Alberto Balsam

Pushing open the door of the Play It Again Sports in Portland, ME, I’m reminded of being a kid, eyeing the Vapor skates displayed on the rack, weighing a Synergy in my hands.

It’s a grey, New England morning and we’re on our way to visit my brother in Vermont, making a quick pit stop to sharpen our skates, and for me, an opportunity to record a Music That Moves Me Segment at Maine Public Radio.

We try on a pair of red and white gloves with an enlarged thumb to ward off vicious hacks, and then it’s time to head over, so I slip out, nervous to put words to something so wordless.

The studio is just two hundred yards from Play It Again Sports. There’s a good amount of snow on the roads so I clomp my boots out front, and suddenly I’m in the studio, in front of a microphone, watching the audio levels rise and fall.

“Want me to read from here?” I say, holding up a crumpled piece of paper.

The producer smiles, as if anticipating the question. “Why don’t you just talk to us.”

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Washtown

To pass the time I scan the wall. Above the coin machine are flyers, stuck with sharp, metal tacks. There’s a poster promoting a liver detox, an ad for arigatou classes, and a photo of a sad-looking cat named Dwight. He’s been lost since Friday.

A woman in a khaki jacket sits across from me. She’s leaning back in a plastic chair, her iPhone perched upright in a wrinkled palm. I insert my ear buds, which are tangled around each other like jungle vines, and hit play on Elder Island’s feverish, twangy Bonfire. 

Inspiration comes at the weirdest times, no? Too often I sit down at a computer to write, headphones on, then headphones off, sitting, then standing, trying to squeak out something new. But when I have the time, nothing pools.

The woman across from me exhales and Jim James’ wobbling Here in Spirit starts to play. Truthfully, it’s the only protest song I’ve ever liked. I want to pump my fists.

The dryers click and whirl. My mind is moving, swishing through avenues of past, present, and future. I find it odd that it’s happening now, in Washtown, details jumping out like fireworks.

Bringggggg!

My clothes are dry. The woman in the khaki jacket coughs, wipes her nose, and heads for the exit. I start to sort through a pile of crispy t-shirts. The fluorescent lights descend and the playlist resumes, shooting me back up into space.

3 is my guess

“Three is my guess. Three or three-thirty,” said the man in a bright yellow polo tucked into khaki shorts. He drifted by our window, circled his car and stopped to lean against the guard rail. Two older women sat inside — one with a Tom Clancy novel spread across her lap, the other eating a bag of tortilla chips as she searched for a cooler of beer.

“Think they’ll be cold?” said the woman.

The man laughed. “Not a chance.”

Two miles up 1-80, a car was on fire. Behind us, were two more accidents. “That’s what happens when people slam the brakes on a two-lane highway,” said the man to no one in particular.

Beyond the guard rail was a drop off, a steep ravine lined with pine trees bending up to the clear, blue sky. I kicked off my shoes. The hot cement felt good pressed against the arches of my feet.

A car door slammed. A family of three jogged by — sweating. The woman in front of us let out a shrill yelp, tipping a beer can back, frothy liquid dribbling down her cheeks.

“Time to go!!” she shrieked.

Saltwater Sun

I like this band. They’ve got something going on. And it’s not just because they’re #1 on Hype Machine right now. I promise.

We’ve been a bit wordy as of late, so I’ll try to cut to the chase. Saltwater Sun is a British band that combines the elegance of Elder Island with the grittiness of DIIV. Lofty guitar riffs create a thrashing tension that seems to stretch as far back as it rushes forward.

Feels good doesn’t it?

Cafe Disco

Fans of The Office love the show for the jaw clenching moments of missed social cues and over the top irreverence. Ironically, the greatest perpetrator is the boss himself. Self-centered and clueless, Michael Scott gives us a million reasons to roll our eyes.

Despite his antics, Michael is able to gain the loyalty of his subordinates. While his corporate peers try to wrangle profits, Michael focuses his attention on birthday celebrations and recreational non sequitors, like Cafe Disco.

In Season 5 Michael uses a vacant space directly beneath Dunder Mifflin to play disco and iron out his awkward dance moves. He outfits the space with an espresso machine and a set of portable speakers. When the new receptionist goes looking for Michael, she finds him caffeinated and flailing.

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With shots of espresso and Everybody Dance Now blaring through an air-vac, Michael tries to lure the rest of his co-workers out of their desk chairs, but despite a few tapping toes, they’re hesitant to cut loose. Just as Michael is on the verge of giving up, his caffeine buzz lapsing, he hears the muffled tones of a disco beat and rushes downstairs to see Cafe Disco in full swing.

Anyone who’s sat stoically in a dry meeting has at one time or another, fantasized about Cafe Disco. Maybe not exactly to Michael’s specs — espresso and dance music — but a brief reprieve from the safe harbors of marinating on a few action items, for something more fabulous.

Which got me going on a Cafe Disco playlist featuring a track from a Nightmares on Wax Boiler Room set, a Deliceuse Musique premier and a little something jacked from WalterCronkTight’s DJ playlist.