A Guide to Finding Your Former Hit Album in the 50-Cent Bin at a Used Record Store by Alex Sobel

Boredom: These are the reasons you enter the store in the first place, to look, browse, hoping to find something you weren’t looking for, because deciding you want something and then going to get it wouldn’t feel right, would break the spontaneity that you cherish as an absolute, even though one could argue that the concepts don’t mix.

First impressions: You’ll notice the incense, meant to cover the smell of old record sleeves disintegrating, VHS tapes that have probably melted inside from a decade in an attic that can reach 120 degrees in the summer, the employees’ boy odor. Hey, the guy at the counter says. You nod, mean to say something, but no words come out. You’ll barely be able to look him in the eyes. Don’t even attempt to.

New Vinyl: What’s by the door. You’ll go through it, thinking that the term “new vinyl” might be an oxymoron. New here, but old everywhere else. So still old here, too. You find a Christine McVie album that you’ve never heard of, $10. Too much, you think, but you can already see this play out, the regret for passing on something you may never see again, letting an opportunity slip away when you have the power to prevent it. You’ll slide the record under your arm.

Order: Expect none from the cheap CDs. But you like that, prefer it, perhaps. If there was an order, then those who knew what they were looking for could just find the right letter, the corresponding artist, grab what they come for, or cut their losses and leave. But with the lack of order, things are missed. Only those not looking for anything can find something.

Pain: (or something similar) What you’ll feel when you find it, the cover scratched, the 50 cent sticker falling off. You push the flap back to the plastic, but the adhesive is gone, you continue to push it back anyway. You look at the back cover, the track listing, the date, 12 years ago, try to put the time into some kind of relative context.

Purchase: But why? You feel like you need to. You have copies at home, you could even play them yourself, live. Your voice is still the same, you’ll think. You could be mistaken for the recording. You could do that. You think you might. You won’t.

Recognition: Expect none, even though your face is on the cover. Years have since been painted on, sure, but it was all cut from the same rock, so to speak. And do you even want that? Do you want someone to know you’re buying your own album? You don’t.

Regret: You’ll feel a lot of it, but don’t let that make you put the CD back. Besides, you have the vinyl under your arm, a distraction. It’s like buying a stick of gum to go with the box of condoms or the tampons you used to pick up for Julie before she left you, strung out, because you deserved it. This is where you’ll feel a second bout of regret. Ignore this. Remember: Your mind will begin to wander to the past tours, the blurred moments like holes that fill in with a kind of chest-collapsing nostalgia that constricts your breathing. Avoid wondering how it all disappeared, or how you let the success go to your head, or where all the money went. Thinking about it won’t bring anything back.

Small Talk: The clerk will make discussion with you, though it’s unlikely he’ll make small talk about your album. Instead he’ll mention the decoy. Last week, we got a Chicken Shack album in, he’ll say. You’ll turn your head, point to the record. A band she was in, he’ll say, pointing to Christine McVie. Oh right, I misheard, you’ll say, though you won’t know what he’s talking about. Refuse a plastic bag on the way out.

Tomorrow: A concept you’ll definitely be thinking about as you put the album into your car’s CD player, listening to it in the parking lot. Some of the songs skip, the disc scratched. You like to think that whoever owned it didn’t give it up on purpose, that the scratches mean it was listened to, that it was loved. When it’s over: Then you’ll leave the parking lot. There’s an especially stubborn skip in the 2nd to last song. You might press next on the player, skip over the problem song, but that feels like cheating, so you’ll decide to wait it out. For a little while, anyway. You think it’ll pass eventually. If you just give it a little time.

Alex Sobel lives in Toledo, OH, where he is a freelance journalist and contributor to The Press, a newspaper out of Oregon, OH. His work has appeared, or is forthcoming, in publications such as The Saturday Evening Post Online; Foundling Review; Ink, Sweat, and Tears; and theNewerYork. You can follow Alex on Twitter.

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