Do You Believe in Magic
When I first read an excerpt from William Kotzwinkle's The Fan Man
circa 1972 in Esquire ("Horse Badorties Must Go Out!") I fell in love with
that voice. Nearly twenty years later, I stole it for this story, a theft
only Stan Robinson was perceptive enough to comment on. As for my prophetic
Disneyfication of New York, one has only to visit 42nd Street to witness
the plague in full bloom. Chalk up another valuable prediction for SF!
This is, like, the worst day of my life, man.
It is 7:00 AM and I am soundly and peacefully asleep, having been
up most of the night writing a review for the prestigious music 'zine,
Magnetic Moment, of some piece of digitially mastered Pop-Marketplace
shit--I don't remember what now; all this modern stuff sounds alike. When I
went to sleep I had no intention of getting up before noon. But my blissful
dreams of other days are shattered by this loud scraping noise, followed by
a sharp slam.
Well. As soon as I extricate myself from the Komfy Koverlets, which
my thrashing limbs have wrapped around my neck in a stranglehold, I realize
it is the day of the week that my groceries are delivered. The kid from the
market has just pushed a box thru the specially constructed Doggie Door,
which has slammed down heavily, since its pneumatic catch is shot.
Having been thus summarily roused, I cannot go back to sleep. I
decide to get up. Suddenly I am interested in what the market has sent me,
and figure I might as well put it away.
I rise from my old stained mattress on the floor. I put on clean
jeans and sweatshirt, which I handwashed early yesterday and which have
been drying on the line overnight. They are still damp and clammy, and feel
like seaweed. This is the pits. I check the Porthole for weather
conditions, altho, as per usual, I shall not be going out. (All my windows
are painted black. The Porthole is an area high up on one where the paint
has flaked irregularly off. The vista thus revealed is a slice of sky and a
few square feet of wall.) Conditions are partly cloudy, with patches of
brick. Much like every day.
Barefoot, I shuffle over to the box of groceries. Wow, this sucker
is heavy! I cannot believe the market has found all these canned goods for
me. Shipments lately have been getting sparse. (I refuse to eat any food
packed in these new plastic cans. I will take my nourishment from aluminum
and tin, or from nothing at all. Plastic cans, man! That's crazy....
Unfortunately, there are no Native Goods packed in tin anymore. Thus, I am
constrained to subsist on imports from the more traditional and/or backward
countries: Portuguese and Norwegian sardines, Welsh meat pies, Spanish
octopus, Italian scungilli, North Korean puffer fish, Nigerian hyena parts,
Burmese lizard legs, Chinese bamboo shoots--man, it gets kinda depressing.)
I am anxious to investigate this week's offerings. In the patchy
dark, I walk with the box over to my old wooden kitchen table and set it
There is a heartbreaking CRACK! Too late, I realize what I have
done. I lift the box up off the table and set it on a chair. A mournful
little whimper escapes from my lips:
I yank on the pull chain leading to the naked bulb above the table,
hoping that I am mistaken. Maybe it is only some piece-o'-crap like Lionel
Ritchie's fifty-first album that I have just turned into vinyl splinters.
But, natch, it's not. I knew it couldn't be.
It is a thirty-five-year-old masterpiece, an original pressing, the
first album I ever bought, the keystone of a vanished decade, the
touchstone of my life, now fragmented into irreparable shards, sharp as my
Do You Believe in Magic? , by the Lovin' Spoonful.
I was listening to the prized album last night, in order to cleanse
my ears of the horrid modern stuff I had been forced to review. I removed
it from the turntable and, in a moment of bladder-type weakness, forgot to
resleeve it. When I got done taking a leak, I had fallen straight into bed.
The record lay unprotected all night on the table, forlornly awaiting its
I collapse into a chair. I just cannot believe this. To exist and
give pleasure for three-and-a-half decades, only to be shattered by a load
of scungilli.... At that moment I hate my stomach. Perhaps I should have
switched to plastic cans after all....
Numbly, I stare at the pieces of black plastic. Even the paper
circle has been ripped by the jagged shards. It's the Kama Sutra label
(distributed by MGM): yellow background, red sunburst, green Indian deity
with three faces and four arms. Man, there wasn't a scratch or fingerprint
on that whole record. It felt so good to handle, substantial and thick, not
like latter-day, end-of-an-era, cheap flimsy platters.... It coulda lasted
I look across the room, where sit the unadorned yellowed inner
paper (not plastic) sleeve and the outer cardboard jacket. The grinning
faces of John, Zal, Joe, and Steve mock me from the jacket, beneath the
title in its retro typeface. (Funny, once we woulda called that style
modern. But thus it is decreed: yesterday's modern is tomorrow's
retro....). John's look is particularly poignant, as he grips the stem of
his round wire-rims with two fingers....
