Loretta eventually gave in to peer pressure and a quarterback named Bud. She later had a secret abortion everyone knew about and fled from the Midwest to Los Angeles. At the bus station, friendly men, some in colorful costumes, greeted her, some with feathers waving from their wide-brimmed hats in the Santa Ana winds.
Loretta found ecstasy in a pill coincidentally called ecstasy and found she could make a living by being bad. Only it didn’t feel bad until one guy…well, that part is fuzzy but definitely unpleasant. She then fled to San Diego, where she got a job dancing, mostly with a pole but often solo. The Blue Hawaiian drinks helped much with her early embarrassment at dancing for large groups of men while wearing so little. Almost nothing, really.
Eventually, Loretta gave up “the life,” as the other girls called it, and married a heating-and-air-conditioning man and moved to Lakeside to a trailer, where she raised two fine if somewhat slow boys named Dougie and Sponge Bob, whom everyone later called “Dimmy.”
It was then that I began to snap out of my Auto-Bio-Mesmerism (or ABM as “top scientists” refer to the phenomenon), but not before accidentally touching a pair of size-11 brown wingtips at the top of a rack on my left. I saw, as plain as day, the balding and paunchy auto-parts salesman to whom these had once belonged. An affable man, the clown cried inside him, and sometime in the past year he committed suicide by bathing with a Sanyo clock radio. He went out to the song “Moon River.”
Far too depressing. I removed my hand quickly, but not before glimpsing the future owner of these shoes: an aged hippie alcoholic who’d once owned a chain of “head shops” and would be looking for work in these shoes, trying to turn his life around. He would eventually be hired as the drive-through window man at Sonic Burger in Vista, where he’d ogle the roller-skating waitresses, all the while sensing that he was walking all over the sky in his proud shoes.
The last image I had of this man named, I’m thinking, Emmett Sandoz, was of him handing a bag through the window to a woman driving an SUV full of kids. As they pulled away, Emmett shouted, “Don’t let the rapture pass you by!” Smiling. Waving.
I was saved from these visions (some call it a blessing, yet I call it a curse) by a 31-year-old rock ’n’ roller named Gian Carlo (long blond hair, great tats), the untitled but virtual assistant manager (my phrase, not his) at Thrift Trader at 3939 Iowa Street. Just off of University Avenue. He asked me if I was all right.
“Yes, yes,” I said. “One my spells. It will pass.” I thumbed open a prescription for Xanax, tossed a handful down the old trachea. Gian disappeared while I was gagging, then reappeared immediately with a glass of water. I told him, “I’m not a well man.”
“Yeah, I can see that, man. Can I help you find anything?”
I asked for any possible recordings of the ’70s Brit rock band featuring Steve Winwood’s brother, “Muff”: The Fabulous Poodles.
Gian indicated no immediate familiarity but said, “Hang on. We must have it somewhere. We’ve got everything.” I was to learn that what he had just said was almost literally true. We began talking about rock ’n’ roll; Gian is a guitarist looking for a band. He indicated a guitar case, his, leaning in a corner. It contained a replica of the guitar Randy Rhoads used while playing with Ozzy Osbourne. This was, of course, before Rhoads’s tragic, violent death. But Gian’s was not the only guitar case here; obviously, several employees were musicians. Gian himself was a former studio session man and guitarist with San Diego’s “C0 de” (a zero for the o) and Flatland.
“I love my job here,” he said. “I’m surrounded by music.” How much music, I was to learn, was something like a dozen times what was on the floor, and that was the largest collection of LPs and CDs I’d ever seen in one place. “You’ve got to meet Jeff, the owner,” Gian said. “I’ll try to set something up.”
He did try, though proprietor Jeff Clark proved elusive. He has two other stores, one in Ocean Beach, one in Pacific Beach. Neither are the gargantuan size of Thrift Trader in North Park.
Some weeks later, I caught Clark onstage (in the Trader’s parking lot) during the North Park Art Fair. He was singing backup for a band, most of which comprised the members of Clark’s longtime ensemble, Ten Sugar Coffee.
The following week, Clark gave me an interview.
The entrepreneur is 50 years old, his hair clipped close to the skull; his goatee is also clipped short. He wears a single small earring in his right ear. Clark wasted no time in showing me the entire facility.
“We’ve got 9000 square feet of retail just on this floor. Everything I love [LPs, CDs, books, clothes] is $5.99, or sometimes four for $20 or less. There’s probably a good 200,000 items on this floor alone.”
As we walk, I notice unusual items I can’t imagine happening upon at Goodwill or the Salvation Army. If one were searching for a feather boa, a pair of spats, or, well, a lava lamp, this would be a good place to start.
In 1987, Clark was former owner (at age 23) of the Music Trader chain. A subject he is fond of speaking of, and one I needed to steer him away from periodically. Clark’s 13 years at that enterprise seemed to be his halcyon days.
“I wholesaled for a while after that. Then started the Mojo Sound stores, a couple of locations. I had stuff in storage everywhere. The origin of this place…see, I was paying thousands of dollars a month for storage, and I completely lost track of what I had. When I say I had a lot, I mean, again, I had hundreds of thousands of items stashed and not doing me any good. I had to get it all back in play.