I heard Joe's Record Paradise closed its doors in Baltimore, so I phone up Joe Lee, looking for a tear-jerker about vinyl going the way of, well, vinyl. Lee tells a sad tale all right, but it has nothing to do with MP3 and CD players pulling the plug on the classic turntable. In fact, he says, business couldn't be better at his 31-year-old Rockville store.
"We're doing super. We're internationally known. We get people from Japan, England," he said. "It's thriving, thriving. We're on TV all the time. I haven't advertised in 20 years. Don't have to."
So what went wrong in the 4-year-old Upper Lauraville location that he shut down the end of February? Lee blames a lot of things, among them: a leaky roof and problems with the landlord; neighborhood drug dealers; and a $1,500-a-year Fire Department assessment for storing merchandise that's "highly flammable."
"I said I would be happy to come down there with a couple albums and a flamethrower and show you just how hard it is to ignite," he says.
(He says the Fire Department declined his offer. A department spokesman also declined to return my call seeking comment.)
Lee's biggest problem started in December 2004, when city police raided his store for bootleg recordings.
"They come barrelhousing in the store here and in Rockville, and found 100 of those things. There's probably close to 200,000 articles per store," says Lee, who eventually pleaded guilty to a charge of selling counterfeit materials and paid a fine to the Recording Industry Association of America. "And these are the Baltimore police in Rockville."
Lee says city police took the cash from the till in Rockville and gave him a receipt for $320.
"They took much, much more," he says. "I called Internal Affairs while they were on the way back. They got them and they had $850-something. They called back and said, 'Oh, they just miscounted.' If you believe that, I've got some real estate in New Orleans for you."
Jeremy Sagner, an organized-crime detective who participated in the raid by city police, state police and recording industry investigators, said the mix-up with the money was an honest mistake.
"There was actually a miscount. Because there were different agencies involved, somebody put it in an evidence box and didn't catalog it," Sagner said.
Sagner also offers a different take on why the store closed.
"The counterfeit becomes a really big part of these business, and that's why [cracking down on] it really hurts," the detective says, noting that the bootleg recordings were selling for $50 to $100 each. "That was a big part of the appeal to go there, because you could get albums nobody else had."
Hey, kids, what rhymes with 'partisan'?
Attention, junior bards. Somebody out there has declared that the second week in April is Young People's Poetry Week, so I'm having a contest.
Send me poems about your favorite Maryland gubernatorial wannabe, and I'll print the best ones in this space. (Sorry, but that's all I've got to offer winners. It's a low-budget contest.)
I'll take entries from any Maryland high, middle, elementary or preschool students, including - no, especially - the children of Robert Ehrlich, Martin O'Malley and Doug Duncan.
Keep 'em short and send 'em to me at email@example.com or to 501 N. Calvert St., P.O. Box 1377, Baltimore 21278. Don't forget to include your school and grade level - and a phone number for a grown-up who'll vouch for you.
Deadline: April Fool's Day.
First-time caller, longtime talker
Nobody missed Daren Mohammed the other day on The Final Analysis, the WOLB talk show he was just suspended from for speculating on the air about William Donald Schaefer's personal life.
That's because Mohammed was back on the air - not as the show's co-host, but as a caller. Listeners tell me he was the first caller on, and he stayed on for most of the show, which airs noon to 1 p.m. Wednesdays. Station manager Howard Mazer said he wasn't listening to the program and was not aware that Mohammed was on until a listener called to complain. Once tipped off, Mazer said he immediately had the call cut off.
Mazer said he'd given Mohammed the OK to call in to the show, but "that doesn't mean he can speak for an hour. It was supposed to be a two-minute call."
It's pi, no matter how you slice it
If you have a soft spot for infinite decimals or transfats, have a slice of Pi Day at the Maryland Science Center. It's this Tuesday, March 14. (3/14 - get it?)
How in the world do you celebrate the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter? By serving school groups Tastykake snack pies, of course.
Visitors also can help create a Pi Chain, a series of interlocking links that represent numbers in the never-ending sequence. And they can sign a petition asking the U.S. Postal Service to designate Savannah, Ga.'s ZIP (31416) the "official ZIP code of Pi."