I am suddenly having some kind of fit. I cannot breathe, and my
chest is tight. I stand up and stumble to the stained porcelain sink. I
stick my head under the faucet and run cold water over it. That helps a
little. Goddamn it! THAT ALBUM WAS THE CENTER OF MY LIFE! I WAS SIXTEEN
WHEN I BOUGHT IT! IT WAS GREAT MUSIC! I WILL NOT LIVE WITHOUT IT!
I realize I have been shouting. Luckily, my neighbors--whoever they
may be--have grown used to my noise. At least, I think they have. Anyway,
there have been no complaints in ages. Doubtless, if anyone heard my
ranting just now, they thought it was merely another record.
I am possessed by a sudden knowledge: it is time for desperate
measures. I must leave my apartment to secure another copy of this record,
a duplicate original pressing. I really cannot live without it. My life is
a precarious assemblage of tactile tokens and sonic symbols. To remove one
is to disfigure the whole musical mosaic.
The Big Picture must be restored!
I am filled with energy now. I have a Kozmic Kwest.
I grab my sneakers from beneath a pile of clothing, put them on my
bare feet, and lace them up. Now the conditions beyond the Porthole develop
increased significance. I look again. Hmm, better have a jacket. I snatch
some bills out of the tin where I keep my money and uncashed royalty
checks, and stuff them in my jacket pocket. I advance to the door. I stop.
I have not been out of my apartment in twenty years. I believe the
last time was around '81. That was when things seemed to turn really sour,
and I beat my retreat. I have not had any visitors in half that time. My
dealings with the world are thru the media of mail, telephone lines, and
data coaxials. I am not sure the world even exists anymore, in any
incarnation other than the records I receive for review.
I am shivering. I DON'T WANT TO GO OUT THERE! I look around my
place for some shred of comfort. There are jumbled piles of books, mostly
about music. There is a broken television, which has not worked since Dick
Clark died. There are banks of audio equipment: receivers, speakers, amps,
equalizers, turntables, CD Players, DAT and DVD drives, regular cassette
players, various remote controls. There is an old word-processing setup
whereby I file my articles with Magnetic Moment and other publishers. And
then, natch, there's my record collection: approximately six thousand LP's
and as many 45's. They are lovingly filed on shelves and in stacks, the
oldest protected by plastic. Among them is the last LP ever pressed by a
major firm, the Springsteen five-record set, Live '85-'95, which failed to
move even ten thousand units in this format. (I do not keep the CD's and
DAT's that I receive for review, unless they are reissues of old stuff that
I absolutely lack. Otherwise, they go out the bathroom window, down the air
shaft. I believe the pile has almost reached the second floor.)
The sight of all my possessions reassures me. I must be strong and
survive this mission, if only to take care of them. I cannot stand the
thought of strangers coming in after my death and breaking up my collection.
I turn back to the door. It has five locks on it, and a bar wedged
under the handle and against the floor. I attempt to work the mechanisms,
but they are all rusted shut. The bar has sunk immovably into the soft
wooden floorboards. I am forced to crawl ignominiously thru the Doggie Door
in order to exit my lair.
Man, this hallway is gruesome! Fulla dust 'n' cobwebs 'n' used
syringes, rags 'n' cinders 'n' windblown trash. There is a trail thru all
this junk, which the boy from the market has obviously worn. The path comes
as far as my door and no further. Is this what I am paying my
rent-stabilized $125 per month for? I angrily ask myself. While I'm out, I
will go see Mr. Gummidge, the landlord, and demand better treatment. What
does he think this place is, an abandoned building, fer chrissakes?
That is exactly what it is, I soon discover.
I am living in a bombed-out hulk! All the glass and doors except
mine are gone. There are no other tenants, except some rats and wild dogs
and perhaps, from evidence, an occasional squatter. Well, that explains the
lack of complaints about my loud music.... Lord knows why I still got
electricity. There was that blackout five years ago; power didn't come back
on for a week--could it have been hotwired...? Hey, if there's no super,
who's been taking my trash away? Bums, I guess. Suprised the copper
plumbing hasn't been gutted. Oh, that's right: it was replaced with some
new plastic stuff back in '75. I lodged a futile protest, hated to have my
water flowing thru PVC, finally gave in and learned to subsist on YOO-HOO
CHOCOLATE DRINK, the only beverage that still comes in a real can....
