Chris Palladino:
Record Detective

The Astrology Album

ANNOUNCER: The Record Detective quietly sits nodding off, teeth clenched on a dampened dud butt filter and contemplating the crackling revolutions of the phantom platter party spinning a flighty fantasy against the real world on the turntable of his mind. He could've had it all: fast cars, gorgeous dames, the 2.2 kids and the garage to park them all in. But our over shellacked hero wasn't like the other sandwich boys on the block. No, he had his own facsimile family well housed in the record rack realty of cardboard land. So relax, he's not going anywhere, and neither are you. Just pinch yourself awake, grab a caffeine gargle and filter your way through another tedious episode ripped from the tea stained typewriter of "The Record Detective".

RECORD DETECTIVE: I was perusing the endless platter piles of yard sale orphans that'd been collected for the 1st Annual Outdoor Union Rescue Mission Fundraiser Flea Market-a-thon when I glanced down to spy the tastiest looking tootsies ankling around a box of records you'd ever drooled your eyes across.
"See anything exciting?", breathly inquisited a sultry sheepish siren, while curling her toes in the cutest fashion, making them look just like little piglets suckling their morning meal from a well fed sow.
"No, just the 3 M's - Manilow, Mantovani, and Mathis, the usual suspects," I retorted a little too cleverly. The pressure valve in my well-peeled peepers popped like a weasel when I made out next to the pulchritudinous un-painted pedal pushers, a phone number scrawled in red crayon on the box of moldy records that smelled in front of me.
"That's from the nice old wid'r lady from West Virginia, who donated them for our sale. She said husband used to spend more time with his records than he did with her and there's 20,000 more back . . ."
As my antennae focused, my number 1 nemesis, the blue haired harpy interrupted the broadcast, bellowing like a beefmaster in a bovine brigade. She corralled out Beauty Foot, sending her back to the barn. I never did see her face. I should have followed her as she seemed to like me but today, I didn't seem to care. I'd seen enough. I pinned the old lady's number and had a new case to solve, the one I call "The White Trash Record Caper".
I rushed home with 20,000 thoughts burning my brain besides those pretty little feet. They were the kind of feet that could bail out old Cecil B. DeMille from beyond the grave and send him up back to Hollywood to make that one final biblical epic. What a darling babe she probably was too, the kind of woman I'd want to keep barefoot and pregnant kicking up the dust of my decayed desires. But now she'd have to wait, I had more pressing engagements - 20,000 pressings to be exact, more or less. The search was on. I punched the long distance phone buttons with one hand as I wiped the dribbling drool dangling from my quivering lips. An old voice cackled over the phone the direction to her lost Dutchman record mine. I put on my Nick Danger hat and set off.
The sun shone brightly in my eyes as I headed due west for the wild wonderful West Virginia hills, way past the outskirts of Deliverenceville with my last 40 bucks tucked securely in my wallet. Following The Widow's garbled instructions, I figured I'd finally flipped my last disc as my ears popped when I snaked up the serpentine road that changed into gravel and dirt, twisting through the tree tunnels lining the drop-offs and hairpin turns.
This place was way out there alright. The locals all sat drop jawed, toothless and tar heeled, shotguns cocked, surveying all passers-by from their front porch stockades as my battered Biscayne grunted its way up the last few miles to the little log cabin in the pines she called home. The off-hinged door was open, but I knocked anyway, out of courtesy. There on a couch sat the old crone, an ancient B&W TV illuminating her scraggly stone face.
"Wipe your feet before you come in!" she snapped, "I don't want no furin dirt cross'n my threshold." I did and stepped into a slime pit that made my platter palace look as sterile as the main operating room of General Hospital. Flies feasted on a raw ranciding turkey and an open gallon tub of hand dipped Government peanut butter coagulated on the kitchen counter, while cockroaches scampered across the dirty plates from last month's leftovers. "What are you staring at!" she said while hacking a limped lugie into a battered spittoon composed of old Sears catalogs. A beat-up box of records sat nestled on the floor between her rolled support-stockinged limbs.
"Those the records for sale?", I managed to choke out without spilling my lunch.
"These are from my personal collection. They're off limits soldier, but there's plenty more downstairs. I ain't teched 'em since he died," the old bird croaked, pointing her duck-taped broken cane toward the encrusted off-kiltered faded Polaroid tacked on the stained peeling papered wall. "I just want to get rid of those God damn things. Go on down, by yourself. I ain't gettin up for nobody. I got a condition."
My heart raced at the thought of a cherry collection, unpicked by the violating hand of another disc Dick like myself. I clung to the sticky woodwork as I nimbled over the minefield of soiled clothes that littered the basement stairs. Somehow reaching the bottom, I groped the sweaty wall searching for the light switch. I flicked it on and there they were, thousands and thousands of 'em. Uncountable galaxies of neatly stacked record albums lined every wall and available space from floor to ceiling patterning like constellations celebrating the heavenly history of the recording industry. This was the proverbial 'It'. I finally found the mother lode, what every record collector dreams of, but never finds.
