into my history. Eventually, all your memories get marked down and thrown into The Bargain Bin.
I was flipping through the latest box of promos that had arrived at the record store since my last shift. I wasn’t familiar with any of the bands, but one of the managers had stuck a post-it on the jewel case that read, “Jack will dig this one.” The cover was white, save for one word in bold, all caps: “LEVY.”
I popped open the CD player, threw whatever LEVY was onto the tray, and cranked up the volume. Synthy strings and a jangly guitar surrounded me from the speakers affixed in each corner of the store. It sounded like The Strokes if they got into shoegaze and were not as stylish or cool.
“I think about you / And what you’ve done / I think about you / And what you’ve become.”
“I know you have a crush on her,” Blu said as we waited outside of class.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I said, knowing full well what she was talking about.
Since moving back in with her parents, Blu had become more antagonistic. It made me regret mirroring most of her class schedule when we were still together. I told myself it was too much of a hassle to visit my advisor and switch all my classes, but in truth, I didn’t want to stop being around her. In the fall, her parents would be shipping her off to a university two hours drive away. I thought I might never hear from her after that. I wasn’t the least bit interested in college. I enrolled because that’s what you’re supposed to do after high school if you want to stay on your parent’s insurance. I thought I had found my calling at the record store, wanting instead to spend my days mindlessly processing used CDs from open to close rather than subjecting myself to being bullied by someone with whom I used to share a bed.
“Look at her,” she whispered, gesturing to one of our classmates, a friendly gal named Pie. “She has dark hair and black-rimmed glasses. She kind of looks like me. I know you have a crush on her.
“Oh, I do not,” I scoffed. But I did. I had a type—well, I had many types, but most of them happened to wear black-rimmed glasses.
“Come on, Jackie! You should go and talk to her,” Blu teased. “You should forget about me and talk to the cute lady!”
“No,” I said, slipping my headphones on and shutting my eyes. “You remember what happened last time?”
Blu burst out laughing. She had similarly tortured me the previous semester about a redheaded woman with glasses in our Human Sexuality class. Eventually, I worked up the nerve to walk up and hand her my number after class one day, to which she extended her hand to show me a massive rock on her ring finger and replied, “Sorry, I’m engaged.”
Campus life was lonely once Blu was gone. Instead of sulking behind her between classes, I’d chain smoke cigarettes and listen to ROTTEN LOVE on my iPod, a recent purchase. I’d occasionally see Pie walking through the quad, and I would daydream about striking up a conversation about the Elvis Costello pin I saw on her bag once. I’d regale her with the story of when my uncles took me to see him on the MIGHTY LIKE A ROSE tour in Chicago when I was five. I’d charm her with my impeccable wit, then ask her out for coffee, just like they do on TV. Instead, I did nothing, as if Blu were still watching over my shoulder, laughing.
Three days a week, I would roll through the quiet suburbs from campus to the store with track three cranked up loud enough for the guitars to drown out intrusive thoughts of self-hate that played infinitely on a loop in my head. “On the Dancefloor” perfectly encapsulates that feeling of having a crush, seeing them from across the room, walking up to chat, and absolutely blowing it.
“I didn’t know / You were so bold / You seem so sweet to me / On the dance floor / Jeans underneath / A flower skirt to your knees…”
Blu would call me from her dorm when her boyfriend would blow her off to smoke weed with his friends. Her name popped up on my Nokia phone as I walked in to see Elvis Costello & The Imposters, but I turned off that solid blue brick and slid it into my pocket. I wasn’t going to let her ruin this show for me.
I wandered around a bit when I got inside, scoping out a place to grab a seat. Then I saw her, the woman from class. Pie sat all by herself on a stool against one of the bar rails. To my surprise, her eyes caught mine, and she started waving me over.
“Hey, Jack! It’s good to see you,” she said with a smile. “Is Blu here with you?”
“Oh, um, no. Blu is long gone,” I said.
“Did you two break up?”
“Funny you should say that. We broke up a few months before that class started. Did everyone think we were together?”
“Oh, yeah. You were always bickering, so I think we all just assumed.”
“Why didn’t you pick up when I called?” Blu asked.
“I had a ticket to see Elvis Costello. Oh, remember that girl with dark hair and black-rimmed glasses you used to tease me about?”
“I bumped into her at the show, and she asked me to sit with her. Elvis was incredible, just a fucking powerhouse on stage. We hung out by his tour bus after, and he came out and signed our tickets! It was an amazing night!”