After today – and you’ll see where I’m going with this in a minute – it’s not as though I’ll never go back, but I left both stores completely mystified by the, shall we say, “clientele.”
See, I picked up a nice little ukulele in Hawaii a few weeks back. I’m learning to play it, and I needed a travel bag and some felt picks since a) I like dragging it around and b) I can’t do that just-strum-with-the-fingers thing because I’m a pathetic n00b.
What the hell, I figured. Shop where all the “professional” musicians shop and you’re guaranteed to find what you need. So at lunchtime, it’s off to Sunset I drive.
I pay no mind to the pharmaceutical casualty who’s swaying all over the cement handprints out front – he’s conducting some imaginary symphony with his beer gut hanging down over his zipper – and I walk in …
Now, Guitar Center’s frickin’ massive, three levels packed to the gills with pricey, screamingly-good-looking guitars and countless dudes in little not-quite-a-uniform navyblue button-down shirts, who are all very helpful. Eventually I muddle my way up to Accessories, where this Character is chatting with the counter man.
The Character looks like he just flunked the audition for Metal Skool last night and has been drowning his sorrows ever since then.
Stringy-long-haired, gaunt and red-eyed like a refugee from EC Comics, he’s wearing a fucked-up blazer, a black t-shirt and what looks like (maybe) underwear and bare feet – along with what’s either a horrible skin condition or the remains of the makeup table that he went face-down in after the tryout.
The Character’s fiddling with some translucent-purple effects box, twirling knobs and hooting into it and trying to pluck its plastic grille as if it were guitar strings – and having a distractedly needy conversation with the CounterMan, who shoots me a sort of “oh thank CHRIST” look of desperation and leaps out from behind the counter with an overeager “CANIHELPYOUSIR???”
Then I notice there’s a $100 on the floor, half-folded, like it fell out of someone’s pockets.
“I need a gig bag for a soprano ukulele – you guys have anything like that?” CounterMan’s not sure, but he swiftly busies himself rummaging through the variety of gig bags. I pick up the $100 and try to decide what to do with it, and then I notice the Character is fumbling with a wad of cash and muttering “aw, shit.”
“Hey, I think you might have dropped this,” I say, offering the Benjamin. “Oh, THANK YOU,” he gushes, takes it. “Thank you VERY MUCH,” and he resumes messing with the effects box. Meanwhile, CounterMan is checking inventory on the computer – no luck – and when I ask him for felt picks, he says no luck there either. I shrug and head out.
“Thank you again!” says The Character. “Sure, no problem,” I reply, and head across the way to Meltdown to browse some comics.
En route, I notice the sign for Sam Ash, and figure, whatthehell, I’ll look there next.
I pull up and there’s a pretty ragged-looking homeless woman blocking the door with her body, peering inside. A lap steel – or maybe a ukulele – is dangling from her hand. “Scuse me,” I say, and she steps aside so I can go in.
At the counter, a rangy-looking burnout in homeless-guy threads is having a heated discussion with the Sam Ash CounterMan while a chagrined Security Dude, maybe 55 is standing by looking like he’s thinking of calling the cops.
I wander around a bit – again, the Help springs to my aid almost immediately, and almost as quickly informs me they don’t carry bags that small, and the only non-plastic picks they have are nylon or rubber, which are way too huge and weird for the job.
And by the time I turn around, Rangy Burnout is being pushed out the door (as gently as possible) by SecurityDude because he’s started screaming at the top of his leathery lungs:
“I’LL FUCKING GET YOU FOR THIS SO HELP ME FUCKING GOD I’LL GET YOU!!!“ he’s shrieking, his chest up against the shoulder of the short SecurityDude, who’s blocking the door like a defensive end despite the hellacious noise and spittle landing in his ear.
“YOU CAN’T DO THIS!!! I’M ON TO YOU!! I’LL FUCKING …. FUCK YOUUU! YOU FUCKING … PISSANTS!! FUCK YOUUUUUU!!!” and so on, for another minute or so, before he finally yells, “GOD!!!“ and wheels and stalks out – with a gorgeous-looking banjo and the quite-the-opposite homeless woman in tow.
I’m gonna guess he was trying to sell the banjo, but … anyway, the CounterMan and other Sam Ash staff are just chuckling and shaking their heads.
One turns to me and says, “You know, a year ago when he walked in here, he was totally coherent. I think I sold him a bass.”
I should stress that aside from the counter guys and me – and maybe two customers calmly test-shredding Gibsons at Guitar Center – the characters I’m describing were the only clientele in either store.
So – was it just my experience today? Or do the big Hollywood music shops always attract scary-looking head cases?