The Record Parlour

“We buy stuff off the street. Used records. That’s where all these things come from. You get a bunch of people. And sometimes it’s a great interaction, and sometimes it’s not, you know?”

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Standing against the exposed brick of his vinyl record store, 41-year old Chadwick Hemus knows music has always been his true north. Co-owner of The Record Parlour in Hollywood, California, Chadwick remembers how records had an immediate allure for him, and working in worlds where records spin marked an early beginning to an enduring rhythm of life.

On his hand, there is a small tattoo of a faded cat sitting on a crescent moon.

“It’s off of a Ventures record cover. I don’t know. It just struck me.”

Music is like that for him, too.

His first record was a ’70’s Mickey Mouse Club record. “With Lisa Whelchel from Facts of Life, an ensemble cast,” he smiles.

Since that first vinyl, Chadwick can talk to you about Chick Corea while flipping an Otis Redding record.  The store is self-described as ‘a mecca of pre-digital entertainment and home to over 15,000 records, rare jukeboxes, restored vintage audio gear, music memorabilia and much more.’ Chandeliers and naked light bulbs glimmer in the sepia space rich with vinyl and other nostalgic things. Chadwick and his business partner Chris Honetschlaeger have been in business here for three years now.

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“This is the first time I’ve had my own store. But that’s all I’ve ever done since high school,” says Chadwick. “That’s how I’ve made a living.

“I grew up in San Diego, and I happened to be in a neighborhood where, at the time, there were  four or five music stores of varying size. There was a Tower and Warehouse. And then some very important independent stores in the area too. One of which ended up being the first place I worked.

“I just fell into that and had a knack for … kind of the way my brain works… you know, I’m pretty good at memorizing things. It lent itself to pricing,” he says. “It wasn’t something I thought consciously, ‘oh this is something I’m going to do with myself.’ I loved records.

“In the ’90’s, there was very much a trend for this snobbishness in music stores. That’s faded quite a bit. I think that overall the sort of humbling of maybe the music industry and the fact that the money’s not like it used to be …  there’s not really a lot of room for that.”

As much as his work in the record store is a labor of love, he admits there is definitely labor involved.

“It’s a lot of hours and there’s always a lot of other things to deal with besides just the good parts,” he says. “There’s a lot of street interactions. And when you run a business like this … you have a lot of other aspects to deal with that are not always pleasant.

“Sometimes you’re just a therapist. Just a bartender type helping somebody kind of move on. Sometimes you’re dealing with somebody who is very very desperate and very upset that we’re not able to help them.

“It’s not always just the stuff off the street that can be crazy. I mean, the sourcing… the places you have to go to get stuff can be really pretty creepy.

“There’s a lot of hoarders that have a lot of records. Records kind of lend themselves to that.  And a lot of times, by the time their collections are available, the person has either passed or may be in a really bad part of their life. And you’re dealing with a lot of what comes with hoarders: the dirt and filth and bugs. So there’s a lot of that when you’re sourcing this kind of stuff.”

The Flip Side

“One of the mysteries of music… is the sort of power of it and the longevity of it.

“And one of the reasons I think we have been very successful in a short amount of time is there’s a lot of interaction with people. I want to find out what they want and what they want to be turned on to, and it really doesn’t matter if that’s what you’re into or not.  It’s more about getting someone streamlined into what they want. All of those interactions are what make a good day.

“Small businesses like this are always about relationships.  That’s why people come in. When people are selling records, especially when it’s their own records, they really want acknowledgement over them. That the stuff is good stuff. That they took care of it. Or maybe they didn’t because they loved them. But there’s definitely that exchange. It’s so often not about how much money. It’s so much about acknowledging the importance they’ve given these objects, and they really want you to give that.

“I’m sure this is part of what my over-arching dream would be for an existence. I don’t know what that is.  Right now, I’m more about survival and realigning. It’s a very strange time period. So the idea of sort of a dream or a bigger picture — ugh — it’s not where I’m at.

“My favorite mantra has always been ‘don’t look down.’

“That’s the key to hanging in there. ‘Cuz it’s pretty scary.”

Maybe music helps us look up. And make sense of things. Especially in tough times. In the moment. And well beyond. In the words of musician and artist David Byrne from his book How Music Works:

“A slew of musical associations bounce around in our heads, linking to recurring memories and feelings, which, after a while, facilitate the creation and reinforcement of specific neural pathways. These pathways help us make sense of those experiences. They make us who we are.

