S’appenin’ y’all? Me, nothing much. Just sitting here watching the OC on a Thursday night. That’s right, the OC on a Thursday. Yes, I have magic powers.
Tomorrow (tonight when you read this) we strike out on the Noise Pop warpath. Three concerts in two days, a music bender if you will. We tackle Vanderslice and Pedro first, then move along our battlefield to confront the Wrens and Earlimart, and wrap up with a pirate battle asea versus the Decemberists. We’re doing an overnighter in the city at a hotel in the Union Square district, which means we can hoof it to the Friday night show. It also means we have a morning to kill on Saturday. Should be a fun weekend.
My calculator totally sold for $90. That makes me happy. I think I’m getting a little addicted to selling stuff on Ebay, I keep trying to think of other things around the house that I can sell. I was thinking I could sell my hacked Pioneer PDR-05 pro cd burner. That thing was ~$5k new. I modified it to be able to accept the PC-type blanks, since it can normally only support the “pro” type (audio only). Maybe that mod would make it more desirable? I don’t know.
What’s that? You’re curious as to why in the world I bought a five-thousand dollar cd burner? Ahhh? now that’s an interesting story. Bottom line is, I didn’t. A guy I’ve never met, who lives in Belgium, bought it for me. I’m gonna tell you the story that I used to refer to as my “benefactor in Belgium” story.
Back in the time before PC shipped standard with PC burners, i.e. my junior year of college, I was an avid music fan and collector. Sometime late in high school I had created a webpage dedicated to the band Question Mark & the Mysterians. I had made the site mostly out of frustration that there wasn’t one out there already. Long story short, that site still exists today – and is now the #1 return on most search engines for Mysterians-related queries (although as webpages go, it’s a terrible, shaming example of what I can do? hey, I wrote it in high school).
I used to, and still do, get lots of questions on the Mysterians site. The major reason I made the site is because the band’s recordings aren’t commercially available, despite being very popular. So most of the questions I get are from people looking to obtain the music. One day I got an e-mail from a guy named Raymond. Raymond was in Belgium and was compiling a digital library of all his favorite American oldies. He needed the Mysterians song “96 Tears” as part of that collection, and he contacted me to get it.
Raymond asked me if I could get him a copy of the cd. At the time, I had no idea how to get another copy. I searched high and low to get the one copy I had, and I wasn’t about to part with it. When I politely told him I didn’t think I could find another copy, he asked me if I had a cd recorder – which I didn’t. Now, here’s where it gets strange. Over the course of maybe two more e-mails, Raymond explained to me that he was looking for some rare American recordings like “96 Tears” which were only available on vinyl or hard-to-find cds. Out of the blue, he offered to buy me a cd burner. Yeah, he offered to buy me a whole cd recorder just to get a copy of one song.
Honestly, I thought the guy was kidding. However, I figured “what the hell,” and one-upped him. I said something like “why not buy me a professional burner and then I can find some of the vinyl your after and transfer that to cd as well?” Unbelievably, he agreed. He said that because he was after mostly older American recordings, he was stuck placing large orders from the US – and that the import tax he paid on those items was an exorbitant 20%. He proposed an agreement whereby I would buy all the cds and vinyl he was after, have them shipped to me, open them all, and re-ship them to him declaring them as “used.” Seems that the import tax on new foreign goods is huge, but used foreign “gifts” are hardly taxed at all. He sent me an e-mail telling me to find the recorder I wanted, and let him know how much it was.
Still half-thinking the whole thing had to be a joke, I purposely searched for the most expensive and high-end burner I could find. At the time, professional burners weren’t that common, and were still very expensive. I found what I wanted in the Pioneer PDR-05, which retailed for ~$5k. As a complete joke, and without the slightest idea that he might actually follow through, I sent Raymond an e-mail saying the Pioneer PDR-05 would be the perfect burner. He didn’t even blink. The next afternoon I was picking up $7000 from a Western Union inside the Winn Dixie across from my apartment. Raymond had sent an extra $2k as “starter” money for the upcoming import-tax-evasion scheme we’d be working.
