*This will be my final post for a week or so. I will be finishing a short novel, which I hope to self-publish in full on this site. Thank you.
I am not a conversationalist. At least this is what I tell myself. When I do engage in interesting conversations with certain people, I often find it a relief to get out of my own head for a bit. I then wonder to myself, what would I be like if I was more of a conversationalist? What would I be like if I actually struck up conversations with random strangers? But I don’t. Normally I keep to myself and pretend not to see other people.
Maybe if I took a small dosage of a certain psychiatric drug I would be more of a conversationalist? Or, maybe if I drank beer or consumed marijuana on a regular basis I would be more interested in talking with other people? What would it take? In my normal state of sobriety I don’t really want to talk to anyone. This is why I was so surprised when I walked into the record store yesterday and started up a conversation with the record store clerk.
I startled even myself when I said, “Hey, how are you doing?” Startled, because when I said this I was actually interested in hearing his response. Normally I am not. I use this question in the same way I use soap, it’s a habit. Do I really care about the response? I’m not certain. I am often asking the question before I know I am asking the question. Hey, How Are You Doing? It’s a question in a can that I have been trained to pull from without thinking about it.
Hey, How Are You Doing?
Hey, How Are You Doing?
I feel bad about how often I have disingenuously utilized this question. I try not to do that anymore but like all bad habits, it sneaks in. For whatever reason, I meant it this time. Maybe it was because I have a deep respect for anyone who works in a record store.
Walking into a record store (for me) is always a feeling of walking into a happier place. A record store is a place filled with endless possibilities, endless new discoveries. Very rarely am I more excited about life than when I walk into a record store. What new discovery will I make today? I am no different from a child walking into a toy store or a religious person walking into their holy space. My mood is instantly lifted every time I walk into a record store.
“Oh, I don’t know. I am existing I guess,” the record store clerk replied in a defeated kind of way. Shoulders hunched, back bent from carrying too much psychic weight as Sade played on the sound system. I don’t know why or what this says about me but immediately I could relate. I stopped at the counter and he moved towards the counter. I wanted to hear more of what he had to say.
“Other people just really suck, you know? The mass human beings just fill me with such disdain and disgust. I really don’t like other people at all. Such a selfish and ugly species, destroying everything we touch. Like cattle or something. Just a really stupid people. You should see the crap I have to sell everyday. I don’t know man, I just don’t like other people one bit,” he said while looking me straight in the eyes.
He looked like a nice guy. A guy that was once a cute kid deeply loved by his parents. He had wide brown eyes and a boyish smile. His hair was short, black and parted to the side but his style (Guided By Voices t-shirt and black jeans) indicated that maybe he stopped caring about fashion after the nineties ended.
“I understand man, I really do.” I meant what I said rather than saying something I did not mean just to be nice. I have found myself thinking similar things about other people from time to time.
“Other people can be really troubling, I know. I get it. We are in a really difficult period in human history. I get it man,” I said.
“You do?” he said with a smile breaking through what I assumed was a permanent grin on his face.
“I do, I really do.”
“You know, I think my day just got a lot better. I am so happy to know that I am not insane for feeling the way I do,” he said.
“No, you are not insane at all. I get it and don’t disagree with you but the question is what are you going to do with the set of circumstances you have found yourself in? You live in this society surrounded by people you have immense disdain for. What do you do?” I asked. I was hopeful that maybe he would provide me with an answer.
“Didn’t Albert Camus write that the only real question is whether or not we should kill ourselves?” I asked not thinking that he would know.
“Yeah, but Camus advocated against suicide in favor of making life as meaningful as possible within the meaninglessness of life. In his book The Myth Of Sisyphus, Camus wrote about how we, like Sisyphus, are doomed to have to roll the boulder up and down the hill every fucking day for a lifetime and that we should learn to make the best of it even though none of it means anything and it all sucks,” he replied. I was impressed.
