Sunday, May 12, 2013
End of an Eara
I like music and fill my home with it. More than a crackling hearth or the smell of baking bread, the capacity to crank out my tunes has been a core criterion for me feeling at home, wherever I have lived. When I was young there was always music in my house and something to play it on. The family had a stereo, and I got my own record player very early on - the sort that folded up into its own little musical suitcase. I’ve gone on on here before about my old clock radio, my bar mitzvah stereo, my introductory tape deck… since my most junior days I’ve always had audio equipment, and I used it. I’ve rocked the big-ass boom boxes, walkmen, diskmen, transistor radios, ipods, and a wide range of car stereo options.
And of course, I always had a receiver with numerous components of associated auditory hardware, residing in a place of honor: first, the strong reliable cinderblock shelves, then the heavy craftsmen-style honey oak media cabinet. That’s where I kept my turntable, my cassette player, my cd changer, and my VCR and/or DVD players. With two solid little speakers clipped into the back, the whole assemblage stood ever ready to blast a critical dose of Tull or Costello or Jerry or whoever was in regular rotation at the time, whenever rhythm, melody, or syncopation were needed.
Well, you know what’s happened to all that stuff. My cassettes plumb wore out and the player is in storage, boxed up and obsolete. The turntable is in the manufacturer’s crate, after a decade or so of neglect on the shelf. The VCR is long gone, though some tapes linger in a ratty shopping bag I’m keeping that’s full of ferric oxide cassettes, audio and video, archaic media i can neither use nor discard. The CDs are all put away in notebooks and the changer hasn’t seen much use at all since the whole library went into my hard drive, to which I’ve attached a small but rich speaker that well-fills small spaces. The iPod got connected to the stereo but felt superfluous once my phone started storing all the tunes I needed at any one time; I actually forgot I even had it after a while. Pandora and Spotify started feeding me most of my music, constantly surprising me with new selections and unexpected combinations. Instead of adding to my collections of LPs and discs, I started buying music electronically and storing it in the cloud. Our new TiVo box even lets us stream music through the television. Music has progressively become less a part of my physical furnishings, and more a part of my existence as an electronic organism.
My media cabinet had already lost its primary function, its main cavity no longer configured to fit our new-style television which now stands naked on a sideboard. The massive cabinet was relocated to the dining room, its shelves now mostly empty, now just a place to store paperwork and school supplies. Only the old receiver and CD changer languishing there were reminders of the proud role that cabinet once had. These components were no longer being used but they were too beloved to be junked. Still, I found it increasingly difficult to justify their taking up valuable electrical plugs now needed for recharging e-readers and game consoles.
One day not long ago, in a frenzy of tidying and reorganizing, I hauled some old boxes down to the garage. There I noticed the cardboard crates in which the old receiver and CD changer had originally been packaged, jammed safely in a corner.They spoke to me: it was time to pull the plugs and put away the components I no longer used.
Back upstairs, it was the work of just a few minutes to disconnect the cables and to fit my cherished black boxes of euphony into the styrofoam cradles and cardboard boxes I’d presciently saved. My fiddling about brought the iPod back to daylight; the boys were fascinated by it and examined it gleefully. As I considered taking it from them and wondered where it should be kept, I realized that the boys had no way to play music on their own. Additionally, our fancy-pants teevee had an audio input port into which I could plug the pod-dock. As easily thought as done, I swiftly cabled it up and successfully tested it. How droll, it all still worked. I wasn’t sure how I would now use it, or if the boys would find it useful, but at least it was back in play now for anyone who desired it.
Of course, it would be playing through the teevee’s stock speakers, which I’d long since concluded were not its strongest feature. It wold be nice to utilize the little bookshelf Polks I’d just disconnected. But the speakers used speaker wire, and the teevee used RCA connectors. How to bridge the gap?
The internet, as ever, held the answer: the speakers didn’t go to the teevee, they went to a receiver. The receiver went to the teevee. It was suddenly so obvious. I checked the television - the audio outputs were clearly marked. I had yet to move the boxed-up receiver out of the dining room, so I just unpacked it again. It fit perfectly right under the television, in the space where we’d been keeping our clutch of remotes. The speakers then connected back to the receiver like they’ve always done, resting on either end of the long sideboard for maximal stereoscopic separation. I got some fresh speaker wire, plugged everything in, and bless my kishkes, it worked.
