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July 2024
Vol. 23, No. 10

Out of My Head


by Al HowardJanuary 2020

All of my high school writing instincts are shouting at me to begin this journey with “Webster’s defines altruism as …”, but I’m 41 now and that means I’m old enough to know that all my instincts are wrong. I’ve always considered myself an altruistic person. For instance, the other day at the grocery store, as the elderly woman in front of me struggled to find her wallet, I didn’t hesitate to pay for her meal. Perhaps because I wanted to speed the line along and I was afraid she’d pay with an out of state post-dated check. Perhaps because she had a small soup and not the macadamia encrusted sea bass. Perhaps my altruism has limits. A few weeks ago, I got a call about some records. A friend of mine hunts for vintage clothes, so in the course of his digging, he’ll hit me with an occasional lead and vice versa. I stay in my lane and have no room in my garage to start a new habit. He told me about some records at a thrift store in America somewhere. Gone are the days where thrift stores were bountiful with treasures; those late ’90s come-ups are beyond the reach of my rearview. I hopped in my car and drove an undisclosable distance to a thrift store somewhere in the American west. And did they have records. There were so many records that when I ran out of records on the floor to thumb through, I asked if they had more in the back and a man wheeled out a bin taller than Bol Bol filled from toe to crown with records.

And it was just me. Alone. For hours. Combing through stacks and stacks of lps. See? This is unusual and as I type this I remember that this isn’t how everyone lives their lives. At the swap meets of Southern California when someone puts out a box of records, eight piranhas swarm and claw at them, pulling the flesh of the psychedelic gems and leaving the Barry Manilow like cleaned bones to gather dust for eternity. Having the luxury of time is so unfamiliar. I’d see phantom collectors approaching from my right, causing me to flip through in a frenzied rush, only to realize that I was alone in a thrift store somewhere in America. I began to wonder about bears. I’m not exactly sure of the etymology behind the term honey-hole, but when I think of it, I think of a lone and morbidly obese bear being stung in the face thousands of times as it crammed as much honey into his system as humanly possible. I started to contemplate the bear’s thoughts. Did the bear want to share the location of all this honey with one of his bear friends? Or did that never enter the equation? Was there a price of greed and secrets? As I thought this last thought, I tossed a stack of rejects back into the bin. When the records hit the bin, I noticed a cloud of red and green smoke emanate from where contact was made. For a moment, the colors swirled like a tinsel cloud and gave me warm tender memories of Christmas and then I accidentally breathed it in. I began to cough like a first-time smoker, or for that matter a last time smoker. I looked around and noticed most of the employees were wearing medical masks; I looked at my hands and they were black. Not black in the way that I’m black, but in the soot black mold and dust of two straight hours of digging through antique bins. My questions were answered with a respiratory infection that would sideline me for two weeks. The price of greed is exactly two weeks. But it was totally worth it to get an original Velvet Underground Andy Warhol with the banana sticker intact for 10 cents.

And now, when asked to describe myself I’ll say “I’m selectively altruistic.”

What’s the cost of greed and secrets
Sometimes silence is my weakness
Sometimes there’s a virtue hidden
In the dust and ash
Somewhere in the great southwest
I’ll be tryin’ to hold my breath
Digging through what memory’s left
From our distant past

Looking through the antique ruins
Try to travel without movin’
Try to gamble without losing
Everything at once
So I’ll stay within my lane
Thrift stores and an autumn rain
Winter’s on the line again

And I know what it wants
And I am gonna hold on to my secret
I’ll share everything but this I’m keeping
I’ll try to be my best, but within reason
I found my reason
And it is you

There’s a time for keeping quiet
I’ve heard as much and now I’ll try it
If you break it then you buy it
Nothing’s ever free
It’s a lonesome desert drive
Somewhere off the 805
Maybe left and maybe right
But you won’t hear it from me

And I am gonna hold on to my secret
I’ll share everything but this I’m keeping
I’ll try to be my best, but within reason
I found my reason
And it is you

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