Saturday, May 22, 2010

An Addiction

Swap meets (aka flea-markets) are in my blood. Some of my earliest childhood memories are of tramping along with the mom & dad through mazes of asphalt aisles of assorted old tools, traumatized toys and extraneous misguided household notions in the soft sunshine of summer mornings too many years ago, and thinking my parents were always saying, "swat meat", looking for a flyswatter hitting a steak on the signs outside the place. And for those who don't know what one is or have never been, they usually take place on the grounds of what used to be drive-in theatres, large parking-areas of fairgrounds, or in huge rented-out warehouse buildings. People gather up all the junk they'd reserve for a garage-sale & bring it in, pay a small fee for the space, and haggle with people for several hours.
All the strange faces & ethnicities in the mix-up of people selling off clutter from their attics & basements. Old people, young people, multi-cultures, sub-cultures - my little suburban eyes were poppin'. The smell of french fries carried in the breeze from the snack bar off in the unseen distance, the gentle cacophany of bartering from old men locked in precise battles of wordplay to get the price knocked down two bits or so (with the wife sometimes close behind with irate switchblade remarks of either "You don't need that..." or "He can go lower, it's not worth that much. He just doesn't want to sell, that's all..."), and the sheer volume & variety of jettisoned once-essential household flotsam a little kid could never see in a boring department store or mall.

The atmosphere's the thing. Like an old-time marketplace. In your average mall you have roving ganglets of sold-out youth trying to out-hip each other in the latest trademarked apparel, the strange-feeling recirculated air, and that surreal echo-chamber soundtrack of a large enclosed area filled with the relentless murmur of hundreds of simultaneous conversations - not to mention the lack of variety in clothes as well as the same in books & general useless ephemera. It's all copy-righted & cloned, carefully market-researched for the lowest common denominator - stale, boring, predictable, claustrophobic. 
Now, you just try and look good at a flea-market. These are grounds for the terminally un-hip; a place to silently mock the trendy as one non-uniform group, a place where you can walk about in a bathrobe & slippers and feel like you're at home (might be just me - my apartment looks like a used Volvo carrying a garage sale slammed into a thrift store 18-wheeler at 70 clicks). And the only reason you're there, basically, is to root through someone else's garbage. You're one of a thousand or so complete strangers of all ages & races mingling together - with no mental competition except in how to get that set of jumper-cables for fifty cents cheaper. 
 
Places: underneath The Brussels Chocolates factory on Terminal Ave., across & down from the Red Barn (another weekly swap). There's a driveway outside that sloped down dramatically to loading-area glass doors that served as the entrance. Go inside, and you entered a pinwheel labyrinth, wandering smooth-cement floors in a constant circular-motion in towards the center. All the while you're thinking, "Aw, now I gotta go past all the same junk on the way out.". But you unknowingly went through a small kink in the center, and head out past all-different people & things as you unwind the pinwheel. Very trippy. Unfortunately, that was the last year they held meets there, and it's now a car wash/public storage facility/dog-daycare 3-way split.
My favourite place, though, was the Loughheed Drive-In in Coquitlam. My dad would park the Pontiac in the lot across the street and if I was lucky I might've gotten a small chocolate milk at the lunch-wagon parked at the entrance, and then it was off through the tree-lined chain-link gate and into this whole other world.
A world fulla crap. The monstrous movie-screen, five stories of sheer flat white with equally-tall, maybe taller, trees dwarfing everyone; the grey speaker-posts lined up in orchard-rows, half of which slightly bent and some flattened to the ground from inexpert drivers and others with their speakers - looking like robot-earmuffs - torn right off. If my older brother was with us, he'd split on his own right off the bat after initializing and closing negotiations on his regular allowance (he was on a different level than most when it came to swap-meets; leaving our home in Port Coquitlam at one A.M. to take the last bus out, he'd walk from the highway down the side-street to the drive-in, and sleep on the neighbor’s roof across the way until the meet opened up around six, just to get loads of old comics that he’d turn around and sell for 20 - 200X what he paid - and this when he was only like 13 or so. One weekend there, by himself, my brother found an old lady selling ten or so paper shopping bags of old comics which he bought up, cheap. He sold them a few years later for a bundle. Knowing now what they were, if he'd only kept them all until today, he could've easily retired on the profits). 
 
After the initial perusal, we'd start at the bottom underneath the screen and work way up to the back dark green wooden fence separating the theatre from the freeway, with its perpetual giant painting exposition of nature scenes and maybe some ugly abstracts hanging all over it. Usually with an artist there leisurely going at some pine-trees 'n mountains thing. But back at the bottom, it was all grass for the first 20-30 feet from the screen til you hit the asphalt parking lot for the cars, the walk-paths between the tables unlucky enough to fill this area being made up of wood planks covering the ground all turned to mud from the cars tearing it up getting parked in the pre-morning dew. This part was especially cool when it was raining: tight, crooked paths through old junk-strewn cars & pick-ups presided over by mac-wearing, fedora-topped grumpy old guys while mud squished up through the boards as you walked by old tin coffee cans filled with nuts and bolts, dad fishing maniacally through decades-old crates brimming with metal whatsits looking for who the hell knows what; it was like walking through a shanty-town scene in IRONWEED or something. ...passing an old maroon VW van with colorful tapestries & mobiles all over it, the radio blasting "It's my party & I'll cry if I want to" while the 30-ish cross-legged hippy-lady sang along with it, seemingly oblivious of everyone around her... ...finding an unopened Revell "Lunar Landing" model kit right from 1969 a few years later in my early teens. I still find the occasional piece from the quickly-assembled/quickly-smashed thing in storage boxes.

