The Needle Exchange
It was a warm summer day. A little too warm for the likes of Patrick as he drove down Main St. He had the window of his Land Cruiser open so he figured it be best to play some music as to not arouse attention. He spied some shady looking characters hovering together on the corner talking to a woman who looked like she was drunk or high. She seemed to be negotiating something with the others. Pat just looked and shook his head, wondering how drugs are still a problem with the low income folks when the rest of the country can’t even fart without the government knowing it. He knew the answer, of course. These people weren’t in the system. They had no computers to tell the main frame with whom they were talking and what the content of their web browsers contained. Even worse what they were listening to…but that wasn’t a problem anymore, at least not in computer land. Most of the music heard these days, as well as what was being read and published was strictly scrutinized and approved by the government. Emails and blogs had to be totally void any political, anti-religious or scandalous content otherwise you would be removed from the network and the bloggers would be formally charged in criminal court.
Patrick took another glance at the chick and the three men as he fiddled with the volume control on his digital receiver. He looked at the display and noticed that “Footprints in the Sand” had just been played. The tune “Trust in Him” was playing. What tripe! But he played it at a louder volume than was necessary, as he passed another group of folks, this one being neatly dressed and standing in a circle hand in hand as they prayed. They all seemed so fake to him. But a majority of the country was aligned with them. They ran the government, they were the lobbyists, They owned all of the successful businesses big and small. They decided what you could read and what you could hear, what your children learn in school. Who were they? You could see them everywhere. But it didn’t seem like they were the majority. No it didn’t seem like it at all. The internet had been cleaned up, no foul language, no more pornography, no more pirating banned movies or banned music. The computers were working against their owners at this point. Any questionable activity on your PC and a bot was immediately deployed to the Department of Homeland Security. Patrick spied another well dressed smiling automaton leaning into a public computer kiosk to have her retina scanned before using the terminal. The way she did a double take side to side made Patrick think she may have been wearing a retinator, a complex computerized contact lens which utilized nano-technology. These could be used to set up an illicit internet account and “subvert” the system.
His cell phone rang. He looked at the caller ID…”Shameless.” He picked up the call.
“Oy, what’s going on laddie?” It was Shameless Seamus Adams.
“Where are you, do have those vinyl samples, my wife wanted to look at?
“I’ve got you covered lad. A fine doorful of woman, ya wife is…I wouldn’t want to disappoint.”
“I guess I’ll take that as a compliment.” Patrick replied.
“Ya feckin’ better, cos it was meant to be exactly that.
“Where are you?”
“Where um supposed to be laddie.”
“I see your truck….” He hung up the phone. Behind the donut shop on Main St. was a brand new Evangelical Church, the New Church of the Trinity. It was built in 2021 and dedicated Jerry Falwell. The neighborhood it was in was bordering the not so savory part of town, but 20 years ago it was like a jungle. He used to play music in a bar across the street which was a den of miscreants, hustlers and thieves, back then.
Patrick didn’t mind meeting Seamus in the Church parking lot. “If ya gonna hide, might as well do it just as plain as day,” Seamus would say. As Patrick pulled into the parking lot, Shameless Seamus was stepping out of his vehicle. It was a ancient looking truck. There were ladders and scaffolding fastened to the side and some kind of apparatus which he deduced would be used for either cutting or shaping vinyl siding. In bold Kelly green letters, adorned with shamrocks were the words. “The Vinyl Frontier” - Construction, Remodeling and all of your Vinyl Needs. MA Lic. 245596830.
Seamus was a stout but lean man about a head shorter than Patrick. They had met as they were both key players in the local music scene about two decades ago. Patrick was a guitar player in a straight up roots rock band. Seamus was the deliriously charismatic lead singer and piper in a raucous hardcore Irish band, Shameless Seamus and the Brassers. He had a set of mutton chops and was often seen on stage wearing a kilt with combat boots and a faded Free Press t-shirt. He and his wife Rachael, later formed a hardcore klezemer band called the Hook Nosed Satans. He had a thing about “in your face” names. Although Rachael’s father, the Rabbi, didn’t necessarily agree with their choice of name, he realized it was appropriate for the genre they were playing. With his blessing, she played the fiddle in the band. They did a number of national tours. And actually had a semi hit with the tune “Manic Manischewitz” But those were the days when you were free to put whatever you wanted on either Myspace or your own web site. Seamus and Patrick hugged.