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Where is Home?

Even the most independent person craves a sense of belonging — within a family, a workplace, a community. It’s part of the human experience.

Seated over a cup of hot coffee in a cafe on Chicago’s south side, 56 year-old Anita Ong is thinking about country.

“I was born in the Philippines,” she says. “My parents were from China.”

She pauses.

“So! I am in between.”

Her words carry a bright tone, but her facial expression reveals resignation.  She is taking me through the past, as though we are there.

“In between” because even though Anita was born in the Philippines, she doesn’t have birthright citizenship there. Instead, citizenship follows that of one’s parents.

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In the late 1940’s, around the time Mao Zedong’s Communist Party was declaring victory over the Nationalists, Anita’s parents left China — her father first, then her mother.

“My father went to the Philippines because life was really difficult in his home town — a small rural area. And my grandparents were really poor.”

Anita is the seventh of nine children, all of whom were born in the Philippines. Along with her siblings, young Anita grew up in Laguna and Manila and attended Chinese school.

She had to be linguistically nimble.

“In the morning, we studied English lessons, and in the afternoon, we studied a combination of Mandarin and Fukienese (both Chinese dialects). At home, we spoke Tagalog (the official language of the Philippines) and a little Fukienese.”

To say she was a girl without a country is not far off…

I try to think of the long-term implications of this arrangement. How does one travel without a passport from your home country? How does one answer the question of nationality? What of the question of voting some day?

School of Life

Anita shares accomplishments with humility and brevity.

“In the Philippines, I ended up in medical school. I finished, and I did my residency in pathology.”

Upon completion, rather than a license and a medical practice, Anita received some bitter medicine. Suddenly, her career path appeared to be a dead end. Or perhaps, an “in between” space. Since Anita was not a citizen of the Philippines, she could not practice medicine there.

“It was very frustrating, because when I was doing my residency, my teachers told me that I was a GOOD pathologist.” Anita hints that this was a new kind of praise, a new-found and certain aptitude.

Beyond the issues of personal identity and pride, there was a financial question that accompanied the news: How would Anita earn a sufficient living? While staying with her parents, Anita remembers thinking, “there should be something better for me than this.”

Her mother agreed and encouraged her to go to the United States.

“I had been living a very sheltered life.” Anita spoke softly now. “What would I do in the U.S.?”

Her sister was living in California, but apart from her, she didn’t know anyone.  “I would be on my own,” she reflects. “It’s sort of scary.”

USA 

Anita boarded a plane bound for Los Angeles, traveling on a Taiwanese passport.

“If a person like me does not have a passport, you can choose either a PRC (People’s Republic of China) passport or ROC (Republic of China), which is a Taiwan passport.”

Anita has never lived in either mainland China or Taiwan.

She landed in California and visited her sister in Redlands for a few weeks. She remembers those first impressions with vivid detail. “There were a lot of citrus trees. I could smell the orange blossoms, and that was wonderful. I thought it was a beautiful place.

“Everything in America seemed to be bigger, grander and brighter.”

Weeks later, she made her way to the Midwest, specifically, the University of Illinois in Chicago. There, she would repeat her residency in pathology and add two sub-specialties.

“I realized I can survive.”

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Despite cold urban commutes through dark Chicago winters, Anita felt at home — both in Chicago and in her area of medicine.

“I like details. I obsess with details!” she laughs. “Pathology has a lot of details.”

And in pathology, there is less patient contact, which also suits Anita.

“I like dealing with people sometimes, but sometimes I get shy. And sometimes, it’s a little overwhelming.

“Generally, we are in the background,” she says of herself and her fellow pathologists.

Intermingled with mention of microscopes and objective lenses, Anita says, “We have specimens. They don’t have faces, so in a way, it’s easier.”

Anita wanted to do this kind of work for many years to come.  She wanted to practice medicine in the United States.

Her superiors wanted that too.

Working visa.

Green card.

Employment.

Home.

Sort of.

 July 3, 2013

“Will it sound bad to say that I wanted to be a citizen of a country?” Anita asks me. “I wanted to be a citizen.

“Life has been GOOD to me here.”

Anita was working at the hospital when a woman called from a government office: Anita was going to be sworn in as a United States citizen on July 3, 2013.

