Found Someone’s CD Collection On The Sidewalk

Have you ever seen a 1,000 CD Case Logic lying on the sidewalk? It’s upsetting. It’s like finding a corpse: someone made this, someone raised it, loved it, fed it, enriched it and, in return, was enriched by it. And now it’s lying here, unzipped, its contents spread over the sidewalk. When it happened to me over the weekend, I felt like the shmuck who finds the body at the beginning of Law and Order.

I did find an actual body on the sidewalk once, I think. I was walking home from work and saw a guy lying on his face. Nothing remarkable about that, except that I was at 11th and A, and you don’t see that kind of thing much around there these days. Plus he seemed young — mid-20’s, maybe — and his clothes looked clean and relatively new. Also his neck and arms were bent at strange angles, like he was frozen in the middle of a bad Michael Jackson impression. As I passed I turned and saw that his eyes were open: pale green, and clouded over. I kept walking. In a few steps it hit me: was he dead? Did I just pass a corpse? Should I keep walking? Or, more to the point, should I stop walking? I heard sirens and looked up as a fire engine rounded the corner heading towards me. Dead or not, someone was coming to deal with this guy. I didn’t even break stride — just walked home. But later I felt strange: should I have felt or done something differently than what I had felt and done, which was nothing?

A year later, here was this CD collection, and for the CD collection, I stopped. It was a poetic corpse of a CD collection, lying open at about the middle page with a stream of unorganized CDs — the ones you don’t bother to put in pockets and just cram inside the zipper — vomitted out of it.

I’m a child of the 90’s. I remember what it meant to build a CD collection: spending hours at Sam Goody or FYE or Tower or some other vaguely intimidating mall record store buying albums one at a time for $16 a pop, reading the back of the jewel case for 10 minutes, trying to decide if the band’s other nine songs were as good as the one you heard on the radio, knowing they probably weren’t, and buying it anyway. Building a collection took years and cost hundreds if not thousands of dollars.

And if you lost a whole case, you never recovered. Even if you could remember all the CDs you had lost, and even if you were willing to pay for new ones, it was back to Sam Goody, pawing through the supposedly alphabetized racks until you discovered that a new copy of a five year old album was still $14. Plus, even if you replaced your CDs, the new ones weren’t your CDs. You could get a new copy of Parliament’s Tear the Roof Off: 1974 – 1980, but it wouldn’t be the one with the scratch on the label of Disc 2 that you listened to on the bus to all of your sophmore year away games after buying it over the summer from a used record store in Utah because a camp friend clued you in that all of Dre and Snoop’s music was ripped from one legendary funk band. If you lost that, there was no getting it back.

So what could explain this collection of at least 500 CDs lying abandoned in the middle of the sidewalk? There were a few VHS tapes next to the CDs. I didn’t even read the titles — VHS tapes suck — but seeing the tapes made me think that the CD’s were part of a larger stuff-moving operation. I thought of two possibilities: either someone had been packing the car for Christmas and the CD collection had been mistakenly left behind, or the CDs had been collateral damage of a bad break-up, thrown out by an angry partner. I glanced at the CD’s on the open page: two Pixies albums and two Portishead albums. Not bad.

I looked around. No one was on the block. Two girls were sitting on the stoop across the street, chatting. I kneeled over the CD case and began flipping pages until I came to the Forrest Gump soundtrack, a mid-90’s give-away, but right below it was a Feist CD. How did those two end up in the same case on the same page? And there were other surprises: four Jeff Buckley albums, Howlin’ Wolf, Slim Harpo, Ibrahim Ferrer. Whose CD collection was this?

I stood up and decided to leave it. Someone might come back for it. I took a few steps and turned around. Someone might come back for it, but it was far likelier that a homeless person would either use the CDs to decorate a shopping cart or sell the whole collection for $10. I turned back and stood over the CDs, vaguely aware that the girls across the street were noticing that I was being weird.

My pocket buzzed — a text from my fiancee: “Headache. My head feels poopy. I have a poop head : ( .”  New York wears her out. She works too hard, she’s sick of her job, and she wants us to move back to L.A., like I promised. We’re moving next year. It’s not that I don’t see the upside — beaches, nicer home, a bunch of our friends already there — it’s just that in L.A., you’d never find someone’s entire CD collection on your walk home.