“It’s been a while lad, two weeks is a long time for ya.” Seamus noted.
“Yes, it has been too, long. Bu these days you have to be careful…” he trailed off, a sadness detected in his voice.
“Aye, you can only hear so much of that digital tripe they force upon ya. It’s sad how many talented musicians picked up on that genre and stopped playing REAL music.”
Patrick nodded in agreement. He looked around. It seemed like the coast was clear. Seamus put out his cigarette. “Damn fags, er gonna kill me.”
“Nah, fags, the cigarettes, ‘ats what me granwan, used to call ‘em.” Patrick laughed. “Let’s see what we got…”
Seamus walked around to the back of the van. Did another visual check of the scenery moving his head left to right then opened the door. He flipped on the light and pulled out a large ring of color vinyl samples and handed them to Patrick who began to flip through them. To an outsider it would look like he was trying to sell Patrick on a color for his house. Patrick looked inside the truck. Seamus reached up and flipped a latch. A false wall was folded down flush with the floor. Then he did the same on the other side, and began pulling out milk crates, about ten in all. It was a wonderland of nostalgia. On one side of the truck was a cabinet containing about 35 turntables. There were also cords with RCA jacks, brushes and cleaning kits. In the milk crates were the coveted contraband. Vinyl records, 33s, 45s and some 78s. Seamus even had a stack of the centering rings for the 45s. He began to flip through the LPs. AC/DC, Grateful Dead, Traffic, George Harrison, Dylan live at Budokon were the ones which caught Patrick’s eye.
“The Vinyls are $10 each per week. I don’t have any for sale, right now. There was a raid in Easthampton, a fortnight, ago. Lost ‘alf of me inventory.”
“Anyone get busted?”
“Nah. It wasn’t a total loss. I’m spectin’ a shipment from the UK in a coupla days.”
“Remember when we thought the internet would revolutionize the way we heard music?”
“It did, lad, it did. But after the bloody feckin’ war, things just weren’t the same. I have hope for the future, though.”
“What do you mean?”
“We played a gig in Canada a coupla weeks ago, the night of the raid, in fact. I’d say there were about 2 ta 300 of “them” in the crowd. Drinking, dancing, partying like they were about to lose their arses.”
“One of them was talking to me about new legislation. There being a global backlash concerning censorship in the land of the free and home of the brave.”
“Wow, that’s good. It would put you out of business, though.”
“Huh, business, me arse. I’d rather play music than this, and I’d rather not have to leave the country to do it, I tell ya tha’. This is a community service, I am doing, lad, nuthin’ more nuthin’ less. You can only listen to “Footprints in the Sand” and “He was your Carpenter, but He is My King.” So many times before you wanna whip somebody and nail them to a cross.”
“Oooh, dude, that’s harsh.”
“Aye, me pot of gold ain’t in a milk crate full of scratched LPs. It is under a rainbow, playing on stage in a Leprechaun Colony.”
“Leprechaun Colony, you are Shameless.”
“That I am, That I am.” He said, with a sly grin.
Patrick looked around and reached into his pocket. “Put those away, “ He said, referring to the records and turntables. Seamus quickly folded up the fake walls and the truck once again resembled that of a contractor’s. Patrick continued to feign interest in the vinyl color samples.
“I have this, can you do anything with it?” He handed Seamus a small oddly shaped object. It was a needle from a phonograph.”
“Careful, lad, you don’t want to give someone the wrong impression…walking around with a needle in your pocket.” He pulled a magnifying glass out of his pocket. Patrick looked around again. He didn’t see anything other than the regular day to day activities on Main St. Seamus peered intently at the stylus.