“They usually don’t call people, but this was such short notice.” Anita is speaking faster. “She left a message on my cellphone and on my home, so it was like listening to the good news TWICE!” She is laughing now. “Actually, I listened to it a number of times!”

On July 3, Anita went to work, then left for the ceremony at around lunchtime. “I was so excited! So restless!”

In an ordinary room set up with rows of chairs, Anita estimated there were about 60 people, from about 30 countries. They recited the Pledge of Allegiance. Mayor Rahm Emanuel spoke.

“Then there’s a portion of the program where they call the country.”  People from that country are to stand at that time.

“And I was thinking, ‘Should I stand up for the Philippines? Should I stand up for China? Should I stand up for Taiwan? I should stand up for Taiwan, but then, would they have a slot for Taiwan?’

“They did,” she smiles. “So I stood up for Taiwan.”

As soon as Anita’s ceremony was complete and she was a U.S. citizen, she left the room and encountered a man distributing voting forms.

“The FIRST thing I did as an American citizen was register to vote!” Anita can’t contain her excitement. She has never been able to vote in her 56 years of life. “I can have the EXPERIENCE of voting. It makes me feel like I’m doing something MEANINGFUL. It is a privilege!

Then she looks at me deviously.

“Do you want to know what my SECOND thing was?”

Yes.

“I went to McDonald’s! My second act as an American citizen was to eat a burger!” she laughs. “I didn’t get fries though. I was feeling guilty.”

She went back to work that day as a citizen of the United States. “I was showing off my certificate, and some of my friends called me.

“I was so happy! Really. I was very happy. And now, when I think of it, I can’t help but smile!”

A friend asked Anita what she wanted to do to celebrate. Nothing much. She doesn’t like crowds. They talked playfully about eating hot dogs and burgers, watching the fireworks and buying red, white and blue carnations.

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July 4, 2013

Instead, they decided to get together for a low-key movie-watching afternoon at Anita’s friend’s apartment.

“He said he needed to stop at the laundry room,” says Anita. “So we went down this corridor, and suddenly there were these people saying ‘surprise’! They were cheering!

“I was just so surprised and speechless for I don’t know, a few minutes, I was just standing there and laughing. I felt like I wanted to cry and laugh.

“It was such a heart-warming gesture. It was such a happy…” Her voice trails off and she wipes her eyes.

“There are so many people who care for me….”

Anita received symbolic gifts from her friends that day — a flag brooch, a necklace with a heart-shaped locket bearing red and blue stones, a shawl that is an American flag.

She also received a copy of the Constitution of the United States.

“One guest made copies of the Declaration of Independence and distributed them so everybody could read a portion of the document and discuss,” says Anita.

“I read the first paragraph of the Declaration of Independence.”

“When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary…”

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Hats Off

When I stepped inside Goorin Bros. Hat Shop in Chicago, there were hats on every table and every shelf — fedoras and flatcaps, baseball and bowlers. There, I met Tanya Jaramilla, and not unlike the establishment itself, she wears many hats: shopkeeper, wife, sister, student.

“I’ll be the first person in the whole family to graduate from college.”

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Tanya is 32 years old and approximately one year away from earning a Bachelor’s degree in Management and Communications from DePaul University.

Tanya’s grandparents came to the Windy City in the 1950’s from Puerto Rico on the promise of steady factory work.

“For my family, it was a BIG deal to finish high school.

“For me, I always wanted bigger and better and more.”

Tanya was certain she would go to college.

“I just didn’t know when or how or what that would look like. It’s really, really, really important that I get my degree and graduate — do the whole shebang!”

If you’re doing the math, you already guessed there was a detour after high school that Tanya will tell you was worth every minute and helped her become the person she is today.

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“I have no regrets, because if I hadn’t lived the life I already lived, I wouldn’t be living the life I have now. I run this fantastic little hat shop. The people that work for me are great, and the people that come and shop here are great. I’m doing school the way I wanted to do it, which is with all my focus and energy and attention.”

Straight out of high school, Tanya worked part-time at a Gap store and was soon promoted to a full-time manager position. What had been a balancing act between work and college tipped. “I did that for a really long time. And school just kind of fell to the back burner.”

Simultaneously, Tanya was in a long-term relationship.  About seven years later, and in a cloud of mistrust, Tanya’s relationship ended in a break-up that became a total life shake-up. She changed her job, her home, her city.

