Pickle’s Record Store Reboot

We spent a couple of days in my hometown of Union City, Tennessee, doing Christmas with my parents and brother and his family. On the way to visit my aunt yesterday afternoon, I took an indirect path through Graham Park. I spent many childhood and teenage hours in that park, from collecting tadpoles and playing tee-ball to skateboarding and meeting girlfriends (my first real kiss came on one of those playgrounds, and it was the awkwardest thing imaginable). Every corner of Union City seems to hold some kind of memory. No matter where I drive, memories come at me with unexpected, bittersweet clarity. This onslaught of memories got me thinking about a part of my thesis where I mention Pickle’s Record Store. Many may remember Pickle’s, but I suspect just as many have never heard of it, especially those of younger generations. So here’s an excerpt in which I’m writing about the poet Rilke’s idea that we have an obligation to create meaning in the world by “saying” things. In other words, by writing about Pickle’s, I give it more life than it would have otherwise had–immortalizing it, in a sense. Poets “say” with words, painters “say” with paint, musicians “say” with their instruments, et cetera. Here goes:

“Rilke makes a compelling case for the world’s need of us: like us, it is perishing, but it has no voice with which to proclaim its existence. A thing’s existence soon ceases, and if we don’t “say” it, there will be no record it ever was here: “More than ever / the Things that we might experience are vanishing,” and they vanish because whatever resides within a thing “outgrows it and seeks new limits” (DE 9.44-5, 48). Nature lets few things outlive their usefulness. Today’s strip mall is tomorrow’s weedy outcrop. But what if people congregated inside one of that strip mall’s shops, like they used to do at Pickle’s Record Store in Union City, Tennessee, twenty-five years ago, listening to reggae, partaking in a certain substance associated with reggae (so go the rumors), and generally being the kind of scandalous cool that only kids in their late teens can be? At that time, the store’s owner was something of an icon among a contingent of Union City High School’s juniors and seniors—possibly not the kind of man many parents would want their kids hanging around, but that only fueled his anti-hero status in their kids’ eyes. The shop is no longer there. The space is not a weedy outcrop yet, but Pickle’s has been replaced. Generations of kids are growing up in Union City with no memory of the old record store. It was a unique place in a city not known for such subcultural enclaves. But it met its end, as all things must do. Nevertheless, I have performed it a great service. Here, in this same paragraph, I have transformed Pickles Record Store by giving meaning to what would otherwise be a forgotten rectangle of retail space. I’m not saying that whatever replaced Pickles has no meaning, but that Pickles has had its life extended a few years by my inclusion of it in this essay. It may not be immortality, but it is more life than it had before.

“Sharing memories of defunct record stores is a base form of transformation, I admit; the meaning created is sparse. No great contribution to the arts has been achieved. But what matters here is that the memory has been “said” at all. Pickle’s may not achieve immortality from my effort, but I know of at least three who will read this essay, and they will know that Pickle’s existed, which is more life than the store could ever have expected.”

The Gulch Snob

Last night I observed a new species in Nashville. I can’t say that it’s truly new, just that it’s new to me, probably because I don’t make it to the trendier parts of town that often. It has long, blonde hair and a slim figure; dresses fashionably; seems to have lots of friends. The females apparently travel in great hordes. And oddly enough, they kind of all look the same, like a herd of zebras. Can they tell each other apart?

There were swarms of them in the Gulch neighborhood’s Moto restaurant, buzzing around long tables. Some of their habits include: turning their heads in the same direction all at the same time; laughing in loud, shrill choruses; clogging heavily-used walkways; and treating waitstaff like subhumans. With such a large herd, I’m surprised I haven’t encountered them before. It’s possible they’ve only recently migrated here, perhaps from somewhere like Laguna Beach, or maybe State Street in Santa Barbara.

