Growing up L.A. I don’t know if one ever gets accustomed to things going away, but I think a certain immunity against loss builds up over the long term. The Herald Examiner, C.C. Brown’s, Steve Garvey, Jay’s Jayburgers, the old Chinese Theater box office are just a few on my RIP list. All of them hold some personal signifigance and all of them now share an epitaph that’s not much more than a nostalgic sigh. Let me now add Tower Records to the list, and permit me to slice-of-life eulogize it a bit, albeit in a very roundabout way.
Back when I was a teen in high school, ATM cards had only been on the scene a really short while. So new were they that the banks hadn’t yet wised up and made twenties your only withdrawal option. In fact you could get as little as a fiver and even select the denominations you wanted with larger amounts. Yeah, sweet. To further date myself this was also the time when Sony Walkman players were all the rage â€” and get this: they cost something crazy shit like $100-plus. Yeah, bogus. But what do these two things have to do with Tower Records? Come with me after the jump (which I just figured out how to do) and I’ll tell ya.
See, in my mother’s infinite trust and naivete, she decided that I should carry her spare ATM card in case of emergencies. This was all well and good until I decided that not having a Walkman was an emergency of the highest order and had to be resolved post haste.
Now, I wasn’t without guilt in looting her bank account. To my credit I shopped around to find the best price so as to ding her balance as little as possible. But like most teenagers subsisting in those vapid years loooong before the internest, I lacked the common sense and/or search engine resources that would have assisted me in realizing what I was doing was royally fucked up â€” especially to a mom who was keeping us alive and under a roof on a paycheck-to-paycheck basis.
So in my ludicrous ignorance on the fateful day when I couldn’t bear to be without one any longer, I cut school and drove to the City National Bank in Beverly Hills. Stepping in front of the machine I tried hard to maintain but I was shaking and my heart was pounding in fear that I’d turn around and find several of the city’s finest drawn down on me. Sure, I knew what I was doing was wrong but that didn’t stop me from punching in the PIN code and then a one-zero-zero-point-zero-zero. And after an interminable delay I almost jumped with glee when the five twenties came to papa. In short order I was heading east on Wilshire to the old Adray’s electronics store where I wasted little time purchasing the $80 model I had all picked out along with a couple packs of batteries.
And with the change I had left over, but not a cassette tape to my name I next got myself up to the Sunset Boulevard Tower Records for what would be the first of many visits to come. Stepping inside I can remember the distinctive smell of the place, a combo of plastic/vinyl/cardboard that was almost as sweet as the new electronics smell I’d gotten high off of when I’d broken my Walkman out of its box outside of Adray’s. Making my way over to the far wall I was blown away by the amount of music arrayed there. Overwhelmed I had money enough for two tapes but no idea which ones to get. Do I land Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side” and Queen’s “Day at the Races” or go Sugar Hill Gang and Journey. I spent the better part of two hours in that paradise toiling over what to buy and in the end I came away with The Go-Gos’ “Beauty and the Beat” and Kraftwerk’s “Computer World.”
From that point on the only time I wasn’t seen without the Walkman’s headphones on was whenever my mom was present.
Epilogue: I can’t recall specifically how long it took before my mom’s checks started bouncing and she was told by the bank of a $100 ATM withdrawal that I attempted to initially deny when she questioned me about it. Eventually I confessed to the deed, but couched the theft as money taken for nothing specific; thus preventing her from knowing about and rightfully destroying my beloved personal stereo. In her subsequent rage at having such an idiot for a son my mom came after me with a crutch I’d needed to heal from a past injury intent on soundly beating me with it. I managed to flee the apartment after she took a couple swings and wisely opted to spend the night down at the neighborhood park, returning only after she had left for work the next morning. As for the Walkman, she never found out about it and we had a wonderful relationship that was cut abruptly and heartbreakingly short some months later after I carelessly left it unattended in its regular place between the seat and the transmission hump in the car which was unlocked and the windows were rolled down. Upon my return I immediately saw it missing and cried. The next one I bought was purchased with my own money.