“I left and went to Vegas to live for a few months with my grandma, and that was one of the best experiences I ever had. I was able to connect with her on a level that I’d never done before.  We talked about her life, and I learned stories about her struggle.

“It really affirmed for me the decision that I had made to move on and change and do something that was right for me. So when it was time for me to come back to Chicago, I came back with a cleansed soul. I felt like a new me. I felt like the me that I was trying to get to for the last six or seven years, and it just never happened because I kept letting my comfort get in the way of it.”

Tanya says she wanted to do something important. Something that makes a difference. Something she could be passionate about. She found it in a non-profit organization called the Puerto Rican Arts Alliance.

“It was a little surreal at the beginning because I was so used to having to struggle. And having to overcome something.

“I started digging in. I started really working with the organization in the community.”

And she realized something.

“This is what I was supposed to do, you know? It was meant to be. I was meant to get to know these young people who have all of these aspirations but no real support or access to resources. I was able to provide that for them in ways that they never had before.”

Tanya remembers an inquisitive little girl named Susie. “She made me feel like I … showed her that you don’t have to succumb to the neighborhood that you’re from. You don’t have to fall into the traps that the community around you sets for you.

“That’s something I try to instill in my little sisters. They are young moms, and it’s a conversation that I’ve had with them over and over. You don’t have to settle.

“I was settling for a really long time.” She thinks back to that old relationship. “Once I finally broke free of that, it was really important for me to make sure they understood that their lot in life doesn’t necessarily have to be that. They can work harder, they can be better, they can do more, if they want to.

“I grew as a person from my relationship experiences, but also as a woman.”

Tanya says in her relationship, she had become someone other than who she wanted to be. “In order to fulfill someone else’s happiness, I was turning a blind eye. I was in denial. The biggest challenge for me: being honest with myself.

“Another thing I taught my sisters was that people will only do to you what you allow them to.

“If I continue to let someone treat me terribly, they’re going to keep treating me terribly. Because I’m not putting a stop to it. And I’m not ending it. It gives them the message that that’s ok. And it’s not ok.

When Tanya was 27, that year was filled with introspection.  “I did a lot of digging into myself and thinking and feeling.

“It wasn’t easy. I don’t think those moments in life ever are. But I think it paved the way for me to be the person I am today. I feel like I am much stronger. I’m more confident. I have a better view of what my future’s going to be like.”

A future that includes her new husband Sonny Jaramilla. They were married just last month.

“When I found him, I realized that all of the things that I had worked through and I had lived through … that was preparation for me to get my mind right and my head right and my heart right and my soul right, so that when he came along, I was ready.”

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It was Sonny who reminded Tanya of her dream of graduating from college. “He gave me the kick in the butt.

“He is the one who encouraged me to leave the non-profit so that I could focus on school without having to try and juggle the two.”

Tanya is not abandoning her mission of making an impact on the community. She’s investing in it through education. And going forward, she plans to find ways to give young people who are from low income neighborhoods opportunities to engage in the arts.

“I’m very urban. I’ve lived in Chicago pretty much my whole life. And I know the challenges that urban life can bring.  But I also feel like there’s some opportunity and some beauty in that.

“Everyone cannot live in Lakeview, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still enjoy the neighborhood and the community that you’re in. It should still be safe, and it should still be beautiful, and it should still be full of life and creativity!”

And that is where Tanya says her future will find her.

But first, she will keep working toward the day when she dons the style-impaired mortarboard and turns the tassel from right to left.

After that, Tanya will be wearing a proud new custom hat, in a style all her own.

Hey Hey Paula

Life is all the richer because everyone dreams a different dream.

As a sous chef in Grand Junction, Colorado, Paula Pinero loved the high energy of the restaurant world, took pride in her clean kitchen and knew the business at all levels of service.

“I didn’t go to college or anything. So, first I was a waitress, then I started dishwashing, then I moved up to prep, then I moved up to cooking. Basically, it’s all I knew.”

But away from the kitchen, Paula had another passion: thrift stores.

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“It goes back to me and my mom. We were thrift store junkies. Yard sale junkies. And I mean buy and buy and buy and buy! I said, ‘one of these days we’re going to have to open up a store’ because we had so much stuff,” she remembers, eyes shining. “I guess nobody knew about hoarding back then. They’d probably call us hoarders now.”