Now I am out on the street. Wow, this neighborhood was never much
to look at, but it's really gone downhill!
I am staring at about forty acres of rubble-strewn urban terrain.
My building sits in the center of the wasteland, the only halfway-intact
structure. The wall I have unwittingly inspected each morning out the
Porthole turns out to be merely a freestanding fragment. Man, what
happened? This used to be Amsterdam Avenue, man!
I trudge across the desolate, bricky wastes, beneath the sky of
gray. Man, this is like waking up in a T. S. Eliot poem!
On the outskirts of my private Twilight Zone, I encounter
civilization, in the form of inhabited buildings, uptown, downtown and
crosstown streets, traffic, commerce, humans.... Man, Harlem never looked
so good! I thought it was post-WWIII, man! Instead, it appears that only my
immediate surroundings have suffered these outrageous ravages.
I approach some soul brothers hanging out in front of a
"Hey, bloods, what happened with the war zone?"
They eye me warily. One finally speaks.
"The mayor and the po-leece drop a firebomb."
"What the fuck for?"
"Trying to stop the crack sales."
Wow, so that was what that really hot day had been! I thought it
was just a regular New York August day cranked up to eleven. My building
must have been protected in some eddy of the flames....
While I have been cogitating, these young black guys have
surrounded me menacingly.
"Is you the spook what lives in the haunted tenament?"
"I guess so...."
"You spoze to be real rich. How about handing over some money?"
"Yeah," says another. He produces a gun made of...PLASTIC! "Or we
gonna grease your ass."
I slap the gun out of his hand, and it goes skidding down the
street like a cheap toy. The JD's stare at me unbelievingly. "Man, that was
major uncool. Whatcha pointing some plastic gun at me for? Dontcha know
you're looking at a dude who marched with King?"
The guys all eyeball one another.
"King? Who's he?"
"The brother they made the holiday for."
"You really known him, man?"
I break my stalwart silence. "Does a bear shit in the woods?"
This old chestnut sends the guys into convulsions. Is it possible
they've never heard it before...? Whatever the case, when they recover,
they are smiling. I take advantage of their good humor to question them.
"Where's the best and biggest record store nowadays?"
"That be Tower Records, down on Broadway in the Sixties."
"O.K., all right; thanks, men; let's shake."
These guys are so lame, they don't even know how to shake hands. I
gotta twist their thumbs upward in the proper grip. I leave them practicing
the shake among themselves, and walk out to Broadway.
The subway costs two dollars now! And they use plastic cards
insteada tokens! Quality of the ride ain't changed, tho: noisy, crowded,
and rough. Car's clean of graffiti, tho. I wonder idly why, until I notice
a kid whip out a marker and try to write on the walls. The ink from his pen
beads up like water on grease and rolls to the floor. The kid
swears--"Shit, they told me this new pen would cut it! Five dollars down
the tubes!"--and sits back down. I touch the wall; it's dry. Heavy, man,
some kinda Teflon Koating....
I mistakenly ride all the way to Columbus Circle and have to walk
back uptown to get to Tower Records. Wow, these people are dressed weird!
The chicks are all in their underwear--bras and colored leotards; and the
men seem to be in their pajamas--wrinkled old suits with colored T-shirts.
Don't no one change outa their NIGHTCLOTHES no more? Hey, how come I'm the
one getting all the stares? Must be my hair. Seems like no one else wears
it down to the tailbone no more. Screw 'em. Wotta buncha squares....
Here is Tower Records. Wow, is this place garish! My eyes are
hurtin' just to look at it. There are more neons and fluourescents here
than at Graceland. And to think I usta like light shows. Must be gettin'
old.... What're all these televisions doin' here anyway? Is this a music
store, or an appliance discounter? And all playing snippets of bad
imitations of Bunuel movies.... Oh, well, it don't matter to me, just go on
thru the door, under this weird SCANNER--beam me up, Scotty, hee-hee--and
into the store.
Boy, it's crowded. Everyone's got these little cordless buttons in
their ears, groovin' and boppin' to some private beat. THIS LOUSY JOINT
DON'T EVEN HAVE A P.A. SYSTEM! What kinds rock-'n'-roll community does that
make for? Some of my happiest memories are of hearing new stuff in a store,
and the whole place groovin' to the same wavelength.... Hey, don't see no
salesclerks , just a lone cashier. What're those people doin'? They're
ordering CD's from a computer console that spits them outa a slot. This is
I go to the cashier. She is about fifteen, and wears gold earrings
shaped like scarabs that crawl up 'n' down her ears on little mechanical
"Peace, lovely lady. Do you perchance have a selection of old LP's
for the serious collector?"