Now the receiver has regained its place of prominent honor, front and center in the living room. It can amplify the sound of television or a DVD, as well as streaming music or the hoary old iPod. It gives you the soundtrack to your Wii games - or anything else you do on the Wii. It can even play the goddamn radio. It sounds as good as ever, and it may actually be set up a little more usefully. Welcome back old friend. It was weird putting you away for twenty minutes like that. It’s nice to hear from you again.
it was like this when I got here at 03:10 PM
mysteries of the modern world
Sunday, May 05, 2013
Reclaiming my Drawers
I was in the yoga class - the evening one, the vigorous one, and the resident yogini was moving us out of the loosen-up phase and into the getting-sweaty phase. At such junctures I make sure to be appropriately dressed in a not-too-saggy t-shirt, unconstricting shorts, and a bandana tied around my head. The bandana is key equipment, because I am a perspirey sort of exerciser and I’ve got no hair north of my eyebrows to soak up the ol’ scalpsweat. Without a don’t-rag I can turn into a dripping, eye-burning mess. So I don’t even think about it - when I work out I tie one on around the noggin. It is as close to a personal “style” as I’m likely to come.
So there in my yoga class I stood and stooped and squatted, in stretchy shorts and Tri-State t-shirt and an orange bandana, just trying to get my prna on track, when the instructrix turned to me. “Hey Dan,” she asked in a voice simultaneously perky and jaded, “How many bandanas do you even have?”
I’d been called out. As I crouched into fierce pose I gave a fairly honest answer: “I got a whole drawerful.” “A whole drawer?!” “Yeah,” I grunted, “it’s not a very big drawer though.” The conversation then moved to the etymology of the word “drawer” so I didn’t have to explain myself further. Which is fine, because that’s what this here Chucklehut is for.
Look up at the little symbol there at the top of this web page - a metal ring on an oak board. Maybe you don’t recall - maybe you’ve got better things to remember - but that’s not just any old ring on some generic oaken plank: It’s a drawer-pull from my own home dresser, the swedish provincial bureau I’ve used since my pre-twinkle days. It’s the dresser my dad got at age 3 after his original bedroom set sort of caught fire and burned up. He’s described to me seeing the flames from his crib and how his auntie rescued him. Next thing he knew, he had all-new furniture, which eventually became my old furniture. There were about a dozen pieces originally but only two survived to furnish my room as a lad - a dresser and a mirror. These I’ve already described in excruciating detail, so we needn’t get too particular about the aesthetics.
The thing is, from my earliest days using my legacy dad-dresser, I’ve organized the drawers in it in a very particular way: socks, smallclothes, white t’s, colored t’s, and shorts and miscellaneous habiliments, each in their own drawer, top to bottom respectively. That’s how I did it as a halcyon youth, and as a callow adolescent, and when I teetered over the cusp of manhood and left the dresser behind on my way to big boy college. Thenceforward I maintained pretty much the same arrangement, though in a variety of different bureaux. Then, in 2004 or so when I got the dad-drawers back from him (he’d been storing the dresser in his garage), I returned again to the original set-up. I had a structure that worked for me, and I kept at it pretty much steady on till, well, a couple of months ago.
I’m not a big fan of change for its own sake, and not much more enamored of it for good cause. I wouldn’t say I fear change, exactly, but I’m never first in the rush to embrace it either. It takes a fair quantum of inconvenience to get me to jump my rut. But as it turns out, I actually got to that point recently vis-a-vis my bandanas.
My bottom dresser drawer held my shorts, including both those intended for street wear and those for gym wear. My t-shirts suitable for exercise (closer-fitting, fast drying, athletically themed or possessed otherwise of favorable gymnastic associations) were intermingled with my more pedestrian and formal t-shirts; undergarments more supportive of my pendulous generative hardware nested indiscriminately among my baggy boxers. For want of a better option my burgeoning supply of bandanas were wadded into a corner of that same drawer too, while my socks - athletic, casual, business and party - filled the smallest and topmost dresser drawer a bit past overflowing.
Consequently, on mornings when I needed to pack a gym bag to bring with me to work, I had to rifle through four different drawers for one set of sweat-friendly garments. As my time spent in this process accumulated from week to week, my efficiency-loving self began to realize that the advantages of sticking with a well-tested system of dresser organization was starting to lose me a fair amount of precious morning set-up and haul-out time. The old arrangement was starting to make less sense every time I went through 80% of my dresser to grab my action duds. With more surprise than reluctance, I realized that the time for change was upon me, like a clammy spandex singlet and a sopping cotton bandana.
So here’s what I did - fair warning, it’s pretty radical: I took all my exercise gear - shirts, shorts, bananahammox, and my bouquet of bandanas - and consolidated the lot of it in the top drawer. The socks - all of them - got jammed in the next drawer down with the “regular” undergarments. And everything else stayed where it had always been, just with a little more room where previously shared space is shared no longer
I’m pretty used to the new arrangement now, the shock of the new giving way to the pleasures of modern convenience. I still sometimes mess up and open the gym drawer when I’m just looking for my sox, but it is to laugh. The time saved on gym-bag mornings, or yoga nights or bike-riding weekend afternoons, has prepared that inconvenience. And that old dresser, in action since 1937, has yet another new lease on life.