Now, it’s true that they closely resemble other species that have been here for years. And it wasn’t until I spotted a couple of them outside that I knew I was witnessing something rare. A closer look (but from a safe distance, of course) revealed they were not only “pretty,” in a Stepford Wives kind of way, but they were also drunk and mean! Imagine my horror when I saw one stop talking (yes, they can talk) to her friend for no other reason than to peer down her long snout at what she must have perceived to be a lesser animal. And if this open show of disdain for a fellow creature wasn’t enough, the drunken, mean female wouldn’t even step aside to let her inferior pass on the sidewalk. The nerve of this new species!

As far as I can tell, they are belligerent, but in a calm, socially less-suspect kind of way, preferring to spread their malice through subtle means, like making fun of lesser species just obviously enough so that victims can know they’re being laughed at, yet they won’t be able to actually hear the laughter. There really is an art to it—a fine line between outright mockery and the more insidious kind of belittling at which this new species is truly adept.

I can’t speak to their feeding habits; they didn’t appear to be eating, despite dominating nearly half of Moto’s dining room. And their mating habits are murky, though I did identify a male of the species jogging across McGavock Street with no regard for traffic.

Finally, as any thoroughgoing amateur naturalist would do, I had to give my discovery a name: the Gulch Snob. If you find yourself at an upscale restaurant in the Gulch on a cool (but not cold) Friday night in Nashville, chances are you will see the Gulch Snob in its natural environment. If so, give it some space, and try not to look un-rich. (Also, don’t pretend to be wealthy if you’re not; they can detect that, and their “humiliate” instinct will trigger.) With any luck, you’ll finish your meal psychologically intact.

An Incident on Highway 31

  • It took three-and-a-half miles for my anger to soften. We’d worked hard to leave on-time: snacks, coffee, and water, already loaded in the van; the boys dressed early; the baby fed.

But then Arthur dropped his cheesy puffs as we drove down Highway 31, and we still had twenty-five minutes left to drive. No big deal. I turned onto a side street and hit the hazard lights. He unbuckled, got in the floor, got back in his seat and buckled again. No substantial time was lost. But before we’d even fully turned back around, Arthur announced that he’d forgotten his snack; he’d picked up a couple of toys, instead. So now I’m stopping again—still not too big of a deal—a minor irritation. That is, until two vehicles managed to slip by us.

The first was turning left. Traffic rarely lightens at certain times on Highway 31 in Spring Hill, so with this being a Sunday morning, the car in front had to wait a long time for an opening. I could feel the clock ticking now. It seems churches are always either starting services or letting them out at all hours on a Sunday morning, and for a town no bigger than Spring Hill, there are an unseemly amount of churches. A high concentration of churches in a suburb of Nashville is no surprise, I must admit, but why must they stagger their beginning and ending times in such a way? I know I’m being unreasonable; you don’t have to tell me. Certainly churches don’t consider their effect on local traffic when planning services.

Anyway, we were trying to get to our own church. And finally that first car had managed its left turn. But here’s the kicker. The other vehicle in front of us—the one standing between us and punctuality—was a pickup truck loaded down with junk, and when it pulled onto the highway, it refused to accelerate above thirty miles-per-hour. We were stuck behind it, with no chance of passing, for two whole miles. (Okay, seeing this in print makes me feel really petty. But at the time, I was enraged.) I had made a serious effort to get us out the door with as little stress as possible, to get us to church without feeling rushed, and now it was all for nothing. I began wondering why God didn’t help us out—why he didn’t honor my noble effort, thinking that if he really wanted us in church, he would’ve prevented some of these obstacles. Such is the occasional pettiness of the human mind.

Some would blame these obstacles on the devil. But I think that’s a not-so-clever way to excuse ourselves from responsibility—the responsibility of realizing that the movements of the world aren’t tailored to our egos; that the schedules of the thousands of other residents of Spring Hill are not designed with my need for efficiency in mind. It’s the price of the free will we so adore. Just as I was free to stop our van so my son could pick up his snack, the two motorists who stalled our progress were free to drive up that same street at the exact time that they did, passing us by with our hazards flashing. No one was in the wrong; no one was an instrument of either divine or evil will. It was just a thing that happened in a world that keeps moving, whether we’re ready or not.