Born on Dominion Road

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An Idea Born on Dominion Road

Vesta and I spent six months in New Zealand in a small town called Onarahi outside of Wangarai in the north. We lived next to a cemetery and on Sundays we could see the funerals outside our kitchen window. We called the people at rest there, our quiet neighbors. Being Americans we had to drive to Auckland once a month to go to the mall, because as everybody knows if an American doesn’t breathe mall air at least once a year, they die. When in Auckland we’d go to Dominion Road, one of my favorite places on Earth, and eat at one of the restaurants there. There are so many fine ones and we love to eat, so Dominion Road was made for us.

Dominion_road

And it was in one of the finer restaurants on Dominion Road that one of my ex bootleg partners—who wants to be left out of the story, so I’ll call him Smith—first brought up the idea of what would later be dubbed the “Archive Series.”

Smith was visiting and we were wining and dining him when he brought up the idea, because he had about a thousand records left over in his garage, records without covers, records doomed to sit boxed up and alone forever. But since I was never planning on returning to the States, I wasn’t interested. Besides, that part of my life was behind me. However, I told him, he could do it himself, to which he replied that it wouldn’t be the same.

When our six months were nearing an end, we went to the immigration people and tried to get an extension, something very hard to do. I told them I was a writer doing a story on the Maoris and I needed more time. They gave us three more months and not a second longer. We had to be on the plane, no excuses. It was the flight out or jail.

Two months later we gave up our house, sold our car and got a rental. We decided to drive around the country, spend some time in the wine country, fly to the top of the glaciers, jet boat on the Shotover river, parasail off a mountain, the usual touristy stuff before we had to leave. We’d planned on going to Surfer’s Paradise in Queensland and return in six months. We figured if we kept trying the Kiwis would eventually take a liking to us and let us stay.

With two days left, we left the car we’d rented for our tour of the south island, took the ferry across, rented another car we could drop at the airport in Auckland, drove out of the Hertz parking lot and three minutes later had a head on collision with sixteen-year-old drunk driver. We spent over a month in hospital and another two recuperating at in a hotel in Wellington.

Then it was back to the States, where we spent a week during Mardi Gras in New Orleans. I could barely walk. Getting around by myself was difficult to say the least. I’d been using a wheelchair, then crutches and had graduated to a cane, but I couldn’t go very far. So, when we left the Big Easy, we decided to rent an Executive apartment in Seal Beach, one of those places that has a gym and a Jacuzzi, so I could work on getting my leg working again.

Smith came by to visit quite often and we’d drink wine in the evening and we’d talk about the old days when we sold boots at swap meets, dodged the law and ferried records around in the middle of the night. Ah, the old days, they always seem better than the present and the new days yet to come.

He still had those records left over from when we did the boots and I did too. He still wanted to put them in white jackets, like the original boots, but at first I still didn’t want to be bothered.

But I kept thinking back to what I did just before Vesta and I went away to Spain, after we quit the biz. I sold my collection to John Tsurgee, better known as Wizardo, for a buck fifty a record. It was a lot of records, quite a chunk of change, but not a fraction of what they’d be worth today. So, I had no records left, not one, save for those mismatched records that had been in storage along with the stuff Vesta and I didn’t want to part with.

Smith is not an avid bootleg collector, but he has the best collection going of the stuff we’d made and of the stuff Dub and I did together. If it came out in colored vinyl, he had to have all the colors. He loved those records. And he hated the fact that he had all those orphans sitting in his garage, over a thousand of them. I didn’t have that many, maybe five hundred, maybe a little less, but some of mine were ones Smith didn’t have, because I’d made them after he’d retired from the bootleg biz and had gone on to bigger and better things.

These days anybody could make these Archive records, because there’s the internet. How hard could it be to find white jackets and rubber stamps? But back then it wasn’t so easy. Smith dragged me to the library in Lakewood and we let our fingers do the walking through the L.A. Yellow Pages, looking for a place that would sell us some plain white jackets. The rubber stamps Smith had made through a friend who owned a Sir Speedy printers in Huntington Beach.

In the end, we spent a lot of money on those rubber stamps, hundreds of dollars for way over a hundred of them. And why would we do this for a product we were never going to sell? For Smith it was a no brainer, because as I said, he loved those records. For me, I didn’t love them so much, but I’d held on to them for a very long time and besides, it was something for me to do.

So we gathered our records together in that Seal Beach Executive Suites apartment and made a list. Some of the records had labels with song titles on them and Smith wanted to make plain white labels and glue them over the song titles to make them look more like the first boots, but that was way way too much trouble, so I put the kaibash on that idea.

As for the pig labels. Smith couldn’t find the labels Dub and I had used, so he bought day glow label paper and printed them out on his Apple laser printer, which used to be mine, but I gave it to him when Vesta and I went away. However, they had to be cut out. At first I tried using a scissors, but the labels looked like shit. Then Smith bought, from a craft store, a circular cutting device, which worked sort of like a compass. After about twenty or thirty tries, I was able to cut out a round label that looked pretty much like the original ones did.

The rubber stamps and the pig labels taken care of, now all we needed was the white jackets and Smith set out to get them. But that turned out to be the hard part, because it seemed they didn’t make them anymore, not like the ones like Dub and I used to use. Now they were glossy and when you stamped ink on them, it rubbed right off. After his third attempt at trying to buy jackets that would take ink and getting no joy, he decided to go back to the first place and have them made up. They cost more then the glossy stock jackets, but heck, back then we had too much money and it was aching to get spent.

So now we had all the pieces. The records, the jackets, the rubber stamps, the pig labels. And for the next couple weeks it was just like the old days, we stamped covers, we stuff jackets and we boxed records.

The first day I circled out a couple hundred of those pig labels while I watched daytime TV. I went to bed early, got up around 5:00 and started cutting out more labels when the room started to shake.

“Earthquake,” Vesta shouted from the bedroom. Then, seeing I wasn’t in bed, she started shouting my name. I guess she’d thought I’d been swallowed up.

“Out here,” I said, “in the living room.”

“We gotta get outta here! We gotta get outta here! We gotta get outta here!” She wasn’t panicking, but she was getting there. Then with a strength I didn’t know she possessed, she pulled me to my feet. I was barefoot and it hurt like hell as I’d broken most of the bones in my right foot during that accident and usually I’d been wearing an oversized Ugg on my right foot with the front of the boot cut away.

But she didn’t care about my pain and I guess I didn’t either, because she was so excited that I didn’t even think about my foot. Not till we were outside and safe on the grass. We’d’ve been safe in the apartment, too, because it didn’t fall down.

Earthquake over, she went inside to get my Ugg and left footed running shoe, muttering as she went, “I hate California.”

Inside, there were little piggies all over the floor. She went to the kitchen, got a bowl, put them in it and I started peeling and sticking and a week later we had our records. No more orphans.

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Mine sat until 2006, boxed up in our storage unit and would still be sitting there, but when Vesta and I came back to America, we got involved in a custody battle and lawyers aren’t cheap. My son sold some of his collection on eBay and then we decided to sell the so called Archive records. We did okay with them and they paid the attorney’s fees.

So, mine are all gone. But Smith, he’s still got his. He watched with amusement as mine sold on eBay, some bringing a pretty penny, but he’s never been tempted. Of course, he invested wisely. 

I’ve asked Smith in the past what he’s going to do with his collection.

His answer, “Since I can’t take them with me, my kids will probably donate them to the Salvation Army or the Goodwill." So if you’re a collector, you might want to start checking out the thrifts, because Smith, like me, is getting up there in years.

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