Plus, I can tell my yogini that I have a bandana-drawer. As the bandana dude in that class, I think it shows a certain level of self-respect, or -awareness, at least. I’ll just start small and build up. Or I’ll start at the top and work down. Anyway, wherever it is it’s a start, and that’s something.
it was like this when I got here at 09:56 PM
the story of my life (abridged)
Sunday, April 28, 2013
Your Adobe is Out of Date
I had a medical appointment of some sort, and my insurance coverage obliged me to attend to it in the wilds of Oakland. I rode BART out, hopped AC Transit for a few stops, and then started hoofing it over toward my destination on an undistinguished stretch of a broad busy street. I had about ten blocks to cover. That seemed do-able. What the hell, I figured - I might even see something worth seeing.
The blocks were long; the sidewalk was none too generous and the pavement lay neglected and uneven. I was positively impressed with how unimpressive this area was. My walk had me approaching a freeway overpass that bisected the block, a thick grey slab surmounting the street, droning down with its coruscating automotive load; an onramp nestled in its monolithic armpit fed it a steady stream of traffic. And just before the freeway, in front of the onramp, on the only commercial lot of this little stub of a block, abrupt and ordinary, stood a filling station with a little convenience shop.
As I walked along the sunbaked sidewalk past this establishment, so much like every other filling station everywhere, I noticed a sign sticking up out of the sidewalk: a flat plate of metal about 18 inches wide and five feet tall, bent over at an angle a few feet above the ground, to facilitate the consumption of some kind of propaganda affixed permanently to the upper portion. Well, I’m a sucker for propaganda, and it couldn’t have been more convenient. I stopped to read it.
Turns out, according to a purportedly reputable sign sticking out of the sidewalk, that this unprepossessing corner of Oakland had been, at one time, the location of an early Peralta adobe. The Peraltas received the first and largest of the Spanish land grants in the bay area, and here their scion Jose Vicente had built his hacienda and headquarters for the contra costa, or east bay, portion of the family’s unimaginably vast farming and ranching enterprises. When this particular adobe stood where I was standing now, there were no neighbors here, no highways, nothing anywhere but the Presidio and a handful of missions scattered around the broad empty bay. This ranch was the sole local repository of colonial authority and culture.
Back in the day, the Don was large and in charge. He was said to be about six feet tall, “finely proportioned, straight as an arrow, weighing about 240 pounds, hospitable, kind, and full of native dignity.” Don Vicente started building his Rancho Encinal de Temescal in 1836, next to a stream tumbling down where a DMV now stands. From here he governed holdings that spread from San Leandro Creek in the south to Cerritos Creek in the north - nearly 45,000 acres of bayside property occupying what is now seven different cities.
He raised cattle for the leather, until the gold rush and statehood filled his land with squatters and thieves. By the time he won his legal battles, he’d lost all but 700 acres - relinquished or sold to pay the lawyers. He died at 58 in 1871, and what was left of his land was parceled to developers. Of his gracious adobe, nothing remains.
But the picture on the historical marker showed a brighter era for Don Vicente: a handsome and expansive adobe presiding over a tidy rancho, approached by a long straight road through orchards and fields. Comfort, refinement, power. The place this place once was, had been quite the place.
I looked back from the sign to the land it marked, where vagrant shrubs and tufts of weeds sprouted randomly across the back of the lot. Litter, small and large, lay in drifts along the property lines. Cars lined up to suckle their fuel; Funyun bags skittered blindly along the hurricane wire. Behind the convenience mart, in the corner near the on ramp, a light blue pup tent flapped in the breeze. Its inhabitant would return to this oil-stained corner of this corner sometime soon - he might be hiding there even now, safe behind a sheet of ripstop nylon as if he didn’t exist at all.
But he did exist - there, elsewhere, somewhere. The tent was proof of his persistence on the planet. He was infinitely more tangible, amid the blinkered vehicles and their faceless drivers, than was the mighty Peralta empire that had once been seated here. Those old fruit trees and stables and even the loamy earth itself from which he’d brought forth such wealth were more than gone - they were unimaginable.
Yet, I tried. I glanced back and forth, from the sign’s small reproduction of a contemporary painting of the erstwhile Peralta adobe with its thick walls and gracious patios, to the pup tent hunkered down hard by the ask-for-key restrooms, and back, and back again, trying to envision the different world that lay 200 years below my feet.
In the end I couldn’t do it, and I had an appointment to keep so on I walked. But as I turned my back on the little lot, the metal sign, that tiny tent, and all the rest, I made a commitment to remember the Peralta adobe that once had stood there. I could have made a similar commitment to remember that pup tent and its opaque occupant, but to my shame I did not. Regardless, I seem to be remembering that pretty well too.
musselshell, Fitzgerald Marine Preserve, last weekend.
it was like this when I got here at 10:53 PM
mysteries of the modern world
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Okay this is going to be sort of a punt this morning. I had way too much weekend for me to be…
(vamps till ready)