"I dunno whatcha mean."
"LP's: vinyl discs spun on a turntable at thirty-three-and-one-
third revolutions per minute, the single analog groove of which, when
interpreted by a stylus, produces music."
The waif pouts sullenly. "You're yanking my rods. There ain't no
"Is there anyone else I could talk to?"
"I dunno. Check the back room."
I find a door I assume leads to the stockroom. Uncautiously, I open it.
Brawny, sweaty laborers naked to the waist are wielding huge
shovels with which they scoop up CD's and DAT's and DVD's out of an
enormous pile and dump them into a hopper that leads to the dispensing
devices. A foreman wearing an eyepatch snaps a bullwhip over their scarred
backs. He spots me and yells, "An intruder! Get 'im, boys, before he
Is this real?! Maybe I am just having like my worst nightmare,
badder than that yage trip with Allan. BUT I CANNOT TAKE CHANCES! I slam
the door and make like Kleenex and blow. Feets, don't fail me now!
Several blocks down Broadway, I stop, outta breath. Man, this is
the most exercise I've gotten in years! I seem to have shaken my pursuers,
the Devil Dogs of the Rekkkord Industry. I lean against a building to rest,
and gaze around.
An address across the street looks familiar. It comes to me then
that I am staring directly at the building that houses the offices of
Magnetic Moment! Wow, what synchronicity, man! I decide to go with the
flow. I must enter and reveal myself to the staff. I am sure I will be
enthusiastically received. Their most Senior Kontributor, the Human
Encyclopedia of Rock, Mister Pop-Popularizer Himself.
I enter the building; I ascend in an elevator that queries me for
my destination mechanically; I emerge in a ritzy lobby. There is a gorgeous
chick seated behind a desk. In her underwear, natch.
"Peace, ma'am. Would you announce to all and sundry that Mister
Beaner Wilkins has descended from the heights to greet the faithful and
unclog their mental arteries with some Zany and Zesty Zen Zappers?"
The chick glares at me with ill-concealed distaste. She thumbs an
intercom button and says into the speaker, "Hello, Security, it's another
Barely does she remove her manicured digit from the button, when
four immense Anthropoids in suits emerge from concealed doors and make free
with my personal limbs in a painful manner.
"Hey, you pigs, what gives? Let me go, cut me loose, put me down,
chill out! I didn't do nothin'! I am a respectable staff member of this
rag, and just wish to see my editor!"
"That's what they all say," grunts one of the Musclemen, who has my
neck held like a pencil between his thumb and forefinger.
"All who? I don't know any of these other jerks to whom you refer.
I'm me, Beaner Wilkins, a Lone Wolf. I do not associate with any cliques,
claques, covens, or cabals."
It's no use. I am being hustled toward the elevator. My shouts have
attracted a crowd of office workers, who cluster at doors watching my
"Emilio!" I yell. "Emilio Cuchillo!" I spot the shiny face of my
young editor at the rear of the crowd. "It's I, Emilio--Beaner!"
He looks dubious, but does not attempt to restrain the Security
Apes. I make a frantic move to break loose.
"Hey, that does it," says a guard. "Put the cuffs on him."
Bracelets clack shut on my wrist.
"ARGH! Plastic! Get it off, get it off, gedditoff!"
Somehow, Emilio is by my side. "It's all right, guys; there's been
a misunderstanding. This fellow has an appointment. I'll see him now."
Warily, the semisentient hulks comply. I am released into Emilio's
custody. Mustering all the dignity I can, I adjust my headband and untangle
the long fringes of my leather jacket. Then I accompany Emilio into his
When we are both seated, Emilio, leaning forward with forearms on
his desk, stares at me for several minutes. At last he speaks.
"It really is you. I can spot the likeness to that old picture we
run above your column. You know, the crowd scene from Woodstock, where
you're covered in mud. Beaner Wilkins.... I can't believe it. You know,
sometimes we used to speculate whether or not you were actually dead, and
the columns were being written by a computer."
"I am obviously not dead, man. I just value my privacy. Also, this
modern-day world is not one I care to associate overmuch with. But
listen--what made you jump in and save me?"
