Wednesday, January 4, 2023

Thrill Me with All of Your Charms

Deniz lunch take out
A nice young man contacted me after looking for his uncle online. His search led him to my blog, as I worked with his uncle at Leopold Records back in the late 1980's.  I have written about this man, Albert Ramirez before because he was one of those handful of folks in my life that I remember often and fondly.  We all must have those people that touch us in ways that are hard to describe or even understand.  Subtle small exchanges that were not life changing events but yet, you never forget them.  Everyone teaches us something but some more than others, again even if you don't quite get what it is, it sticks with you.  Every so often coming to mind to see if you figured it out yet, that thing that you could not describe or make sense of.  
In the buying office at Leopold

Leopold was like my college experience in that I got schooled by so many good people.  I moved from Indiana to Fresno to Redwood City to San Francisco in my 20's, so I was slightly green.  My ignorance masked as bravery allowing me to dive headfirst into situations for which I was ill-prepared.  I began taking the BART train everyday to work from my Tenderloin apartment in San Francisco to Leopold Records in Berkeley. Unfortunately, this was just as they were bought out by Wherehouse Records.  The corporation didn't change the name and allowed Leopold to be it's winning self for a short time but I'm sure it was not the same for the old-timers and most moved on in the years to follow.  I was part of that change.  Again, sometimes it's good to be ignorant because it's only in hindsight that I realize my role. At the time, I was operating alone, just another reject of society looking for a place to land.  
The first time I walked through the vinyl side of this institution with the wide wood planked floors and dark cavernous rows of handwritten bin cards, standing in line, some broken, like weathered gravestones, I felt like I had made it.  A tall, well-built African-American manned the elevated front counter and controlled the mood in the dimly lit but airy upper level.  In the morning he played slow jazz and all things glorious, then in the afternoon the vibe would change to gain a bit of energy until at points it felt like everyone would surely break out into dance, and sometimes did.   I browsed the bins and found some cracked artist cards that needed remade, feeling a usefulness for the first time in a long while.     
I had hopped my way across all these sinking ships of music retail, just trying to stay afloat.  I was lost and searching.  When I hit Berkeley thru San Francisco, I realized I was coming at life from the wrong angle entirely.  At some point that first week, I tossed a small bag containing everything I believed to be true so far into one of the metal garbage bins along Telegraph Ave and continued to my new incredible job.  
Two weeks prior I found myself managing a small empty shell of a record store in the city, this one with no such air and wood, only musty grey carpet and a disgruntled and diminishing staff.  In a very short time realized I would suffocate and die in a place like that.  So, finding a new home to feed and flourish with people that had so much life to give was not only lucky, it saved me. 
I found myself with these slightly older characters that seemed to each hold different secrets to life.  Barbara, David McB, Roxanne, Karen, and Albert.  In my mind I ALWAYS see Ramirez with a giant smile on his face.  Every single question or negative thought I proposed he would always have a positive spin.  Laughing, he would guide me around and show me how all my silly notions were dead wrong.  Look at it like this, he'd say.  No, you don't see it!, he'd raise his voice almost laughing at me, never upset, instead delighted to show me all this darkness that I insisted was my life, was not real.  Like Glinda the good witch in talking of her evil sister in the Wizard of Oz.  And I could see in his face that he knew something big that I didn't and I wanted to know it too.  But I was so far from being ready.  I had come part of the way but had so much more suffering to do.  
Hungover, burnt out and sick with depression,  I'd complain about coming to work and he'd say, No, no, you 'get to' come to work.  Change your wording and correct your thoughts.  I would roll my eyes but I knew he was right.  I was thrilled to be working there.  I knew what an opportunity it was to learn everything I could about music from these human computers and absorb all the new differences that I craved. This place was rich in culture and if I could get out of my own way and pay attention, I might grab some happiness too. Even though I would continue to treat my body as a dishrag for some years, I heard him, loud and clear.

Albert would go into these pseudo lectures in the buying office during down times, about being young, how we need to learn to stay in the moment and take time to breath and meditate. He'd stand before us, mirroring all our bad behavior and show us how easy it is to change, by just doing it.  These same brilliant concepts that I struggle with today but fully believe are true.  He spoke of sex and how we were silly to obsess on it, that it robbed us of useful vitality.  In fact, he was practicing holding in his orgasms in order to preserve his energy, going into detail about how he'd bring himself just to the brink of an orgasm and then send it back down the shaft.  He spoke of this as a practice of sufism and we found it shocking and impressive that he had that level of constraint but also that a grown ass man would talk about sex so openly, like there was nothing shameful about it.  I had a lot of 'first times' in Berkeley even though at the time thought myself very worldly.  

Albert was muscular and thin, very well built.  He took care of his body and was always stretching and eating the right things to nourish it.  I can remember the shape of his arms and the color of his skin.  How his cheeks would wrinkle when he smiled. I didn't have a crush, more an older brother type of admiration.  He may have been the first straight male friend to approach me as a person, and not a sexual opportunity.  That was refreshing.  In turn, it was easy to grant him the same respect.   

He corrected my way of approaching coworkers and himself on things like attendance and breaks.  He showed me how wrong I was constantly but in a way that was kind and impactful.  And I was all kinds of wrong back then.  

I was a hard headed little shithead but I knew enough to shut up and listen from time to time.  Albert helped with my first official task, to buy Jazz cassette tapes which was a thankless job and something I was completely incapable of doing well.  He spent hours talking to me about labels and musicians, which albums sold and which were not worth carrying.  He was incredibly nice to me when he didn't have to be, nor was it probably that easy.  

Lorenzo Loera, if you find this, I think it's Kizmet.  When you wrote to me, asking for stories of your uncle, my search for you brought me to your incredible cover of Bloodstone's Natural High, a song I not only love but just featured on a comedy rap I recorded recently but more importantly, was a song frequently played at Leopold and brings back sweet memories.   From your post, I imagine Albert has passed on?   I tried to find him years ago, but no one knew anything.  This is proof that even though you don't think someone is listening, if you take time to pass along usable knowledge about life, it never falls on deaf ears.  Even if the person doesn't seem to listen at the moment, I feel these truths do become recognized eventually.  I'm super grateful to Albert for all the times he smiled and took a pause for this girl.  
A cleaned out pantry will, for a short time make one feel they have their shit together

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