The place was huge to my little feet, and, I suppose, always will be, as it closed down when I was around fourteen or so; while a regular-sized drive-in theatre area, it'll always be tremendous in my memory, never having seen it as an adult.

Large outdoor events like this have pretty much passed into dust - most were held in the asphalt field during the day when no flicks were shown, or after the place went out of business and the owners were just killing time waiting for an offer to turn it into a strip-mall, insurance office block or parking lot. Yeah - all you stay-at-home-watchin'-rentals, let's-save-$-on-gas fools had to stop going to drive-in movies for some horrible selfish reason and look what happened. Another step towards a living hell, that's what happened. One less piece of unique variety to enliven your pathetic existence, snuffed. I - quite simply - despise all those to blame. Bitter? Why yes, yes I am. 

 
And now for An Aside: I'm guessing most people reading this will most likely never have seen a movie at a drive-in. Personally, I've seen two. Maybe three. The first was when I was maybe around four, probably at the Lougheed. All I remember is being in my pyjamas & sitting in the back seat looking between mom & dad, and the Woody Woodpecker cartoon shown first (um, Woody on top of a wood cabin trying to get in, probably to bug some guy inside). The movie itself, I remember a scene in a hallway, a woman with blonde hair stopped in the foreground, then entering a dark door or stairway while some guy was behind her. A completely illogical scenario like that must stick out in somebody's mind, so any clues are most welcome.
The last one I saw was "E.T. THE EXTRATERRESTRIAL". I was 13 or so with my friend Chris Sabourin and his ex-babysitter Cindy (something like that), who he had a crush on and always told me about. She brought her friend. They were in the front, we were in the back. Cindy pulled a prescription pill bottle out of her purse, opened it, and told us to smell it but not look inside. I can't recall the smell, but I peeked down & saw some black shiny things, and it didn't even smell like anything, really. To this day, I don't have a bloody clue what that was about.
Halfway through the flick, Cindy asked to hold Chris's hand, holding it through the middle partition between the seats. Seeing this, her friend asked for mine a bit later on. She was maybe one of the most aesthetically and socially unpleasing people I've ever known, and had the mouth of two very unhappy, disturbed sailors. That's harsh and I'm sorry, but it's just a fact. So no - nothing sexual happened. What did happen was that my arm first went numb, then became painfully inert from being tugged at from the front seat for 45 minutes. I would've asked for my arm back, but the two of them were crying so much over that little puppet getting hassled by The Man that I just didn't have the heart to snap them out of the moment. Chris was in heaven. 
 
All this has to do with me at the Cloverdale Swap several years back when I encountered an old mid-century couple sitting quite comfortably outside their big hand-painted blue summer-camper with a few wheelbarrows full of this 'n that's hauled out of the cellar, dust and cobwebs somewhat intact. At about face-level, propped against like a few hubcaps on a warped card-table, was a single record album: The Addicts Sing (still partially in shrinkwrap), one of vinyl-geekdoms most cherished finds. Not another record in sight. Sheer willpower kept my eyeballs safely tucked in my skull and I had to haul out the reserves to keep me from screeching like a front-row Beatles fan at Shea Stadium when she replied "25¢." to my tremulous query of how much they wanted for it.
And while not necessarily a rare thing, it is definitely a beautiful thing as you may see here -

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- a startling image to anyone who's used to only seeing, say, top 40 albums which usually have naught but a preening close up of whoever is popular at the moment. Go ahead - click on the picture and see it magically appear larger for closer scrutiny.
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Musically? Well, I listened to this a second time after a few years of passing and like it a fair bit better. If they tightened up the hollow chamber sound and put in a few finger-snaps and ooh-wah's this could be some damn sweet doo-wop gospel, and occasionally a fine soloist breaks from the pack and almost has me expecting them suddenly shifting into “Silhouettes” by The Rays. As it is, in their earnestness they have nothing but a cavernous piano and the occasional jarring organ backing them up in what seems to be a recording done inside a high school gym. It's a bunch of ex-heroin addicts with no formal training, so one may find a wayward off-note in the harmonies, but if you can take eleven Christian tunes - in what I believe are their own compositions - have a go. And check out the wild back cover while you're at it -




Download here:
Addicts!

1 comments:

KL from NYC said...

I'm surprised this is still up -- Word Records usually manages to track down blog posts and gets them removed (they had a thriving CD reissue business, which has probably morphed into downloads).
Thanks (I think) for this one.
Grey Calx at http://basementcurios.blogspot.com/ has a bunch more of miscellaneous Religion LPs & Cassettes. He isn't posting anymore, but he recently restored all the links. (You can e-mail him if a link is dead.)