"Well, first you have to understand that we get at least one
nutcase a month showing up claiming to be Beaner Wilkins. There's quite a
myth surrounding you, you know. Seems to attract all the dissatisfied types
from every new generation. So at first, I had no suspicion you might
actually be telling the truth. It was the business with the cuffs that
alerted me. I remembered that the real Beaner hated--hates--plastic."
I am relaxing a little now, and feel I can afford to be generous
with my praise. "It was, like, very astute of you, Emilio. I am glad your
memory was so accurate, since I did not relish the prospect of greeting the
pavement with my face."
"That fact always stuck in my head. I thought it was funny that
someone whose whole life revolved around old-fashioned records would hate
plastic so much. Sorta contradictory...."
"I do not ingest or wear records; therefore their plasticity does
not bother me. However, food encased in hydrocarbon derivatives, or
clothing fashioned of same, rubs me the wrong way."
Emilio sits back in his chair. "So, Beaner, what brings you out?"
Before I can answer, I am suddenly seized by this Sahara-type
thirst. The events of the day have parched my throat. "Got anything to
drink, Emilio?" I ask.
Emilio stabs an intercom. "Ms. Orson, please bring us a couple of
"Hold on," I demur. "Is it, like, in plastic cans?"
"Why, of course-- Oh, I see. Cancel that order, Ms. Orson. Beaner,
I don't know what to offer you--"
My eyes have been roving over the office all this time, and now
light on a trophy case containing a leather jacket, a pocket comb, a burned
husk of a guitar-- and A CAN OF YOO-HOO! Without asking, I go to the case,
reach inside, and in a second have popped the Yoo-Hoo.
"Cool it, man," I advise. "What's wrong?"
"That can! Do you know who last touched that can?"
"John Lennon, just minutes before he was shot!"
"Oh...." I look inside, and sure enough, there're little cards by
each item: Lou Reed's jacket, Hendrix's guitar, Elvis's comb, Lennon's
Yoo-Hoo.... Oh, well, man.... Sic transit gloria, and all that....
Sitting back down, I explain the nature of my Kwest. Emilio, wiping
the tears from his eyes, nods. When I am finished, he is mostly recovered.
"You've really set yourself a chore, Beaner," he says forgivingly.
"Nobody except a few insane rich collectors wants those old LP's anymore,
and so hardly anyone sells them. Your only shot might be this one store
down in the Village--"
"Of course! The Village, the very birthplace of the Lovin'
Spoonful! Spiritual home to every malcontent and freethinker, every beatnik
and hippie and punk who has ever walked the globe! Surely, in one of the
myriad second-hand stores in the Village I will find a copy of my beloved
"Yeah, well, I think you might have a nostalgic view of
"No way, man; I am still plugged in."
"Yeah, maybe....but 'plugged in' to what?"
I ignore Emilio's sarcasm and arise, eager to be off. "Emilio, it
has been extremely groovy to make your editorial acquaintance in person,
but now I must split. I trust my columns have been satisfactory...?"
"Yeah, they're O.K.. They pull in readers of your generation--who
represent a big market share and have powerful demographics --and they give
everyone else a laugh. But don't you think you could lighten up a little on
modern music? I mean, you haven't praised anything since Madonna's album
with the reunited Dead, just before her granddaughter was born--and that
was six years ago now!"
"I will continue to call them as I see them, Emilio. Let musicians
produce good music, and I will praise it. But I will not hype prefab shit."
Emilio shakes his head in mock woefulness and gets up to see me
out. "Well, that's hot as fusion, Beaner, and I'm on the downlink to your
telemetry with minimal noise. Just hang in there, old survivor. What is it
you used to say? Keep on trackin'!"
"Oh. I thought it was like a tonearm...."
Emilio sees me down to the street. Then I am back on the subway,
heading for the Village.
I emerge in Union Square.
Something is really wrong, man.
There is a turreted wall around the northern border of the Village,
all fake boulders and pennants fluttering in the breeze. There is a gate at
Broadway guarded by Mickey Mouse and Goofy. They are wearing sidearms.
Tentatively, I advance, gradually becoming one with a horde of
tourists types, who I hope will provide me with some kind of cover.
Mickey spots me in the crowd, tho, and gestures for me to step
aside. I do not argue with mice bearing weapons; therefore, I comply.
"Where the hell is your ID badge?" says the Famous Mouse belligerently.
"Uh, I forgot it at home...?"
"Jeez, you guys are getting too deep into your roles, being such
screwups. All right, listen close: just this once, I'm gonna give you a
temporary ID. Don't let it happen again."
