I was at an after-work event in Clarendon the other night when I was suddenly consumed by an overwhelming feeling of ennui.
You know ennui, don't you? It's a sort of muscular boredom that, in me at least, often foreshadows an existential crisis.
I try to schedule my existential crises ahead of time, and while I am due for one, I have it penciled in for next fall, not this one. So this was obviously some minor hiccup brought about by my surroundings -- a too-empty ballroom filled with people I didn't know.
Fortunately, I was next to Orpheus, a used-record store on Wilson Boulevard.
I know records are supposed to be obsolete, but I imprinted on them at a young age, stacking up Queen's "News of the World," Elvis Costello's "This Year's Model" and Bob Seger's "Night Moves" on my turntable.
I have plenty of CDs, but it's LPs that dominate the bookshelves at the end of my living room. Yes, they're archaic -- imagine being able to actually see the mode by which music is transmitted to the speakers: the spinning disc, the wandering arm, the bouncing needle -- but I'm not going to hunt down a digital copy of Bram Tchaikovsky's "Strange Man, Changed Man" or Blotto's "Hello! My Name Is Blotto."
And I've found that thumbing through the stock in a used-record store is the perfect way to lift a lingering funk.
That's if you're in a lingering funk. If you're not, a used-record store can induce one: all that creativity, all that hopefulness, all those dreams, consigned to the $1 bin. That's the section I was flipping through when I came across Bad Company's "Desolation Angels," the 1979 album that features the song "Rock 'N' Roll Fantasy." The record had obviously been a gift originally, for scrawled in blue ballpoint pen in one corner of the cover was this message:
"Beth -- May the sterio [sic] of fate never leave a scratch on your record of life. I love you! Have an excellent summer and don't do anything I wouldn't do. . . ."
It was signed, "Mary-anna-flanna-banana!"
Who knows where Mary-anna-flanna-banana is these days, or whether she has learned to spell "stereo." But I applaud her sentiment.
May the stereo of fate never leave a scratch on your record of life.
Strangers on a Train
In a recent column, I mentioned looking over the shoulders of my fellow Metro train riders and spying on what they were reading. I was amused to find one of them studying his lines for a production of the musical "Brigadoon."
Several readers pointed out that this was undoubtedly Mike Schwartz, starring as Tommy in a production of the show at Leisure World in Silver Spring. And then Mike himself called. It turns out that though we've never met, we're connected. Mike was my late mother-in-law's financial adviser and had recently been in contact with My Lovely Wife as she starts that scintillating process known as probate.
It was yet another example of how small the world is. I write about some random dude I spot on the train, and he turns out to be not so random at all.
I did a column once before on the strange coincidences that seem to occur in our lives: the friend of a friend we encounter on the tarmac of a Mongolian airport; the vintage blazer we buy at the thrift shop that contains the business card of our father's business partner.
If you've experienced something like that, send it my way: email@example.com or John Kelly, The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071.
The Electric Hearth
Harrisonburg, Va., is on the far side of Skyline Drive. It's where I did a U-turn recently after seeing a sign in front of a building that read: "Acme Stove and Video."
Stove and video? Both are things we like to curl up next to on a dark and stormy night, but do they belong in the same business?
Well, it's like this: Around 1981, Larry Parlee noticed that while his wood stove company did great business in fall and winter -- the times of year when people have keeping warm on the mind -- spring and summer were another story. Larry might as well have been running a cashmere sweater shop at a nudist colony.
About this time, a friend of his showed off a big, bulky thing that recorded moving images onto the tape inside a black plastic cassette. Larry's kids thought it was pretty cool the way they could see themselves on the TV. When Larry learned that videotape also meant people could watch movies in their living rooms, he decided to take the plunge. He bought 100 VHS movies and put them on shelves at the back of his stove emporium.
"Little did I know it would develop into such a huge thing," he said. Before long, the good people of Harrisonburg were lining up outside Acme Stove Co. and waiting for the UPS truck to disgorge the latest "Rambo" flick. He still sells stoves and gas fireplaces, but the video section has grown enormously, thus the double-barreled name.
People often give the store the same double take I did. Said Larry, "We get that all the time: 'We just had to see what that was. How'd you come up with that idea?' "
He has a one-word answer: "Survival."
In the Bag
A reminder that the D.C. public school we're raising money for this year is the Duke Ellington School of the Arts. If your grocery store frequent-shopper card isn't spoken for, please designate Ellington.