I leaned down and tried to zip the Case Logic, but the zipper stuck. I picked it up. The girls across the street, if they noticed, didn’t react. I walked home with the closed, unzipped case logic cradled across my arms like a wounded animal.

“I found someone’s CD collection,” I said, walking into the living room.

“Ughhhhh,” said my fiancee, lying on the couch in the dark. Right — the headache.

“Are you gonna want food?” she asked. Ah, the dinner conversation: she’s never hungry, I never know what I want. But tonight we had some raw chicken in the fridge that we had to use. I told her I was hungry. She said she would make fried chicken. Are you sure? The headache’s not too bad? No, it’s ok — just come keep me company.

I love fried chicken. My dad used to get it for us all the time as a kid. Then, for a long time, I never ate it. Now I eat it constantly. I think it’s a response to stress. Like cinnamon toast. I used to eat cinnamon toast all the time as a kid, and then, after not eating it for years, I had an overwhelming need for it while studying for the bar exam. I would do a set of practice questions and then look at the answers: “So, how’d we do?… HOLY UNDERWEAR! Ok… cinnamon toast break.” After the bar exam, I stopped eating it again.

She started frying chicken and I started unfolding the mystery of the CD collection.

Page 1: Abba, Gold; Ace of Base; the Tribe Called Quest Anthology and a burned CD labeled “Arcade Fire EP.” But under the Arcade Fire CD was the soundtrack to The Virgin Suicides. This was clearly a 90’s collection, but what was Arcade Fire doing in there? I understand that people move on — we all moved on, but we got iPods. Why have Arcade Fire on CD at all?

Page 2: Some Beatles greatest hits thing, and a reasonable assortment of Dylan — Another Side, Highway 61, Blonde on Blonde, all fundamentals. But also a copy of Before the Flood, a double CD live album recorded with the Band. Nice. Sorely lacking Bootleg Series 1-3, but not bad.

Then it got wacky: Blondie, Bjork, the Breeders, Bright Eyes, Beck, Blind Willie Johnson, Charlotte Gainsbourg, a bunch of Bowie, the Clash, Ella Fitzgerald, Mississippi Fred McDowell. Pretty impressive. And alphabetized.

“What do you think, baby?” I asked my fiancee. “Boy or girl?”

“I don’t know,” she said. “Put something on.”

How to choose? I started flipping pages and found more blues. Do girls like blues? I love the blues, but it’s pretty misogynistic. Not only are most of the singers men, but sooner or later even the nicest blues man will tell you that his woman stayed out all night so he shot her.

And there were other boy cues: Franz Ferdinand, a bunch of punk, a burned CD labeled “Johnny Cash – The Man Comes Around.” That’s not Chili’s commercial or “Jaoquin Phoenix is cute!” Johnny Cash. That’s late Johnny Cash, dying of cancer, quoting Bible verses and growling about the end of the world.

I was stumped. What do you make of a collection that has Muddy Waters next to No Doubt, the first Raconteurs album next to three Rilo Kiley CDs, and a mix CD with a track list in boy’s handwriting that includes the Silver Jews, Jonathan Rice, and a bunch of Dolly Parton? Whose CD collection is this? Musician? Music student?

“Just pick something, baby,” my fiancee said.

“I don’t know some of this stuff,” I said. “Like… Paris After Dark?”

“You don’t know Paris After Dark?’” she said. “Put it on!”

A minute later we were ballroom dancing in the kitchen to a post-war recording of Charles Trenet singing “La Mer.” Headache: gone. Man, this is a good CD collection. I dipped her a little too close to the range and her hair almost caught fire on the gas stove. We were better dancers when we were single.

Chicken was done and I still hadn’t figured out anything about the person who owned this collection. Boy? Girl? Inherited the collection from an older brother? Shared it with a girlfriend?

Finally, I crossed the gulf of empty pages in the middle to the back of the case: the classical music CDs and… the mix CDs. Boom.

It was soon obvious that this collection belongs to Justine. Justine studied abroad in Germany (Written in sharpie on a CD: “Gluckischer Geburtstag, Justine! [Heart], Jared / ‘Hildegard Knef sings Cole Porter’ ”). Also, Justine is (was?) either very good friends with, or dating, a girl named Ellen.