I paused to soak it all in and let this triumphal moment etch my brain forever. I knew I would never be the same again. I finally realized how Howard Carter must have felt when he first opened King Tut's Tomb and let loose the gasp of ancient scented air like a coffee can freshly punctured. "Where to start?", I queried out loud letting myself know that by hearing my own voice I proved that it was all real. Overwrought and overwhelmed, I staggered to the first record I could lay my unsteady hands on. Scarcely could I believe my eyes when I pulled out a slightly moldy copy of "The Astrology Album" off the top shelf.
"Good Lord!", I gasped. There it was, a split seamed and scuffy, BB holed, multi stickered, ring worn, missing the poster, non-inner sleeved Mono copy of the Gary Usher produced psychedelic pariah of Aquarian aged angst, "The Astrology Album". "The Astrology Album" that Phil Austin tongue and cheekily wrote and narrated the Astrological endowments of the various signs between the pompous pronouncements of purloined pop stars like David Crosby, Chad Stuart and Jeremy Clyde, obviously obligated to dance to the tunes of Usher's trite treatments as a personal favor to the man who made them all stars in the charts of Billboard. "The Astrology Album", I repeated over and over as my grip loosened by the sweat oozing out of my palms nearly dropped the one record I'd been searching years for, "The Astrology Album". Then I smelled something familiar and it wasn't coffee. At first I thought I wet my Dockers but my dripping hands re-activated a scent long held dormant in the old dust jacket of "The Astrology Album". "Bong water!", I instinctively whispered. Tears then rolled down my face as I laughed uncontrollably, hysterically, manically, launching me into sobs of joy that I never felt before. I was birthing one of the best moments of my whole life. I fell to my knees grasping the faded treasure to my heart and began to look upward toward the firmament believing, "Yes, there is a God!"
"What the hell's going on down there!", shouted the old witch. The only religious experience I ever had in my entire life was suddenly spell-broken by the incessant rapping of the old bag's cane on the bare floor above.
"Nothing, nothing. I'm just getting started."
"Well, don't take all night. I gotta get up early tomorrow and go get my relief check!"
This was going to be my night of nights, I knew it. I reluctantly let "The Astrology Album" out of my hands and placed it at the base of the stairs, keeping watch on it out of the corner of my eye as if it would crawl away by itself. My spirits soared as I flipped through record after record thinking what other treasures there might be secreted in there. Then I said something out loud that I'll regret for the rest of my life, "Well, if I don't find anything else, I'll be satisfied, because I've found one of the most valuable records I'll every see." I glanced back over to the record and it was gone. I gasped and looked up. There was the old lady clutching the album to her bosom like the old family bible. She'd come down the stairs after all.
"This here record'll cost you 40 bucks. I'll hold onto it 'til you're ready to settle up!" Before I could answer she bounded up the stairs like a young gazelle, knowing she'd just hooked the biggest fish seen since Jonah was swallowed.
"Well, the night is young", I thought to myself, "maybe I'll find a stereo copy of "The Astrology Album"! I set back to work. I plucked album after album from their perch, shoved them aside and frantically and systematically moved from row to row, and rack to rack. Each record I pulled out was worse than the last; Herb Albert, Lawrence Welk, Lenny Dee, Tammy Faye Bakker, The Lettermen, The Morman Tabernacle Choir, Guy Lombardo, The Ray Charles Singers, Julius La Rosa, and those were the good ones! On and on I went, row after row thinking, "How could there be so many bad records and how could they have all landed here?" As I went on the names became more and more unrecognizable and unpronounceable on labels I never dreamed of before. I begged to find just one Barry Manilow record, a Shawn Cassidy, anything, anything at all!
I was crying now but they weren't tears of joy any more. The room was damp and the records were beginning to stick together and the farther down the wall I worked, the worse it got. The light green growth of mildew stung my nostrils like red pepper as I wheezed my way through the night. At first I didn't notice, but my throat began to swell up and as my eyes watered I tried to dry them with my filthy mildew powdered hands. After awhile I couldn't really see anything at all and the albums titles all became a blur but I pressed on. Finally, after who knows how many hours, I realized that I was half way down the rack that I first started on. I was relieved somehow that it was all over. After all that, the only record worth salvaging was the very first one I found, "The Astrology Album". Well, 40 bucks was a small price to pay for the lesson I'd learned that night. At least I wouldn't go home empty handed.
I crawled up the stairs, the sun crept over the horizon and I found the old widow sleeping on the dirty dilapidated davenport, "The Astrology Album" still clutched to her chest. I stealthily flipped through the box of records on the floor, hoping to find something in her private collection. It was more of the same, "No-Name's Greatest Hits" on Landfill Records. I tried to shake the old hag awake but she didn't budge. The morning sun suddenly broke in on her face in a way that I realized that she was dead. The bound up the steps must have been too much for her weakened old heart. Without a thought, I tried to pry the album from her grasp but rigor mortis had set in and she held it in a death grip that only a chain saw could loosen. I then got up and walked out the open door into the full bright light of day leaving behind "The Astrology Album", a dead old widow, my last $40 with a note pinned to her chest for some funeral flowers, and the better part of my soul, as well.

ANNOUNCER: The record ends and the tone arm returns to re-start the album of "The Record Detective".