"I certainly won't, Mr. Mouse. Thank you, thank you kindly."
With a hologramatic badge bearing the Disney logo pinned to my
jacket, I am waved past the ticket-taker beyond the gates.
I immediately experience a flashback to 1967.
The streets are filled with the Children of Aquarius, long-haired
guys 'n' girls flashing the peace sign to each other and the tourists,
posing for photos, smokin' what smells like authentic reefer rolled as big
as sausages. The Beatles blast out of every window.
What the fuck is goin' on here?!?
When I cross Tenth Street and find myself surrounded by cats
dressed all in black spoutin' Allen Ginsberg, I dig the grotty scene.
THE WHOLE VILLAGE IS NOW A DISNEY THEME PARK!
Sure enuff, there is a punk enclave over on the Bowery, buncha
skinheads endlessly pogoing to an audioanimatronic Ramones.
I sit down in the gutter.
I begin to cry.
When I am all cried out, I arise. All I wanna do is find my album
and get outa here. Emilio said something about a second-hand record
I find the place over on Bleecker Street, next to a glitzed-up jazz
joint that advertises Michael Jackson doing a show wherein he impersonates
Charlie Parker (NITELY AT SIX AND EIGHT).
Heartbroken, I go into the store.
The place features Day-Glo posters and the smell of incense. The
Jefferson Airplane is being piped out of hokey little lo-fi speakers: "Do
you want somebody to love?" Yeah....! There is a young chick behind the
counter, dressed in costume, but I ignore her in favor of the stock.
Gotta hand it to the Disney Empire, they don't spare no expense. It
is all the Pure Quill here, rare original pressings from the 'Fifties 'n'
'Sixties 'n' 'Seventies, snug in their Mylar envelopes. The price tags are
what you'd expect, most items under a thousand.
Behind the black divider printed with the psychedelic L , I find it.
Do You Believe in Magic?, by the Lovin' Sponful, for only eight
I clutch the Sacred Disc to my breast and approach the counter. The
"Checking out the old stuff on your break?" she asks. "I don't
blame you; it's so much better than what passes for music nowadays."
I figure she is just laying the Standard Patter on me, so I merely
nod and begin fumbling bills out of my pocket. However, all the cash I have
amounts only to half a grand. Bummer! I dig out a royalty check from my
last book, Dylan: The Final Years. It is for three thousand bucks.
"Listen, I need this record badly, babe, and I don't wanna wait any
longer to get home. Can I just make out this check to you? You can cash it,
and pocket the difference."
The girl examines the check. Her eyes get wide.
"Beaner Wilkins? The Beaner Wilkins? Are you really him?"
I straighten my spine. "Yeah, I'm me. Look." I produce my
long-expired driver's license and pass it over.
"Oh my God. I can't believe this. I never thought when I took this
job-- I mean, to actually have you come into the store! Why, I read your
column every month! And all your books-- I've read every one at least
twice! The things you've seen and done, the era you grew up in-- It's so
wonderful, so--so magic! Not like these times--"
"Yeah, yeah," I say, anxious to make tracks away from this farce,
this parody of the glorious long ago. "Now, will you take the check or not?"
"Oh, sure, Mr. Wilkins. For you."
I prepare to endorse the check over to her. "Name?"
"Janis Smialowski. That's J-A-N-I-S, not I-C-E."
I am momentarily interested. "Not after--?"
She beams. "Yes. My folks loved her. My grandparents turned them
onto Joplin as kids."
Completing the endorsement, I hand the check over to her. She
studies it raptly, then says, "I might not cash this. I mean, I could keep
it for your autograph. I'll pay the store out of my own pocket."
Is this dollybird pulling my leg? I can't figure her out. She is
the nicest person I've met out here, but she makes me uneasy. All confused,
I try to settle my thoughts by imagining my apartment full of music and
memories, its warmth, the security, the peace, the lack of challenges--
A tune I barely acknowledge as within my era--Steely Dan's "Hey
Nineteen"-- starts up, and I realize I am listening to a premixed tape. No
playing of whole sides allowed, too much chance for individual taste to
Disgusted, bewildered, I make my exit, gripping my precious album
The chick calls out to my back. "Please stop by again sometime, Mr.
Wilkins. I enjoyed our talk!"
I am out on the streets, halfway to the ghetto gate, heading home.
I return to the store.
When Janis sees me, she smiles like sunshine.
"Janis, would you like to drop by tonight and groove to some old
"Oh, Mr. Wilkins--I'd love to!"
This is, like, the best day of my life, man.