In fact, she tried making a go of it in Grand Junction. She opened a thrift store of her own. Separately, so did her mom. For some reason, they didn’t do it together.

Paula’s little store went under. Her mom’s store did a bit better.

But somewhere along the way, the two had a falling out, and they didn’t talk for a long time.

Other changes were happening, too.

“I just couldn’t do the pressure of the line cooking anymore.”

So she took her skills and started cooking in hospitals and then nursing homes. The thrift store dream still tugged at her heart. In an ideal world, she and her husband Paul would have a thrift store, with an apartment attached, all under one roof. But that was just a dream.

As the distance between Paula and her mom grew, the residents at the nursing home filled a void. She was more than a cook. She was a friend, a confidant, a constant presence. She remembers the birthday party of a woman who turned a joyful and sprite 103 years old. She remembers World War II vets. She remembers the guilt she felt as she snuck a cigarette out back and was gleefully joined by a 90 year-old smoker who’d been looking for Paula’s nicotine place of escape. The residents, their stories and the relationships gave Paula a sense of connection where there was one gaping hole in her life.

Then one day things started to turn around. Her mom was in a better place.

“We started talking again, and we started shopping! She started perking up. You know, there was a REASON to get up in the morning. A REASON…

“And then, I don’t know why it happened. I guess God took her for a reason…”

Paula’s strong exterior gave way to tears.

“We were talking about opening a store and doing, you know, business together. A thrift store — then she just died.

“Everything for me went down hill from there.  So I said, ‘screw Colorado’,  let’s just get the heck out and just go.”

Paul’s brother-in-law had always talked about Arizona.

“We just packed the car up and came out here to Cottonwood. We were looking for places to live, and it was like God took us right here.”

Reluctantly, they called on a charming little corner property. Located right on the scenic highway stretching through the picturesque town, surely it was out of their price range. Surely it was not really available.

It was in their price range. And it was available. And oh, it has a little apartment attached in back.  No longer just the cute fixer-upper. Now it proudly bears the sign “Paula’s Attic”.

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“It’s a thrift store-slash-treasure chest! And it’s mine!”

Her husband Paul is a contractor and has been helping shape the store into their collective dream place.

“Sometimes a song will come on that we love,” says Paula, “and we just run out here and grab each other and dance.

“We have our little store! We have our little store!

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“If someone comes in, we look at each other and say ‘can you believe this has happened?’

“I’m not a millionaire. But it isn’t about the money. It’s about the dream and the journey.”

Of course the only piece missing is Paula’s mom.

“Sometimes I dream about her for days and days and days. And we’re always in a thrift store.

“Maybe she left for a reason. To push me here. Because if she hadn’t, I wouldn’t have left. I think she’s here in the thrift store. I think she’d be smiling down on me right now.”

Old Roads and Fresh Starts

Hum the song and you’ll instantly remember that Route 66 cuts through Flagstaff, Arizona. On the historic stretch of road that runs parallel to the train tracks, don’t let the morning sun get in your eyes or you’ll miss the bean-sized Wicked AZ. It’s a free-standing drive-up coffee window where you can find 23 year-old barista Kate Broeren.

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Like most 20-somethings, Kate seems happy and upbeat, but she has a lot on her mind. Last year, she graduated from college at Northern Arizona University, majored in Public Health and has been accepted into nursing school in Phoenix. She is one year into her three year wait period before she can begin.

“I swear I wanted to be a nurse since I was three years old. I have other interests, but I really enjoy medicine and taking care of people.”

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Maybe that love of medicine inspired the daily trivia question in the coffee shop window:
 
What ails you if you have a bilateral periorbital hematoma? 
 
The correct answer will save you 25 cents.
 
Another BNSF train rumbles past.
 
Kate is thinking about moving to Phoenix even sooner. “I really just kind of want to start fresh with my life.”
 
Change has a way of doing that — making people crave a fresh start. Among the things that have changed for Kate: One week ago, her parents divorced.
 
“They say it’s hard on kids when they’re young, but it’s just as hard when you’re an adult.”
 
The upside though is Kate is mature enough at this age to look for lessons within the hardship.
 
“I was sort of raised not to talk about my feelings,” she says. “But I’ve learned that if I want to be happy in life, communication is the most important thing you can do with somebody.”
 
Her motto — until more healing takes place: “This too shall pass.”
 
Another customer pulls off Route 66 and Kate greets them with a smile.