Generation X-Tract: Tower Records

Tower01This article originally appeared in my Generation X-Tract column for Broadside, the George Mason University student newspaper.

Just about everyone working there is a member of that slacker-ridden race known as Generation X. Just about everyone working there has either a tattoo on their back, arm or forehead, or some sort of eye-catching facial piercing. Just about everyone working there wears all black all of the time and/or smokes like there’s no tomorrow. And just about everyone working there cares more about how hungry they are and what time it is, than whatever CD it is you happen to be trying to find.

Every now and then, a few of the employees will gather outside to smoke their cigarettes or discuss their weekend plans. Occasionally, an employee will venture into the bathroom to pass off ten minutes or so by washing his or her spotless face one or two times. But more often than not, Tower employees can be found either behind the register, ringing up the endless line of strange customers with various sorts of quarries and problems, or working in the aisles, ready to help the next shopper at the slightest sign of cluelessness.

It is easy, however, to pass these young men and women off as deviant youth, whose employment at Tower acts only as a necessary tool to train them responsibility and to keep them out of trouble. It is easy for these workers to fool unsuspecting patrons with their sluggish demeanor, friendly smiles and helpful words. Customers fail to notice the tired eyes behind the smiles and assume that these young people with yellow necklaces that say “I Work Here” slung around their necks are living only for the opportunity to help customers find songs with no titles and bands with no names. One never thinks to question what else is going on inside the skulls of these young faces.

Yet everyday, the average employee of Tower Records crams in a few hours of running register, shelving CDs, and pricing videos in the hope of earning enough modest funds to keep the charge card collectors at bay and to keep their hunk-of-junk automobiles running well enough to get them to work. Between classes, the employee travels back and forth from campus to Tower, clocking in and out, and wondering whether he or she will find the time to write that weekly one-page English paper or whether they must, once again, bite the bullet and accept an unflattering “F.”

The Cue Bus

tara_city01Just inside the George Mason University main entrance, two small structures stand adjacent to one another. The structures are bus stop shelters. This is where the George Mason CUE Bus loads and unloads GMU students who commute to campus.

One structure holds a hollow metal bench, and the other holds a solid wooden bench. There is graffiti engraved on the wooden bench and on the smokey brown glass walls of both structures. A hole has even been burned through one of these walls.

At this time, several GMU students and faculty are waiting for one of the four different CUE buses. Some decline the luxury of sitting in the tall, brown shelters and, instead, either stand on the sidewalk or lounge in the green grass behind the bus stop, basking in the warm summer sun.

There are three boys sitting in the left shelter, their long wallet chains scraping against the hollow metal of the bench and creating an annoying racket. An older gentleman (probably a teacher) walks over to the newspaper machines to the left, and debates in his mind whether to get the Washington Post, USA Today, or the Fairfax Journal. He eventually chooses the Washington Post, drops the money in the machine and retrieves his prize.

Just then, a Green 2 bus drifts into harbor, and a flood of students and faculty pour out of its small doors and onto the sidewalk. The man with the paper jumps into the bus, flashing his GMU ID to gain free admission. The three youths scrape to their feet and waddle towards the bus door, following the man with the paper. A middle-aged Spanish woman and two chattering females make up the last of the CUE bus boarders, and as swiftly as it pulled in, the bus quickly darts away. It leaves campus, and leaves the two brown bus stop shelters empty.

The pleasant breeze, the cool green grass, the sun and the newspaper machines provide the shelters company, but there are no people. At least, for now. In another five minutes, a group of completely different individuals, coming from completely different backgrounds, will merge together at this spot. Some will recognize others, because they’ve seen each other on the CUE bus many times. They may or may not talk to one another, but they have become a close community, nevertheless. They come to the same spot every day, and together, they wait for the next CUE bus.

Skate or Die


This article originally appeared in the Greenbrier Valley Ranger‘s “Apropos” column.

On any given day, unblemished and pleasant, in fairly high populated cities, one would have no problem in locating a handful of skaters, joined by friendship, taking to the streets and sidewalks of their concrete refuge, for a fast-paced journey across town and back, for the pure joy of the hard-core exertion it gives them. The skater . . . misunderstood by most, cherished only by the few, is shadowed in the sights of the higher class of the privileged, but, unaffected by this, skates his heart out at every potential period, standing strong in his preference, as firm as the immovable mountain. In high society they are outcasted from the mainstream because of their preference, but the skaters of the world face opposition head on with an ecstacy sparkle in their eyes which some could interpret as a mild sign of insanity. Fear is not present in the true skater’s life. For this reason, the skater remains on this earth, inviting the resistance, the persecution, the separation. Nothing stops them. Not the rebuke and not the resentment. Not the disapproval and not the dissonance. And, surely, hindrances such as the pathetic laws adopted – outlawing skating on the streets of many cities – will not bring the skater down.

But, first, . . . why, exactly, are skaters – ones who simply enjoy the use of the skateboard – treated as losers unworthy of respect, people who will never amount to anything in their lifetime? Because they are different? That is only half of the answer. Being different is nothing, for every lone person on this planet, living or dead, is different from the rest in some unique way. Difference is an entity which we all live with, day in and day out, with total acceptance. No, difference is not the reason, but fear is. It is the fear of difference, the sweetest malice, which flows with insane ease through the willing man’s life, and confronts the skaters as a hostile foe.

What is a skater? A man. What is a lawyer? A man. What is the President of the United States? A man. Why, then, is it more “respectable” to be a lawyer or the President than to be a professional skater? The three are equal. All having faults, and none perfect. None impressing God more than the other. The reason is society. Children grow to adults with the influence of society providing them their attitudes, morals, and values. The idea taught to children today and from generation to generation is – Success is money and fame. Surely, being the President or a marvelously paid lawyer are occupations more successful (in today’s standards) than spending one’s days on a skateboard. But what the world is calling “success” is a pure illusion, distorted and deceiving. Success is achieving happiness and contentment. The truly successful ones roaming this planet are the ones who have truly found the secret of life; the ones who, against the grain, seek and find the things which make them happy and content. How successful is the stressed-out businessman, rich beyond belief, but faced everyday with the question of whether or not he should blow off his head because he can’t stand the pressure? How successful is the factory owner who gets rich off the products he makes, but ignores the lives lost by over-exposure to the deadly pollutants coming from the pipes of the factory? How successful is the glorious athlete who was famed through his steroids, but now lies, never to get up because of them? But, successful are the happy.

The skater feeds on his freedom and strives on his stress-free lifestyle, able to live his clean, open life without the evils of the dog-eat-dog reality and the malice of money.

Most people in this world see ones, such as the skaters, and are afraid of the idea that, they, living their lives doing something they enjoy, can have a wonderful life without going through the same anger and stress most people do in offices and businesses. Most are jealous of the skaters’ happiness because of the lack of their own. It is envy which plays a major part in the resentment to skaters, along with fear.

The skater, . . . happy in his own right, undeserving of resentment, free from the fast, hard lifestyle of the rich and famous, and truly a wonder of nature. It is the world’s evil, corruption, and greed which the skater leaves behind when he pushes off, for the first time, on his brand new skateboard, ready to face a new day.