In which I find The Movielife and Dear Landlord at a Hot Topic in Iowa (true story)

Listening to: “David Comes to Life” by Fucked Up

So Hot Topic still exists.

I’m not sure if there’s one anywhere in the vicinity of DC and it’s not exactly like I frequent the mall on Long Island where first saw it and entered (at first with interest, then with cautious amused irony that always turned into an uncomfortable meld of disappointment and disgust). But in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, a Hot Topic store sits inside the Lindale Mall.

The last time I remember being inside the chain was, at the latest, 2006. I haven’t set foot in one or really thought about one since high school. But there’s little to do in Iowa, and we take trips to cities and other places with civilization whenever we can.

On this first trip to the Lindale Mall, which is moderately small, one of the first stores we passed by was a Hot Topic. I was mildly surprised that the store is still in business since I haven’t seen or heard of one in so long. Out of sheer curiousity, Friend Zach and I decided to see what’s inside.

Zach had been to a Hot Topic a bit more recently than I, and was more prepared for what was to come. Towards the front of the store I was uncomfortably and  pleasantly surprised to see some Invader Zim t-shirts; I was surprised Zim is still relevant to the crowd of what I can only assume are angsty teens who shop at the store. Then it got expectedly worse.

The rest of the store was filled with t-shirts and items related to poor crunkcore bands, Nicki Minaj and YMCMB. Everything cost way too much and was overwhelmingly neon. I was almost ready to give up or throw up, I’m not sure which, when we decided to stop at the miniscule vinyl section.

Adjacent to shelves and shelves of Brokencyde CDs that no one wanted to buy was a milk carton barely half full of vinyl. Most of the records were unsurprising — Blink 182, The Postal Service — but then something unusual happened.

First the Head Automatica album appeared. Surprising, but not completely absurd. A few albums later, though, there sat The Movielife’s “This Time Next Year.” And a few after that, Dear Landlord’s “Dream Homes.”

Both albums were on clearance. Both albums cost less than 10 bucks.

It seemed like the strangest shred of recognition I’ve ever felt. What was an album by The Movielife, a record nonetheless, doing sitting lost and lonely in a corner of a Hot Topic in the middle of Iowa? And sure, Dear Landlord are closer to being “local,” but what was such a solid punk album doing lost in that same mix?

Zach almost bought one or both albums, but as we’re both without record players or a safe way to ship the albums anywhere for the next 10 months, we left them where they lay. It was a sad, sad feeling and we both regretted not taking the albums home with us as soon as we were stuck in the van on the way back.

We have some hope, though. On the car ride we reminisced about the CDs we would buy at random as young teens, looking for the most punk rock-looking album covers we could find at the cheapest prices and then purchasing them. Some of those songs quickly became profusely loathed, but others became fearless albums of our angsty teen years. It was a hit-or-miss game of scene-cred roulette that helped shape our musical tastes.

I’d rather that an angsty teen perusing Hot Topic for all the wrong reasons accidentally stumbles upon The Movielife or Dear Landord album and purchases it on a whim of serendipitous curiosity that forever changes the horrible-music-laden path down which they were headed.

And if not, there’s always the internet.

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