Ennui Is A Funny Thing

Posted: April 17, 2010 in The Roper Files
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Maybe I am just not as perceptive as I thought I was. Something was happening to me; not really sure what it was but this feeling has been creeping over me for a long time. Subtle as a fog and uneventful as a morning dew, I felt its presence but wasn’t quite sure what to make of it.

Long story short; the list of things I care about is getting shorter. I could spend all day listing things that I don’t care about anymore. Here is a partial list: 

When I was a teenager I lived for rock and roll. Mowed yards, cleaned houses and even baby-sat for money so I could buy records ($5 each back then) or better yet go to concerts ($9 to see Pink Floyd in 1977!) at the huge new 14,000 – seat Tarrant County Convention Center downtown. Now I go to an average of about one-count ’em– one show a year on average. Went to go see the Butthole Surfers last October; went to go see Davie Allan in February of 2008. Who will I bother to go see this year?

In the last ten years we’ve lost three-fourths of The Ramones, Lux Interior and Link Wray, and I don’t think it’s going out on a limb to say rock and roll is still suffering.

When I was younger I would spend my paycheck on records; now I walk out of the stores empty-handed. There is only one local record store left (Docs) that bears any resemblance to the music stores of my youth; the major retailers have shut down everyone else.

And when I walk down the music aisle at the local Borders, Best Buy or Barnes and Noble it’s all I can do to stifle a yawn. The shelves are bare of anything I would spend money on; it’s all re-issues of things I already own or CDs by acts I’ve never heard of and for the most part have no interest in.

 And since they are still charging almost the same retail price for compact discs as they were way back in 1984 when the format was introduced, I’ll be damned if I’m taking chances on buying something that sucks which I think sums up most modern acts anyway. When Columbia re-issues the entire Miles Davis catalog on CD I feel the collector fever smoldering inside me, I KNOW when I buy those dollar for dollar I am getting some good music.

 And if it wasn’t for the used book stores I’d go nuts looking for decent reading material. The new bookstores have such a Top 40 attitude about stocking their merchandise. Even if I’m willing and able to pay retail for something that was written before last year, they simply don’t have it in stock. Sorry. It seems once an author drops off the best-sellers list, they’re history to retailers.

 When I was a teenager Fort Worth had several used bookstores; one of my favorites was called Half Price Books. It was a one-room shop in a strip center squeezed in between an Italian restaurant and a Lebanese restaurant. They originated in Dallas and apparently were successful enough to attempt a second store in Fort Worth.

There was usually a bored-looking hippie nodding off behind the register and the radio would be tuned to 101 FM, the Dallas all-classical station. They had one partitioned-off section of the room with an “adults only” sign I would scamper past with teenaged abandon and examine their excellent selection of Playboys and Penthouse magazines.

They also had a great selection of regular books, and if you didn’t mind them being a month or more out of date magazines too. I’m talking about National Lampoons for fifty cents each my dear readers; just try to imagine that. My parents and grandparents were big Readers Digest readers; I would read their heavily censored “condensed” versions of various titles and go to Half Price Books to find the unadulterated versions.

 Well as the years rolled by Half Price Books opened a second location here and more or less shut down most of the competing local used book sellers. The one between those two restaurants changed location three more times until they moved into their current address. Half Price became successful enough to the point that they have stores in sixteen states now. But shopping there isn’t even as much fun as it was when I was a teenager. The stores are carpeted and brightly-lit. The adult magazines are gone, and the staff has gotten much hipper to the collectable factor attached to some of the merchandise, which they still pay almost nothing for. National Lampoons are in a glass case with $6-to-$10 price tags on them. It’s still better than having just Borders or Barnes & Noble to shop at, but when I have to get an employee to unlock a glass case just to look at something I feel as if I am shopping at Tiffanys instead of Half Price.

I used to collect comic books in years past. EC comics, undergrounds, any Superman with a good Bizarro story; that sort of thing. The first 23 issues of MAD cost 10 cents and were printed in color; I have 19 of them. But I haven’t bought a comic book in quite a while; all of the comic stores here have closed.

Fort Worth used to have a excellent store called Fantastic Worlds; the guy who ran it had a near-psychic ability to always have something in stock he just KNEW I would have to have. He also did in-store appearances with the likes of Church of the Subgenius founder Doug Smith aka Rev. Ivan Stang and comic artists like Howard Chaykin and Sergio Aragones.

The store closed very suddenly; I’ve heard different stories about what happened to the owner. One version was Marvel Comics made him a job offer in their marketing department he couldn’t refuse. Another version was he got in trouble with the IRS; I’d like to believe the first version was correct personally.

 There was also a large locally-owned chain called Lone Star Comics back about the same time and I used to enjoy shopping there. But shopping there now is just painful; if they have anything I want they’ve got some guy in the back posting it on Ebay. Now its just board games, science fiction paperbacks and mainstream comics. They have no independent/underground comics; don’t even ask.

Made the mistake a few years ago of taking a stack of underground comics in there in an attempt to purchase mylar bags and cardboard backing boards for them. The comics were printed in a garden variety of sizes and I still don’t know the difference between Gold and Silver Age as far as sizes go, so I brought them with me to make sure what I brought fit.

 Don’t remember what was on the top of the stack, but the guy behind the counter acted as if I had plopped some road-kill down on his sterile glass counter ( “Hey mister; someone done run over mah pet skunk!”) He shovels my comics into an opaque shopping bag and hands them back to me: “Please! This is a family store!” He didn’t tell me to leave, but I quickly found the door on my own and never went there again. Okay so it was only a hand-full of bags and boards; I was still there to spend money. As a businessman he should have at least attempted to meet my demand with supply, especially one he was sitting on anyway. Yeah it’s petty to hold a grudge but I hate being confronted with attitude of any kind.

 The Internet has made shopping online easier and more convenient for a world of people working overtime or in a growing number of instances two jobs. Few people have the spare time to drive across town and dig through some grubby store for something that may or may not be there. Who has time for that anyway? For collectors like myself though I have to avoid Amazon or Ebay like an alcoholic has to stay out of bars and liquor stores. It’s too much of a monetary shake-down (“Awright kid; cough it up. How much ya got?”) when everything’s always in stock plus shipping. I’ve only got “X” number of coins to toss in that fountain.

 And this brings me full circle back to my current ennui; I don’t get excited about past hobbies anymore. Just the grind of making a living wears me down now to where I don’t care about anything except my next vacation. I just spent a few hundred dollars on airfare. Maybe I’m just replacing one addiction with another, in this case instead of trying to make my house look like a museum, I’ve become infatuated with leaving town.

 Instead of finding that 45 or that LP or that out-of-print CD I’ve been looking for since I was 30, I’ve become obsessed with once again looking out of a jet window and watching Texas descend beneath me. Instead of finding MAD #5 in VG condition, I want the rush of standing on a ferry and feeling the ocean spray misting on my face.

Instead of coffee and a bowl of cereal by myself in the morning before racing to work, cruising through Tim Hortons and sitting on a beach watching the sunrise with a very special someone.

Compulsion, addiction, obsession. Devotee, fan enthusiast…all of these terms apply to me in various degrees. But as far as my latest one goes; if you haven’t been there then you just don’t know…

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