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William McCue

Record Store Clerk – Final Vinyl

Working a six-hour shift
At a record store
In the East Village, NYC
Five hours to go
Standing by the door
Staring out the dirty window

I can see McSorley's Ale House
Across the way and that
"What's her name?" actress
From The Sopranos
Adriana, Chris's girlfriend
Out walking her dogs again
She's a lot shorter than she looks on TV
Must be the flip-flops instead of Louis Vuitton's

The store's a mess but the owner doesn’t care
He won't even take out the trash
The lease is up at the end of the month
And the rent isn't coming down
Only the old buildings in the neighborhood
And the price of a rare record

Towers of stacked Starbucks coffee cups
Pads of receipts and unopened mail
All piled high on the counter top
It's up to me to set things right
Inside the store
Outside is beyond my control
So I trash the cups
Read the mail and discard what's junk
or past due
He'll never know what's gone

Reading the Sunday Times
Making feeble attempts at finishing
The puzzle in the magazine
And watching the telephone not ring
Tapping a pen, emptying an ash tray
James Joyce calls this activity
"Ineluctable modality"
Me? I call it killing time

I sweep the floor again, count the change
Wipe down the counter, 24 bins to rearrange
Order in, over tip deliveryman, and smile too much
Thank him in my sophomoric Spanish
Before tucking into a vanilla shake,
Fries, large Coke
And turkey burger deluxe

The turntable spins, records flip
Shifting from genre to genre
Like pressing pre-set buttons
In a 1974 Chevy Nova
And landing on a variety of hip radio stations
Bo Diddley, Bob Marley, John Coltrane
Rolling Stones, early King Crimson, Otis Redding

Time crawls, old records crackle
The worn out air conditioner moans like a snoring beast
Quiet cell, silent store phone
Maybe the owner didn't pay the bill?

The turntable spins, I select more records to flip
13th Floor Elevators, Sly Stone, The Sonics
Johnny Cash, The Clash, Kraftwerk
It's my own private radio show
With no audience approval to pander to
No ratings to worry about
And no one to tell me to turn it down

Like the ladies in Eliot's love song
Random customers come and go
Only these characters are speaking of Elvis Costello
They ask questions about prices
Pulled straight from Goldmine magazine
And make snide comments about my knowledge
Or lack thereof
Smug hipsters, too cool to get excited
Reluctantly express fleeting moments of glee
Over their latest discovery in the "new arrivals" bin

The clientele is mostly lonely middle-aged men
With too much money and time to burn
Some come in with impatient girlfriends or wives
Who feign interest by flipping through
A few bins' worth of records before
Heading outside for a smoke
Or to send a text message
To a sympathetic girlfriend

The rest are mostly impulse shoppers, collection sellers
Who pull up a milk crate and dig away
A palpable desperation pollutes the air
Like the cloud of stale cigarette smoke
From one of the regulars who flaunts
New York City's no-smoking law
He sits on a stool talking about Skip James
Giving the joint a speakeasy atmosphere
Of lawlessness, hipness and cool
His exhales drift over our heads
Like a fog, hanging in the air
like a blue note

More regulars come and go
Pissed off at having to ring the door buzzer
To gain entrance
Remarking on the unfamiliar young fellow
Behind the counter
Looking for the owner
And disappointed in finding only me

Like that one guy who said
He'd been shopping here for years
And came staggering in with blood in his eyes
Beer on his breath and so much to sell
I felt bad that I had to tell him,
"Records only, sir, no CDs."
But if he really was a regular
He should have known better than that

Then the phone startled me by ringing
And at the other end of the line
There was this nervous voice
Hoping for a miracle, but...
"No, sorry, Tim Buckley’s Starsailor isn’t here."

Afternoon blends into early evening
And now no one's coming in
There’s nothing to keep me company
Except for all this great music
Lining the walls, filling the bins
Just waiting to be played

I was spinning singles for a while
Like a disc jockey before satellites
Donovan, The Miracles, a 12 inch from King Tubby
But I've switched from 45 back to 33
The turntable slows and so does the time.
And now it's just Lightning Hopkins,
Patsy Cline,
Arthur Lee
and me.

©2008 by William McCue

William McCue is a lifelong New Yorker who lives in Park Slope, Brooklyn. By day he is a public relations executive. By night he is an aspiring screenwriter, playwright, actor and the lead singer in the psychedelic rock cover bands The Marvin Barnes Time Machine and Fritz Kekich. McCue made his acting debut in a modern day adaptation of the Greek tragedy Oedipus Rex, produced by The Mortals Theater company in October 2007. He has since acted in the company's productions of Hamlet and The Iceman Cometh, and appeared in short films written and directed by award winning filmmaker Derek Shane Garcia.

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