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May 2024
Vol. 23, No. 8

Out of My Head

Full Circle

by Al HowardMarch 2020

I know as much about classical records as I do about NASCAR. And if you’re so much of an open-minded reader that you’ve assumed this African-American man, who came of age in Boston is well-versed in the race car tradition of the rural South, I am not (but thanks for believing that I could be). As far as classical records go, I know enough to know that there’s value in some, sonic value in most, financial value in less. And though there are some extremely rare classical records that could buy you a nice second-hand vehicle, I’ve chosen my lane and I leave the classical stacks to the experts at the various swap meets, estate sales, and thrift stores (the holy trinity of digging). So when I got a call about a classical music collection that included 2,000 records and 10,000 CDs, I hesitated to call back. It would be like winning 10,000 books written in Mandarin (same goes if you assume I’m fluent in Mandarin. I’m not, but thanks for having more faith in my potential as a human than I do). Sure, having 10,000 books is great, but I couldn’t read them. But what is life without growth? So I called up a friend of mine who’s better versed in the genre and we went to an apartment in Pacific Beach to take a look and see about buying the collection.

So, the seller of the collection, Bob, wasn’t the owner of the collection. They were accumulated by the Bob’s older brother Walter who had passed away in December. So Bob knew even less about classical music than I did, though he recognized the mass and likely worth of the collection. Entering the apartment was like walking into a museum. There was art on every inch of the wall. Walter, the former owner, had started collecting original artwork in the 1950s. If an artist was starting out or struggling, Walter would buy a piece to support them. He’d put young artists up when they needed a place to stay. He’d offer any kindness he was able to extend. He had gone on to donate pieces to the Oceanside museum and there were pieces of great value in the apartment. In fact, there was even an original Picasso in there at some point. My eyes swelled at all the interesting visual elements of a lifetime dedicated to collecting. But my focus on that day was the music. Negotiating a price for 10,000 classical CDs and 2,000 classical records is a difficult one. Coming up with a number that feels fair on something so vast is challenging. I feel like the ideal negotiation ends with neither party being exactly happy and both people feeling somewhat equally screwed. I had to put in a low offer on this collection based mostly on the fact that I’d have to rent a storage unit for a year as I decided what do do with 12,000 pieces of classical music, possibly ending with me selling it for less than I paid for it and regretting the back breaking work it took to transport it all out of the apartment. I explained to Bob that there was lots of rare stuff and it was worth quite a bit more than I could offer, but due to the slow moving nature of classical, I could only offer so much. I was really actually hoping he didn’t accept it so I could go about my day and feel unburdened by a baroque ton that “baroque” my back after moving it all down a flight of stairs, into my car for several trips and to an eventual storage facility.

The seller was hoping for a number closer to $____, which was considerably north of my price range—the way the Aleutian Islands are considerably north of Antarctica. At this moment of scanning the room full of rare items, the lightbulb went on. If I could use the apartment as businesses enter, I could help the family sell the items at a pace that wouldn’t require that I move everything in one day. And that was the only way he’d get close to the $$$ he was hoping for. I put this out there to Bob and his wife, and they said they’d consider it.

I tossed and turned that night. I was thinking of the apartment and the picker’s dream that it was. If it was an estate sale, everyone involved would have died in the panicked piranha trampling that took place as the dark recesses of human nature and greed surfaced to a thrifty frenzy. I was hoping they’d take my offer, but they had no real reason to trust me. Three long days passed. I filled the void of their silence with sad thrift stores lacking in the mid-century modern art and surrealist landscapes of Walter’s apartment. Finally the phone ring and I got my update. The day after I had taken my initial look at the house, they brought in an estate sale company for an estimate. The estate sale company walked the couple through the house and explained how everything was junk, the records were junk, the CDs, the art. They explained how the corridors were too thin for an estate sale. There wasn’t enough yard space. The best they could offer was to clear the entire house and take it all to the dump. And they’d only charge Bob $200. I’ve been trying to find the name of the estate sale company so I could expose their criminality. They saw a grieving older couple and a goldmine. And they made an attempt so brazen to steal it all that they were bold enough to try to charge the couple $200 to do so. I imagine this is probably a business model for some estate sale companies: to find a family after a loss that just wants to wash the hands of the burden of possessions. How many say “yes” in a moment of weakness and fatigue and give away a small fortune for nothing (or even less). Bob decided to enlist my help and I hit the ground running, moving the music and gradually learning about genres of collectibles outside of my rail-thin expertise. I’m currently researching 1,000 perfume bottles as we speak. As I started to comb through the music in Walter’s former bedroom I saw a picture of a man on the wall. I recognized him immediately. When I left Boston college in 1999, my mom asked what I was going to do with my degree in psychology. I told her I was going to move to San Diego and get a job at a record store. I saw my mom die a little in that moment, poor gal. But as a man of my word, that’s what I did. I got a gig at Music Trader in Pacific Beach and there was a guy named Walter who came in almost daily. He’d buy classical music and we’d talk about art and poetry. He was a kind soul. He even picked up some of my early CDs to support me in my struggling artist days. I knew Walter for some years, sold him a ton of CDs, but lost contact as time marched on. And there he was. On the wall of his apartment. I was sorting through CDs that I had sold him. It had come full circle.

What will my legacy be
When the world has moved on from me
The art on the walls
My heart in the halls
The secrets I tried to keep

What is the worth of a dream
In what measure of currency
Can you count the amount
In dollars or pounds
Is it a number that’s too high to reach

If you lived a life full enough
Your legacy outlasts the flood
The people you touched
When their lives were tough
Indelible etchings of love

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