Now, here I am, a college kid who just got $7000 from a stranger he’s never met who lives in Europe. I bought my new Pioneer burner, and sent my first package to Belgium – two copied Question Mark & the Mysterians cds. After that Raymond would send me lists of cds, hundreds at a time, and I would order them. When they got to my house, I’d open each and every one, throw away the piles of cellophane, rebox the discs, and ship them to him declared as “gift: used music cds.” I also ordered vinyl, which I transferred to cd using the new burner and sent. He paid for all the shipping, the cost of materials, and frequently told me to use the money to pay for my gas and other expenses. Each week I would send him an accounting of his funds, a balance sheet showing all my expenses and what was left. I did this mainly because I wanted to assure him I was honest.
By this time I had developed quite a friendly relationship with this man. I learned that he was single, was in his fifties, and had been stationed at a US Army base in Germany during the 50’s and 60’s – which is where he developed his love of American music. I learned that he was retired, but was working as a “promoter” or something for a French modeling agency. I also learned that he was loaded, and very liberal with his money. He would often send packages for Sharaun. Perfume from Paris, chocolate from Germany, etc. Each week when I would send my homemade accounting sheet, he would tell me to take $200 or so and take my girlfriend out for dinner – which I gladly did. After a time, we began talking on the phone. He had a very thick accent, but I had no problem understanding him.
You’d think it couldn’t get any stranger, but it did. A few months into our buyer/seller relationship, Raymond e-mailed me asking for what he called “a favor.” Hang on, it’s gonna get strange here for a lil’ bit. In whatever year this was, I can’t remember, Pfizer had just come with Viagra – and the FDA’s approval of the drug was making big news around the world. Europe’s drug agency had yet to approve the drug, and it probably wouldn’t be available there for another year. What’s this have to do with Raymond, you ask? Well, as I mentioned before – Raymond was a man in his fifties, who worked with models. All the international news about Viagra must’ve gotten to him. He e-mailed me and asked me if I knew any US doctors who could get him some Viagra. He asked this completely out of the blue. Of course, I wasn’t really tied into any crooked prescription-writing doctors – so I wrote back apologetically saying I couldn’t help.
A day or so later, Raymond e-mailed me saying he’d found a way to get the Viagra in the US, but he needed my help to get it to him. He said he’d given my address to a doctor who would be sending me the pills, he ended up paying $80 per pill. A week later, I got a package in the mail with the Viagra. It came from New York City and was prescribed by, and to, a doctor there. Raymond had instructed me to get a large bottle of vitamins from a nutritional store, and make sure the bottle wasn’t clear. I found some Shark Fin pills, and after wrapping the Viagra in a small bag I hid them in the vitamins. I then re-sealed the foil on the pills and mailed them off to Brussels. At the time I really didn’t think much of it, but I think that might be in violation of at least some kind of federal laws. Strange indeed.
Over the next few months, business with Raymond continued as usual. Until one day when I took a phone call from him, and he told me he wanted to start a corporation in the US. In order to avoid some heavy taxation, and to get the corporation to be legally “based” in the States, he needed a US citizen as a founder. He asked if I would be willing to be a partner in this S-Corp that he was starting in New Jersey, so they could legally claim US status (for whatever reason). It was when he approached me with this that I started getting a little leery. I did a couple conference calls with Raymond, his sister in Milan, and some dudes from New Jersey, but I eventually ended up stalling and they were tied up with paperwork.
After that, Raymond just disappeared. As quickly as we started working together, we stopped. I got no more e-mails, no more phone calls, nothing. The whole thing went on for the better part of a year. After it was all over, Raymond had wired a twenty year old kid more than ten grand. My parents and friends suggested that I was being used to launder money, was being groomed for a young gay lover, was messing with the international mob, and would sure surely end up being taken away in handcuffs. After it all, I made out with an awesome cd burner, some pretty rare vinyl records, and a pretty good story.
To this day I haven’t heard from Raymond. I don’t know if he died, got arrested, was murdered, I know nothing. I do know that I have him to thank for enabling me to start trading cds as a hobby, and teaching me about Joey Dee and the Starliters‘ “Peppermint Twist” (his favorite song). Thanks Ray!
Wow, that turned out to be longer than I thought. But owell, at least it’s a good story. Last night I had asparagus with dinner. I don’t know what chemical it is in asparagus that makes your pee stink, but it sure acts fast. I peed within what must have been ten minutes after eating it, and it was already nice and stinky. I love asparagus, but I hate asparagus-pee.
Dude, my fingers are burning. Dave out.