Junker’s Blues

In the last episode, the Junker, while digging around the outdoor tables at Smiley’s Flea Market, learns that a new shop has opened in the generally fruitless indoor booths. This shop is rumored to have large numbers of his favorite type of junk, old records. Anxious to beat the other wax-hounds to the new stash, but determined to follow his dogmatic method of always scouring the outside first, he finally arrives at this “new” shop, sure that other music lovers have scooped him on any number of fine, rare and valuable items. His instincts seem to have been right, however. The shop is empty upon his arrival.

The shop didn’t have a name, just a number above the middle of the doors: “13.” The merchandise broke down into three categories of obsolete media: videotapes, records and a kind of end-table and book-shelf décor that I can only describe as Patriotic Primitive. The Patriotic Primitive stuff had a strong Bear sub-theme — stuffed bears holding flags, ceramic bears reading happy newspaper stories of U.S. triumphs while sitting in easy chairs, a hand-carved wooden bear holding a sign that said “America is a Honey.”

A friendly man sat on a stool behind the counter. Guessing anybody’s age at Smiley’s is kind of a crapshoot, but he was mostly bald, weighed about 200 pounds, and I would estimate he stood 5’ 6”, but I never saw him when he stood, only when he stooled. I offered congratulations on the new shop and set to work on the records. They were located towards the back of the booth, in their own tight little room. You had to step up to get in, and the ceiling lowered back there, too. It was like a little cave. It would have been much better if the records were in front and the bears were in back.

I stepped back and took a look around before I started to dig. This is hard to do, but is recommended procedure if you have the time — pick the best box, not the first box. From my survey, I could tell my anxiousness over missing anything was, naturally, misplaced. I already recognized some of the records — this guy had been setting up outside off and on all summer. There was still plenty of stuff to look through, including some stuff I thought I maybe hadn’t seen, but a motherlode this wasn’t. I would be able, for instance, to skip the boxes of moldy ones entirely.     

I started into a likely looking box and was doing OK — a first print of Dischord’s Flex Your Head compilation, a record by northern soul singer Jean Wells, a weird Motown instrumental country record by Tony Bennett’s head band arranger, but something was keeping me from the soothing rhythms of my own record flipping.

Here it was, not quite eight in the morning, and the taquería across the hall was wailing tejano music at (beyond, really) top volume. The fizz of the accordion and the peppy energy of the beat were not exactly tonic to my caffeine-deprived mind.

But I probably could have gotten with it, or just let it recede into the background, had the owner of the new shop not decided to take some kind of stand. He said “See what I have to compete against here? I’ll have to listen to that garbage all day. I think I’ll have to rock them out.” And then he turned up his stereo past its capacity. I could not identify the artist he was playing, but it was something mid-tempo and melodic from the ‘80s that made Chicago sound like the Cramps. 

It was the lamest attempt at out-rocking I’ve ever witnessed. The only net effect was to fuse the electric-sounding drums and casio keyboards of the pop-radio power jam, with the bounce and guffaws of the tejano. I began to get claustrophobic in my little cave, and actually started to wonder if I could psychically stand to stay there.

My color must have changed as my head started to throb, because he said, “That’s not really working,” and switched from the tape on his stereo to the radio. It started playing the station that bills itself as North Carolina’s NASCAR connection. Driver standings were announced and their future prospects were analyzed. Loudly.

It was right about this time that someone pulled into the parking lot in the behind this little booth I was in, no doubt to unload something into another tin shack. They were playing something that sounded like mid-’90s house music. They left it on while unloading. Believe it or not, techno was not the third element needed to tie the accordion and the announcer together.

If there’s a more perfect distillation of the Smiley’s experience than a heedless, spontaneous 8 a.m. mix of distorted tejano, NASCAR radio and out-of-date dance music played while you’re trying to dig through a bunch of junk you suspect you’ve probably already seen before, I don’t know what it would be. OK, granted, the owner of the shop wasn’t wearing a T-shirt with a ridiculous pro-American slogan or sexual come-on on it. But surely one of the bears was. Bears do it in the woods, baby!

Next time at Junker’s Blues:  The rest of the Smiley’s regulars join the hunt, and we look back fondly upon some instances when blood was in the water.

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