My favorite mix CD in the collection is labeled, “Happy Birthday Justina! Love, Julia & Aaron.” This is either a very nice gift from two people, or the most passive-aggressive mix-CD ever: “this is a gift from both of us… because we’re together now… as in dating… so stop hitting on my…” Hard to finish that without knowing if Justine is gay.

So, Justine, I have your CD collection. It’s a beautiful collection, and I can’t believe you would abandon it on the sidewalk. If you want it back, please email me.

Adam TC mark

image – The Cleveland Kid


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  • Cathe

    Ah, CDs. Also my generation. I’m a 90s baby, and although these aren’t the music I listened to, I loved the article, nevertheless. Only goes to show what you own tells so much about you.

    PS. I would have scavenged the CD collection if I happen to see it on the sidewalk, too. Such a waste to just see it lying there.

  • Jesper Dahl

    I wish you would’ve made this more of a game…

  • Jesper Dahl

    Also; “Gainsborough”?

  • future gopher

    I was taking out the garbage one day at school and out of the corner of my eye I see something really shiny near the dumpster.  I take a closer look and pick it up.  It’s a ring from TIFFANY’S(!) EXACTLY like the one I gave my ex gf who I dated for 2 years.  The only difference was that this one had the etching on the inside of the couple’s initials.  I couldn’t believe it.  How do you lose a ring like that?  What was the story behind the lost ring?  Did the guy do something stupid so the girl threw it out but missed the dumpster?  But how do you throw out a ring?!?  Did it just fall off?  But rings usually don’t slip off like that.  

    It’s been almost five months since she dumped me but the lost ring still gets to me.  What did she do with all the gifts I gave her especially this ring?  Did she throw it out too?  She probably threw it all out and I’m thinking in circles for nothing.  Hopefully she didn’t miss the dumpster though.  


    • CaptainReality

       The ring could have been lost. I found a BIG diamond ring on the ground once in a university, and handed it to security. A couple of weeks later I received a gushing thank you letter from the owner, who got it back from security. It was nice.

  • Ironique

    I like how you once discovered a dead body, but were more inspired to write in length about discovering someone’s CD collection.

  • Kind New Yorker

    This was one of the best things I have read on here in a while. It was true, but it read like a novel. Love.

  • mookie

    I thought it was definitely a boy.

  • Gregory Costa

    Blondie is not wacky…Parallel Lines…great album.  I’d also take a CD over mp3’s any day.  I need a physical format, damn it!

  • -w-

    Totally thought this was my sister’s CDs that got stolen out of her car until it got to the Justine bit. She still buys CDs. She probably has all of those CDs. 

  • engleprunt

     Fun article, dude. I enjoyed the care you took in experiencing someone else’s musical life. A few too many digressions but otherwise, well done.

  • Jennifer

    I figured it was a girl, sounds like my CD collection prior to receiving an iPod, and the stuff I now have on my iPod.

  • Riddhi G. Dastidar

    Oh I Loved this. Wish I’d found it :)

  • Anonymous

    Dude, Arcade Fire EP was 2002. How many people did you know with an MP3 player back then?

    • KA Bloom

      Fair enough.

      • Anonymous

        Good article though. I hope Justine comes across it.

  • beatrice

    This is an amazing piece. I’m soo glad I went back a few pages to read it. You have a very distinct and clear voice that speaks and despite the fact that this is similar to a journal entry, you had me hooked. You’re a lawyer I guess? So good for you since you’re prolly better off than the rest of the journalists on the site. And wow, the cd collection sounds exactly like my ipod

  • Warrencohen

    JUST LIKE A VULTURE ..CARE TO SHARE ANY OF THe CDs? It read like a detective novel. Better than your standup comedy,worse than your movie reviews.

  • Jeremy Ryan Smallwood

    I left a whole CD tower behind in a move once.  Didn’t realize it until far too late.  I don’t think it is still there, the building was condemned shortly after and I’m sure it’s been looted since.  I don’t listen to many CDs any more but I would love to remember what I left behind sometimes.

  • Lenora Jane

    Ehhh, fack yer “boy cues,” I own all of those things and Joaquin Phoenix has nothing to do with my love for Johnny Cash.

  • Visakan Veerasamy

    I would love to meet Justine! She seems like she’s got tonnes of personality.

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