“I thought Camus thought that suicide was the only reasonable answer given the situation human beings have found themselves in?” I asked.
“No, he argued for making the best out of a life that would always be filled with suffering and ultimately has no meaning. That is existentialism,” the record store clerk replied.
“I see, I guess I had that one backwards.” I was slightly embarrassed by my ignorance but glad to finally get it straight.
“So then what do we do?” I asked him again.
“Roll the boulder with a smile? I don’t know man, I just spend most of my time reading and listening to records. Outside of work that is all I do. I am a consumer of culture. A culture whore. I consume but do not produce. I don’t produce anything. All consumption with no production. I just read and listen to records. It’s pathetic, I know.”
“I dont think its pathetic at all. How old are you?” I thought he might say 32 or 33.
“I am 40 man,” he said as if it was something to be ashamed of. As if he should have all of this figured out by now.
“40, that is tough. It definitely gets harder at 40, I know,” I replied sympathetically.
Again his eyes opened wide and his back straightened. “Really. Thank you for saying that. I really appreciate that. Everyone is always telling me that No Everything Will Be Fine, Everything Is Ok, Don’t Get So Down but no one seems to acknowledge how much harder it actually gets. I am glad you do.”
“Yeah, it does get harder,” I said. I wanted to say: Yeah it does get harder especially if you have a lot of self-judgement, are working retail and have a strong dislike of other people.
He kept looking around the store trying to see if his manager was looking at him and getting frustrated that he was taking up so much time having a conversation with a customer. I didn’t want to get him in trouble, so I started moving the conversation towards an ending point.
“Reading and listening to records all the time is not a bad thing. Someone has to do it in order for there to be writers and musicians,” I said. “Some of the greatest artists, musicians and writers were obsessive consumers of culture.”
“Yeah I know but I am not producing anything, just consuming.”
“So what? That is great that you have something you love to do!”
“Yeah but I am not consuming stuff that the mass of people consume. I can’t stand all that crap. I consume obscure books and records that no one reads or listens to so it can feel really alienating and isolating,” he said while looking around the store.
“I know man. I like all of that stuff as well. It does make you an outsider,” I replied.
“Thank you, an outsider. That is exactly what I am. A doomed outsider.”
“Oh common, you are fortunate to have discovered and cultivated an interest for music and books that the mass of people have no idea exists. Don’t look at it as a bad thing. By working at a record store you are just buying time. Buying time so that you can spend the rest of your time reading and listening to records. It’s a very noble pursuit in a time where most people’s interests are shaped by massive advertising and entertainment companies making a fortune from figuring out how to feed the mass of people a steady diet of mind numbing crap filled with propaganda,” I said.
I really wanted him to know that he was not alone. That we were floating along in the same boat.
“Maybe so, but I’m not producing anything. A person should produce something.”
“You just need to stop judging yourself for that one. That is your real problem. You got to just let yourself enjoy what you love doing. Stop beating yourself up about it. Listening to obscure records and being a reader is a perfectly productive way to spend a life.”
It seemed like he was becoming a bit lighter. Like his mind was backing off from the beating it was always giving him. He told me about his two divorces and his recent break up with his girlfriend. I asked if the decline of these relationships had anything to do with his misery. He said no, then yes, then definitely his first two marriages but not the recent break up with the girlfriend. I asked him his name.
“Anthony,” he said.
“I’m Randall,” I said reaching out my hand to shake his. I felt like I was meeting someone who I could be good friends with but probably never will be. We seemed to be similar in many different ways except that he was still spending much of his time beating himself up. I like to think that I finished with that long ago.
He looked around the store again, this time he looked worried about being reprimanded by his manager who was walking around the store pushing a cart filled with records and then filing them away into their correct resting place.
“Well, I am going to go buy a record. It was really nice talking with you,” I said.
“Really nice talking with you as well,” he replied.
I walked further into the record store, ready to make a new discovery.