AN: I'm From Barcelona!, the University of Boxall, and Sawyer Town, Oregon are all fictional and belong to ME! :D
The Right Equation
The record store is called Back From the Gig. It's squeezed between the peeling paint of a photo developing shop and a seedy little café. I've never seen it before; then again, I haven't often walked this way home from school.
I step inside.
It's musty and not very well lit, but you could call it cozy, because the walls are painted orange and jazz plays from tinny speakers on either side of the cashiers desk. The floor slopes downward, so its almost like its pulling me in as I amble along. Either way, at least I'm out of the biting wind and away from the oppressively gray sky. The passing cars are muffled from the inside. Little 10 inch LPs and used 78s and 45s sit on shelves amongst tired dust. Then there are newer CDs and records, in bins marked alphabetically and under headings like World, Jazz, Punk, 80s. So I wander through the sloping little store in a kind of reserved way, feeling as if I'm in some sort of music geek chapel.
That's when I notice someone in a corner of the store. I think I recognize him from somewhere, probably around campus. His shaggy head is bent and he's totally absorbed as he thumbs through the records with nimble fingers. He's been here before, obviously. He looks up for a second, glancing throughout the store. I'm in his line of vision and I can tell that he sees me, but nothing really registers in his head. It's a passing glance, the kind where you're looking at everyone but not seeing anyone, too absorbed in whatever you're doing. I must look like such a creep, watching from the Vs on the other side of the store while he looks through the Hs. Finally, he picks out a record and brushes it off before starting to walk to the cashier and holy fuck, was that I what I thought it was?
"Positive Devil Club," I say, not a question, as he walks by. He stops and turns slowly, and then he's really seeing me; I'm not just another face in the store.
I'm losing my nerve. "You, uh…" I point. "I just…that's a really good record."
"I know it's a good record," he says, staring at me, almost suspiciously. "It's the most fucking brilliant record ever to grace mankind."
I can't believe this. I must be dreaming.
There is a short awkward silence. Then I say, "Casino Blitz is my favorite song."
He still stares at me. "Who are you?"
"You…like I'm From Barcelona?"
"I love I'm From Barcelona," I say.
I'm From Barcelona! is the most amazing band ever to come out of the nowhere city of Sawyer Town, Oregon. They made three amazing records over the span of 8 years back in the 90s, experimental lo-fi records. No one's heard from them since. Supposedly the lead singer has become an Amish farmer down in Maine.
I have never, ever met anyone who's even heard of them. Let alone like them.
Let alone love them.
"I've been looking for this everywhere. You can't even get the CD anymore," he explains, twirling the record in his fingers, looking shy all of a sudden. I start to walk with him towards the cashier without realizing it.
"I didn't even bother looking," I say.
"Hey, have I seen you here before?"
"Maybe. I go to Boxall U."
"No shit. Me too."
There's silence as he starts to pay. I stand there awkwardly, shifting my weight, unsure of what to do with my hands. What do I do, wait for him? Or is this an indication that our conversation is done and he wants me to leave? I take a chance. I start to walk away tentatively. Call me back, I think. Call me back.
"Hey, Quinn," he says. "Where you going?"
I tell him I've always wanted to hear the album on a real record player. He tells me I can borrow it. I admit I don't have a turntable. He invites me over. I ask him if he's a serial killer, just to be sure. He says only on his good days. I laugh. His name is Gage.
We walk there. The record store isn't far from where he lives, but it's in the densest part of the city. Gage lives in the downtown area. He navigates the city like a pro, pulling me through the crowds by cool skin of my wrist when there's a chance I'll get lost in the sea of businessmen. I watch the impeccable people talking on their talking to each other, to their cellphones, to themselves. I wonder what it would be like if the city went silent – no cars, no people, weeds and ivy crawling over the quasi-new concrete buildings, crumbling down to the deserted streets. I voice my thoughts aloud. Gage says he'd almost like it better that way.
We talk on the way there, about anything that comes to our minds. Usually, I'm not a talker. I'm too much of an introvert, someone who's in tune with his own thoughts but on a whole different frequency than everybody else's. But with Gage, I can ease into it. I learn about him. He learns about me. We talk about philosophy and our families. We talk about drugs and parties. We talk about school and about Positive Devil Club, like how we both liked the cacophonous wail of horns in Casino Blitz, but agreed that they'd made the right choice in changing Brooklyn Tea from its original fast tempo to the slower, melodic version it was on the album. We have other bands in common, but I could tell he has eons of taste on me. I like music. I liked to listen to it, liked to escape life with it. Gage lived music. It was his life.
