Finding myself in the rare circumstance of having no one waiting for me and no particular place I needed to be, I was humming down I-64 with the window's open and the music loud when the next exit sign came into view, "Simpsonville".
Ah, Simpsonville. I do not know you well, but I do know that directly after the off ramp is the most funky and downtrodden of dark, dank, smelly, cornucopia of surprises, lies the most magnificent Flea Market in the area! So full of people that it reaches the point of busting which necessitates a spilling of the overflow into the bright sunny outdoors.
So, I exited and entered.
I went directly to his booth, as I always do when I arrive.
I use to head to the bread maker who had the most heavenly smelling cranberry bread in a mound....no longer, no longer there. A great loss.
So now I head right to back of the building, noting as I walk with purpose past the enticing booths of cowboy hats and boots, past Mexican rugs, (a young girl, not more than 14 or 15 on the cusp of developing into a woman, lounging against the mountain of carefully folded Mexican blankets, dressed in purple, one plump leg crossed carelessly and effortlessly over the other, feet clad in black well worn flats....how I wished for my camera....as her father shouted at her, "MARIA!!" she jumped to attention), discounted and most possibly out of date food and health products, past the pictures of velvet framed, the candles, the tapes and cd's, the knives and cigarette lighters, jewelry and shoes. I worked my way through the aisles thick with the Mexican emigrants, arrived in Kentucky to find a better life cutting the tobacco and working in the hundreds of Mexican kitchens that seem to be everywhere anymore, on the horse farms, cleaning the hotel rooms, and working all the hot and sweaty construction jobs they can find and snap up, doing all the labor intensive farm jobs that no one else wants to do because it is too hard, they mill about the Flea Market speaking to each other in their romantic language and eying you out of the corner of their eyes, seen below the lowered brims of their large cowboy hats.
The air thick with the aroma of grease. It smells like the vast amounts of fried chicken which is being gobbled up as quickly as the it can be drained from the hot oil baskets.
I round the corner of Building D and there it is. As always and I dread the day it is not there and waiting for me. The Record Booth. The last of the great record collectors who sets up every week-end with his weekly catch of magic.
He stand over the crates that house his immense collection with a cigarette bobbing out of the corner of his mouth. His sandy dirty blonde hair looking as if the gray does not have the heart of take possession, laying in an untidy flop of bangs brushing across the top of his thick black horn rim glasses. His face is thin and lined. The beginnings of a melt down into that place that separates middle age from old age.
He looks up as I enter the "restricted" area behind the initial tables honoring the beloved albums. I am heading towards the "good" stuff on a special rack in the back. The $10 stuff. I pick up "Layla" and smile. I put it back. I pick up "Exile on Main Street" and open the album and slip out the record to check for damage.
"Their best ever album" I murmur, maybe to him.
"I have a better copy at the store."
"The store?" I thought this was his store.
"In Louisville. On Bardstown and Bonnycastle".
I struggle to see it. I see Leatherhead, I see the old Rexall Drug store, which I know is long gone now. My mind walks up to the Doo-Wop Shop. I blurt out, like a fool, "Ear-X-Tasy"
"That's on the next block, mines called "Better Days." He flicked the ashes from the cigarette. "Been in the business for 30 years."
I ask him, knowing 30 years is legend, "Remember the shop on the corner, they would paint different artists on the building wall. One year it was Hendrix."
"Phoenix Records." He answers.
"Yes" I could close my eyes and go straight back as if on a magic carpet to that time, that era of the 12 inch disc.
"My collection was stolen years ago in the late 70's. I sold what little I had left at a yard sale. Now I am determined to collect them all back."
In my hand I held Cat Stevens and Crosby, Stills and Nash.
He smiled knowingly as he took my $10.