“There’s ya problem. Diamond is worn down a bit, forever me arse.”
“Do you have another one? No I don’t but I can let you a loaner. I got one with an emerald. No guarantees, but it will get you music for the three weeks it would take to get another one, which might not work. Bloody feckin’ hell. It’s just music, for chrissake. This country’s blacker than the inside of a cow with its eyes closed and its tail down. Pog ma thon!”
“Yeah, this country is a laughing stock, to the rest of the musical world. I haven’t sung one of my lyrics out loud for five years. Seamus pocketed the needle and fished the appropriate replacement out of his bag of tricks in the back of the truck. Patrick noticed someone walking in his direction from the church. He nodded to Seamus and spoke up.
“Uhh…yeah I think my wife would like this color can I take these samples home?” He noticed the guy from the church definitely walking in their direction. Seamus slammed the door shut and was startled by a familiar face.
“Ahh…officer O’Malley…they ‘ave you on bicycle detail these days, eh?!” He dropped the two needles on the ground.
“Yes, they do, Seamus…Who’s your friend?” The stranger from the church kept approaching walking at a brisk clip, now.
“Look…O’Malley I’m showing him some vinyl samples that’s all.” The officer looked around the truck and looked at Patrick.
“Siding a house, eh?”
“Yes, sir.” Patrick said calmly.
The deacon from the church approached. “Thank you for coming so quickly officer, I was getting nervous about how much time these Gentlemen were spending in the parking lot.” The sarcasm in the way he said gentlemen did not go unnoticed. As the Deacon surveyed their heavily tattooed arms. “The look like musicians to me…”
“Don’t worry, Sir. I’ve got it under control,” O’Malley said. A bit annoyed that this little bible thumper was interfering.
“Wait, what are those?” He shrilled pointing at the needles on the freshly laid asphalt.
“Those ARE contraband!” O’Malley, annoyed that he did not survey the ground as he approached, saw the needles. He stepped on them lightly obscuring them from the Holy roller’s view. “I said, I have the situation under control, SIR.”
The Deacon looked at Officer O’Malley with fire in his eyes and said, “Okay, I see how it is Officer…976.”
“Oy, why ‘aven’t they put you in a straightjacket,yet, ya Bollix?”
“Now see here!” The Deacon shouted. O”Malley stepped between them.
“Okay, now that you have my Shield Number, why don’t you go call my supervisor? But, for now, I suggest you let me do my job.”
With a grunt of disapproval, the Deacon stomped off, back to the church. O’Malley bent down and picked up the needles. Seamus was fumbling for a cigarette and Patrick was resisting the urge to run.
“I take it these are yours, Seamus?”
“I can’t say I know what you are talking about, Officer O’Malley.” He looked at Patrick who was still fumbling with the vinyl samples. “If I decided to look in the back of your truck, what other kind of vinyl would I find? Perhaps, even a retinator in your pocket? A friend of mine in vice told me someone in Springfield has been ordering LPs and 45s from the UK with a bogus internet identity. It would be a shame if you were there when we set up a sting at the UPS distribution center, next week. ”
“I’m a legitimate businessman…ya know that. I did your sister’s ruddy house, din’ I?” O’Malley Smiled.
“Shameless,” This caught Patrick by surprise. “You know, at the end of the day, I’m on your side. You think I want to drive up to Canada every time I want to hear you play pipes and sing Bugger off?” He handed Seamus the needles. O’Malley continued. Seamus pulled out the magnifier, and quickly determined that the emerald needle was still viable. “Do you think I want to be busting guys like you…Because THEY are in charge? The political winds are changing but you won’t catch any wind in your sails if you are in prison by the time I can go down to the local pub and see you play.
“Aye, I hear ya, boyo.”
Seamus handed Patrick the needle. Patrick thanked O’Malley. O’Malley got back on his bike and left. The Deacon stopped reading his Bible to look out the window in disgust as the two musicians got into their vehicles and left the parking lot. “Shield Number 976, he repeated…