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True Stories: Musings on an Abandoned CD Case
There it was, splayed out on the corner of 11th and A...
by Adam Bloom
Have you ever seen a 1000-CD case lying on the sidewalk? It's upsetting. It's like finding a corpse: someone made this, someone raised it, loved it, fed it, enriched it, and, in return, was enriched by it. And now it's lying here, unzipped, its contents spread over the sidewalk. When it happened to me over the weekend, I felt like the shmuck who finds the body at the beginning of Law and Order.
I did find an actual body on the sidewalk once, I think. I was walking home from work and saw a guy lying on his face. Nothing remarkable about that, except that I was at 11th and A, and you don't see that kind of thing much around there these days. Plus he seemed young — mid-twenties, maybe — and his clothes looked clean and relatively new. Also his neck and arms were bent at strange angles, like he was frozen in the middle of a bad Michael Jackson impression. As I passed I turned and saw that his eyes were open: pale green, and clouded over. I kept walking. In a few steps it hit me: was he dead? Did I just pass a corpse? Should I keep walking? Or, more to the point, should I stop walking? I heard sirens and looked up as a fire engine rounded the corner heading towards me. Someone was coming to deal with this guy, dead or not. I didn't even break stride — just walked home. But later I felt strange. Should I have felt or done something differently than what I had felt and done, which was nothing?
A year later, here was this CD collection, and for the CD collection, I stopped. It was a poetic corpse of a CD collection, lying open at about the middle page with a stream of unorganized CDs — the ones you don't bother to put in pockets and just cram inside the zipper — vomitted out of it.
I'm a child of the '90s. I remember what it meant to build a CD collection: spending hours at Sam Goody or FYE or Tower or some other vaguely intimidating mall record store buying albums one at a time for sixteen dollars a pop, reading the back of the jewel case for ten minutes, trying to decide if the band's other nine songs were as good as the one you heard on the radio, knowing they probably weren't, and buying it anyway. Building a collection took years and cost hundreds if not thousands of dollars.
And if you lost a whole case, you never recovered. Even if you could remember all the CDs you had lost, and even if you were willing to pay for new ones, it was back to Sam Goody, pawing through the supposedly alphabetized racks until you discovered that a new copy of a five-year-old album was still fourteen dollars. Plus, even if you replaced your CDs, the new ones weren't your CDs. You could get a new copy of Parliament's Tear the Roof Off: 1974 - 1980, but it wouldn't be the one with the scratch on the label of Disc Two that you listened to on the bus to all of your sophomore year away games after buying it over the summer from a used record store in Utah because a camp friend clued you in that all of Dre and Snoop's music was ripped from one legendary funk band. If you lost that, there was no getting it back.
So what could explain this collection of at least 500 CDs lying abandoned in the middle of the sidewalk? There were a few VHS tapes next to the CDs. I didn't even read the titles — VHS tapes suck — but seeing the tapes made me think that the CDs were part of a larger stuff-moving operation. I thought of two possibilities: either someone had been packing the car for Christmas and the CD collection had been mistakenly left behind, or the CDs had been collateral damage of a bad breakup, thrown out by an angry partner. I glanced at the CDs on the open page: two Pixies albums and two Portishead albums. Not bad.
I looked around. No one was on the block. Two girls were sitting on the stoop across the street, chatting. I kneeled over the CD case and began flipping pages until I came to the Forrest Gump soundtrack, a mid-'90s give-away — but right below it was a Feist CD. How did those two end up in the same case on the same page? And there were other surprises: four Jeff Buckley albums, Howlin' Wolf, Slim Harpo, Ibrahim Ferrer. Whose CD collection was this?
I stood up and decided to leave it. Someone might come back for it. I took a few steps and turned around. Someone might come back for it, but it was far likelier that a homeless person would either use the CDs to decorate a shopping cart or sell the whole collection for ten bucks. I turned back and stood over the CDs, vaguely aware that the girls across the street were noticing that I was being weird.
My pocket buzzed — a text from my fiancee: "Headache. My head feels poopy. I have a poop head :( ." New York wears her out. She works too hard, she's sick of her job, and she wants us to move back to L.A., like I promised. We're moving next year. It's not that I don't see the upside — beaches, nicer home, a bunch of our friends already there — it's just that in L.A., you'd never find someone's entire CD collection on your walk home.
I leaned down and tried to zip the case, but the zipper stuck. I picked it up. If the girls across the street noticed, they didn't react. I walked home with the closed, unzipped case cradled across my arms like a wounded animal.