You Can’t Put Your Arms Around a Memory

I left my entire drowned former life exactly as it was the day I found it submerged. I moved. I’m still unsure if I actually “moved on.”


This holiday season, I found myself digging for vinyl at The Electric Fetus for potential gifts.

I’ve always loved record-store culture. Some of my favorite humans work at record stores.

But this was a MAJOR step for me.

I can count on one finger how many times I’ve been record store shopping in the last decade, as my tragic relationship with vinyl haunts me to this day. Years ago, an unthinkable event occurred—a situation I was in no way prepared to handle.

You live in an apartment building, and you go downstairs to use the laundry room. Normal day, maybe even a good day. Trust and believe the last thing on Earth you want to see is THIS handwritten note on the bulletin board: “Whoever has storage space #11, the water pipe overhead burst, possibly over a week ago. Check for damage.”

With that one message, I knew my life had changed.

My lifetime collection of vinyl was floating in sewage. I felt like I had taken a tire iron to the side of my head. I couldn’t even bring myself to unlock the padlock and inspect the carnage right away.

I’m not Gandhi. I like my material things. I shed tears over a 1930s velvet fainting couch that my cat used as a toilet. In perhaps a very telling detail about myself, I have to get rid of whatever it is in my life that is ruined. There will be no trying to fix the problem, even if it means I will drag a 100-pound sofa down three flights of stairs by myself to get the object out of my sight. Rigor mortis has set in, the body is starting to stink, it must be buried.

Standing in a pool of dirty water looking at my mildewed record collection was more painful than viewing an open casket. Reality came sharply into focus: I had lost a huge part of my identity, plain and simple.

The first records I bought with my own money as a kid, the inherited collection from older siblings and parents, gifts from friends, amazing thrift-store finds, expensive picture discs, imports, rare 12-inches, crappy music purchased solely for album artwork … I was no longer the person who owned them and had moved them from apartment to apartment, city to city, for so many years. They were the butt of a joke among friends who dreaded helping me move each time. I may have moved around like a hobo, but I didn’t travel light.

Like anyone who has lived through a fire, the thought of What do I do now? pounded in my brain. Starting over seemed out of the question—and far too depressing. I did not have the will to recreate my youth.

That’s exactly what it felt like to me.

So many well-meaning friends have offered to help me acquire a “new” collection. That would never be the same. Should I also recreate my baptism, repeat high school, and revirginate?

I remember where I got my records, the experiences of garage sales, walking with the brown paper bag under my arm.

It was all defining who I would become. The excitement of dropping the needle, the crackle, the burst of scratchy guitars.

Though this happened many years ago, I was still a grownup and had to make some impossible decisions. I called several record-store clerks in town with my sad list of inventories, choking back tears to hear their assessment of the monetary worth. To their credit, they were all very gentle with me and very understanding, even going out of their way to not make a big deal out of some of the particularly devastating losses. They were my grief counselors.

Next, I had to call the undertaker (my insurance company), realizing it a pointless endeavor to plead my case about the importance of owning a copy of Cocksucker Blues. I listened to this square from the insurance company detachedly doing his job, and I accepted his woefully modest offer of compensation.

On a bright note, I consoled myself with the fact that one amazing collector’s item I proudly owned wasn’t floating in my underwater renters’ dungeon: I had loaned my copy of Prince’s The Black Album (bought under the counter) to a friend one summer back in the day when a friend would borrow a record to tape it for themselves.

After a few weeks, I inquired about it, and my stoner pal sheepishly admitted he left it in his car, which had been sitting in the impound lot for 14 days in July.

The feeling of having to identify a decaying body at the morgue came over me. Did I want to visit the lot and have a sheet lifted from his rusted Honda Accord, just to see this melted masterpiece now in the shape of a gravy boat? The answer was NO.

The double blow was that I was set to move once again and had just hauled my entire collection to the storage locker only a month before the tragedy. Akin to having been thrown from a horse, or having your heart broken, or maybe having your heart broken by a horse and then set on fire: The spook was in full force.

I gave my stereo to a friend. I locked the padlock to the vinyl crypt and never opened it again. I left my entire drowned former life exactly as it was the day I found it submerged. I moved.

I’m still unsure if I actually “moved on,” as it still pains me to walk into record stores and see people flipping through crates, eagerly adding to their own identity as I did for so many years.

Not long after I started at The Current, I got an email from someone who had moved into my old apartment and had inherited my storage locker. The person was kindly—and, I’m sure, confused as hell—asking me if I wanted to retrieve the contents. I couldn’t even respond. I deleted the message, and with that, finally deleted a part of my history.

You can’t put your arms around a memory.


Every Time I Think of You, The Babys 

Hot Child in the City—Extended Remix, Nick Gilder 

Kiss You All Over, Exile 

Neat Neat Neat, The Damned

Car Trouble—Single Version, Adam and the Ants 

The Telephone Always Rings, Fun Boy Three 

Pepper, Butthole Surfers 

World Clique, Deee-Lite

Broken English, Marianne Faithfull 

Falling in Love Again, Marlene Dietrich 

Outstanding, The Gap Band 

Be My Light, Be My Guide, Gene