Clouds churn against the sky. We weave through the concrete jungle in our own little world. "Why aren't you doing something musical in college?" I ask him at one point, as we wait for a green light to turn red.
He looks at me. "Didn't your mother ever tell you? There's no market for a musician who only wants to play music by practically unknown lo-fi bands." He cracks a smile, but it's a sad smile. As we walk, we are jostled together by the people around us. Our feet stir up a cyclone of red and yellow decaying leaves.
"I tried with the whole music thing," he continues, "But when your passion becomes a chore, you can't go on like that. You know when I said I go to Boxall too? I lied. I'm a dropout." He looks down. I can tell it hurts to admit that. "But I'm going to try again next fall. I'm thinking of being a math teacher. I like math and I like to teach. I'm good at it, and there's no thinking. You don't have to decide – it's the right answer or it isn't."
"It's simple in its complexity," I say. The back of my hand touches the back of his.
He looks at me strangely. "Yeah. That's exactly it."
"I want to be an architect." I say simply, as if it's the only sure thing I know in the world. And maybe it is. "These buildings…can you see the beauty in them?"
He tilts his head back. "No."
I laugh. "Not many people can. All you see is the graffiti and the rust and the dirt, but underneath that I can see the beauty, in the intricacy and the lines and the curves. I can find beauty in everything." By now, I'm probably red. I can find beauty in everything? Oh, please. Who admits that? "I guess it's kind of like math. Even math can be beautiful, with the right equation."
He looks at me and smiles.
We sit cross-legged on the blue shag wall-to-wall carpet in his apartment, amid boxes and boxes of CDs and records. As he puts on the record, gingerly working with the turntable, I notice a guitar case against the bay window that dizzyingly overlooks the city.
"Play something," I prompt.
He smiles and opens the battered case. The guitar is acoustic, red shiny wood. It looks old, but the sound is clear and delicate. He leans against the window and softly picks out chords against a gray sky. For a moment I fiercely wish I hadn't quit those guitar lessons, way back in seventh grade. Flecks of rain hit the windows at irregular intervals. The record player whirs. Ceiling Ghost comes on, with its softly lilting lullaby-like tune and a kind of melancholy sadness.
When you leave
Will they know you were here
Staring at cracks in those paper walls?
His eyes are closed and this is as good a time as any to say that he is beautiful. Not beautiful in a feminine way, but he's not hot, and he's not handsome. He is beautiful in a rough voiced, torn skinny jeans, shaggy-haired kind of way, and I want to touch him, want to touch his hot mouth, the skin beneath his soft t-shirt, the hair he keeps having to toss out of his eyes.
Has anyone told you
That memories catch in those cracks
Those ceiling ghosts, those whispers?
He glances up, head still bent, and smiles softly. He catches my gaze before I can look away, a little embarrassed. "C'mere," he says. I stand up and sit next to him, crosslegged against the window. We are facing each other, the guitar the only barrier between us. My stomach flips and my heart fills with his smile.
There isn't any discussion. He looks at me, and I see uncertainty in his face, and I can't bear it I can't bear it, I need to wipe it away. I try to lean in, but all I can say is "Guitar. Ouch."
"Sorry," he whispers against my lips, and he sets the guitar aside, and then I can lean into him, I can feel his warmth under me, his hands tangling in my hair, leaving trails of fire on my skin. And I think it's safe to say that I have never felt this complete.
Human skin can be hard to live in
Open the blinds, it'll help you sleep
In that moment, he's just a boy. I'm just a boy. I'm not an introvert, I'm not a philosopher, he's not a drop out, he's not a musician. We are none of these things, yet we are all of them – just two people in an infinitely vast universe. There was no guarantee that I would go into that record store at the same time he was there. There was no guarantee that he would choose that record and I would notice. And there was no guarantee that our hands would fit together like pieces of a puzzle.
There was no guarantee, but they do.
I hope you enjoyed this story. I enjoyed writing it! Reviewsies?
Just for fun, I thought I'd write Positive Devil Club's (imaginary) track listing for their (imaginary) I'm From Bar album.
Loyal, Solitary, Dirty
She Ain't No Space Cadet
Red Right Return
Everything Must Go