Earlier this week, Tara and I helped out a close friend by delivering copies of her free publication, Portland Book Review, to a bunch of local businesses. We had had Chris over for dinner one day last week so she could meet my girlfriend. Chris and I go way back – once upon a time we were wage slaves in a call center for a health insurance organization together, and have remained friends and business associates over the years. Chris is almost like a sister to me, and she stood by and watched while I went through a series of less-than-ideal relationships, all while biting her tongue. (Though not always. She occasionally told me what an idiot I was for putting up with the stuff I did, but of course I never listened. We Taurus’s are stubborn like that). I am enjoying introducing my friends to Tara, and it was important to me that the two of them got along. Naturally, they did. At one point I found myself hunched over the kitchen sink washing dishes while the two of them gabbed on and on. Not exactly sure how that happened, but I didn’t mind.
Chris is the Editor-in-Chief of PBR, and needed help distributing the June issue. We agreed to deliver to a bunch of businesses on Hawthorne Boulevard, not only to help out a friend in need but also to give us an excuse to hang out on Hawthorne again, one of my favorite Portland neighborhoods. It was pretty cool, stopping by bars and cafes and bookstores and delivering copies of the paper. And it only took us a couple of hours, which gave us some free time to explore the area afterwards. We had heard about a record store called CrossRoads Music that houses thousands of titles for sale by various vendors, all under one roof, and decided to check it out. Tara and I are both big vinyl fans, and together have quite a record collection. The moment we walked through the doors of this place, we were in LP Heaven. We browsed for over an hour, only tearing ourselves away because it was time to pick the kids up from school, and walked away with about ten records between us. Good stuff, and most of them were priced at $4 or less. Lynyrd Skynyrd, Billy Joel, Wings, The Who, Dire Straits, Jefferson Airplane, etc. All in excellent condition. I envision many return trips in the future.
My love affair with albums dates back to 1977. That summer Elvis Presley died, and though I was only eight years old, I quickly became a big fan of his music. The first record I ever bought was “C’mon Everybody.” Over the years, many more followed. I was into bands like Journey and Bruce Springsteen and The Beatles and (sigh) Culture Club back then. One of my favorites was Billy Joel’s Greatest Hits, a two-record set that contained all of The Piano Man’s greatest hits. Up until 1986, at least.
At the time, I owned a hamster. I kept him in a cage in my bedroom, and while he was a cute little bugger, the laps he ran on that squeaky wheel in the middle of the night drove me bonkers and kept me awake. In retrospect, I don’t know why I wanted a hamster so badly in my senior year of high school. I’m not a big fan of rodents, and while hamsters are furry and soft, they also smell and you have to – gasp! – clean their cages often. Plus, it’s not like you can have them fetch a stick or sit on command. Still, I liked my hamster well enough.
Until one day, when he escaped from his cage.
The ingenious little
bastard animal had climbed atop his wheel, nudged the screen lid off his cage, and climbed out. When I discovered he was missing, I searched high and low for the critter. The trail grew warm when I opened my closet door and found a hole in the cardboard box that contained my records.
There he was, making himself a second home amongst my LPs. I grabbed him and returned him to his cage. Then, as I was flipping through my albums, I discovered that the furry little devil had chewed a hole through the Billy Joel record. Not just the cardboard sleeve, but the vinyl itself. Both albums.
Arrgh. My hamster ate The Piano Man!
Those records, of course, were unplayable after that. And I was not a happy camper. Soon after, it no longer mattered anyway. Records went the way of the dinosaur. I put mine into storage and amassed a large collection of CDs instead. I assumed albums were dead. Mine didn’t see the light of day for 25 years. And then, a funny thing happened. They started to make a comeback. I bought a Crosley turntable a couple of years ago and dragged my records out of storage. They were in surprisingly good – almost pristine – condition.
Except for the Billy Joel album, of course. It’s hard to listen to “It’s Still Rock ‘n Roll To Me” when there’s a ragged, chewed-up hole in the middle of the song. So I finally tossed that album. Fortunately, with places like CrossRoads Music and other groovy (pun intended) record stores all over Portland, I’m pretty sure I can replace it easily enough.
In the meantime, I will always remember the hamster who was cute as hell – but a real pain in the ass.