It was the summer of 2006 when my friend Mike and I first met Crazy Chet. We had never heard of or about him before that day, and while flipping frantically through a crate of 45s he had brought to sell us, we both looked up and in unison asked "Do you have any more?"
"Sure, but you two are gonna have to come check em out at my house and I'm gonna need time to clean that shithole up," said a middle-aged man with long grey hair, a wiry grey goatee, and wearing a filthy work jumpsuit. "I'm Chet. I live down the street. Gonna need a hundred bucks for that batch and hell…there's a ton more where those came from!" he said while alternating between laughing hysterically and coughing desperately. We count out a hundred bucks in 20s and ask him when he'll be ready for us to come check out the rest of his collection.
"Let's do it next week. I gotta pay to get my asshole brother off my back. He's trying to kick me and Mother out of the house and sell the place! I could use all the money I could get for my lawyer and for court costs!" Chet growls in his oddly loud matter-of-fact tone. We take him up on his offer and make plans to go check out his place the following Friday afternoon.
Mike and I price out the crate we scored from Chet. It was a real goldmine with soul and funk 45s we had never heard before and doo-wop records that were valued at upwards of 50 bucks a pop. We spend the rest of the week flipping the records and building up a cash pile, all the while praying that Chet's house would be filled with more of these gems like he promised us.
That following Friday, we walked up to Chet's house with a couple of record crates and 500 bucks cash. From the street, his house was the definition of an eyesore; there were heaps of junk from the curb to the front door, his porch had live weeds growing through the planks, and the paint and shingles on the house were so bad that it made the house look like it was decomposing. The screen door swung open as we approached and, standing there in his worker's onesie, was Chet. "Glad you boys could make it! Come on in, but be quiet! We can't disturb mother," he said while motioning to the upstairs level of the house.
We got inside and I felt an instant claustrophobia. All of the windows were covered in layers of blankets and sheets, and the only light in the room was coming from a television set in the corner, which was playing a VHS of a doo-wop performance from the early 80's. The picture was fuzzed out and there were blips and glitches that were in synch with pitch-bent audio distortions of four woman singing doo-wop harmonies on a stage. "The second woman died that night," Chet said. "Oh yeah, what happened?" I asked Chet nervously. "Well, it was a really messed up story. She had an aneruism and, coincidentally, her husband crashed his truck and died an hour later. They were cursed," he said before quickly dismissing the conversation and turning the attention to the other, darker corner of his living room. He flipped on a small amber light bulb that was hanging above an old turntable. He then opened a small brown box and pulled a 45 out of a plain, dark green sleeve. He dropped the needle and, suddenly, beautiful female vocals came from an unknown source. Mike and I remained silent.
"This stuff up here is my shit. It's mostly not for sale. The records I'm interested in selling are in the basement. You guys brought flashlights, right?" said Chet. "Uh. No man, we thought there'd be lights," said Mike. In a subtle panic, we told Chet that we had to leave but would return the next day with flashlights. It was our ticket to buying ourselves some time and, most importantly, it was our key to getting the hell out of the situation and regrouping our thoughts.
Mike and I talked it over and decided to venture into Chet's basement. There was no way we would live with ourselves wondering what could have been down there had we decided to blow the opportunity off. We walked to Chet's once again, this time with no crates and no money. We figured it would be safer to make a pile of what we were interested in first and then come up with the money once the deal was made. Chet was waiting in the screen door once again, and, like déjà vu, he swung the screen door open and we said our hellos. "This way boys. Just be careful in the kitchen…it's pretty dark." The kitchen was a trash heap. It had old unwashed used kitchenwares stacked up in the sinks and on top of the stove. The entire room had a brownish tinge to it, and had a stale, stagnant smell that suggested that the kitchen had gone unused for 10 years or so. "This way," said Chet as he reached up and grabbed a light bulb that was still in its 1980's style packing. "I might be able to get some light down there after all…follow me," he said while coughing and wiping his free hand on his work suit. We shined the light down the staircase and my heart began to beat rapidly. It was hardly a staircase at all. There was so much junk and clothing packing the sides and hanging off of the walls that it felt like we were headed down the throat of a giant dead creature.
Steps cracked underneath as we made our way down, but eventually, we turned the final corner and were standing at one end of a giant basement. It was dark, but one thing was abundantly clear: The basement was filled with records.
"They come in here through the windows and they fuck my shit up. They break everything. You see how these shelves are all pushed over? They did that," Said Chet.
"Who are 'they?'" I asked. "'They' are them. They know that I'm fucking the town whore and they are too, so they like to send me messages by destroying my shit," he said, as he seemed to get more and more agitated. "Well man, is it cool if we start looking through some stuff to see if we are interested?" asked Mike. "Yeah, no problem, do your thing, but I will warn you that if they come it might be over," Chet said while nodding and frantically making repetitive eye contact with both of us. Mike and I give each other a look and split up to start digging through the mess. We unearth original sealed Motown records, obscure soul LPs, more doo-wop 45s, rare disco 12"s, mint psychedelic rock records….the list goes on and on. We were amassing an incredible wealth of records.
"Do you guys collect rocks at all?" Chet asked as he approached us carrying a small toolbox. "Um. What do you mean?" I asked. "Well I'm pretty good at collecting these things. I've been doing it for years. You see, when evil bitches die, their souls end up in these rocks. Can you see the bitch's face in this rock?" Chet asked while holding out his hand. "Just kinda looks like a rock to me," said Mike in a slightly snarky tone. "Yeah, well, like I said, it took me years to be able to see the bitches in the rocks. You'll get the hang of it." He said as he closed the toolbox and walked back into a dark corner.
Suddenly, the sound of an extremely loud doorbell ringing maniacally filled the basement. "Oh fuck. That's them. I'm done. Fuck Fuck Fuck!" said Chet, panicked. I looked over on the ground and saw a giant adjustable wrench under some old clothes. I jumped over to it and grabbed it, picked it up, and hid it at my side. "Listen, if you hear a gunshot, call the cops man. I might never see you guys again. Shit, I really hope I do," he said as he vanished up the stairs, leaving us in the basement. "Dude, this is fucking nuts man, lets just bail once and for all," I said to Mike as we both waited out the next few seconds to see what was actually going to happen. Then, we heard a creaking from the staircase and heavy breathing as someone tried to quietly enter the basement. I clutched the wrench and aimed the flashlight at the bottom of the staircase.
"Hey. I'm Chet's friend. He'll be back. He said you guys would want to buy this off of me for 25 bucks," said a large man holding one of those carnival prize wooden framed mirrors with a Led Zeppelin logo screen printed on it. "Umm. No thanks. We are here to buy records and… where did Chet go?" I asked while being both frightened and confused. "Oh, he'll be right back. How about 20 bucks?" the man asked. "No thanks. We need to get out of here," I said as I began picking up a few piles of records we were interested in. Mike did the same and we brushed past the man and back up the stairs. We went straight out the front door and Chet was in the yard arguing with a neighbor. "Fuck you! You wanna mow my lawn, be my fucking guest! Don't you raise your voice at me! Mother can hear everything!" he screamed.
"Chet, we gotta get going. Will you take $250 for this stuff?" I asked while Mike and I both presented several dozen records. "Yeah that's fine, but I'm keeping this one and this one and that one," he said while grabbing a few of the records back, after the deal was made. We cut our losses, headed to an ATM, paid the man, and never looked back.