Switch to Mono

The wife and I abandon our children every Saturday. But it’s the harmless type of abandonment that won’t require counseling later in life. We rise quietly and walk through the house in our socks. My boots are too loud on the tile and they might awaken the beasts. We turn on the TV with lowered volume as a distraction tactic. We leave piles of food and notes full of pleasantries and promises. “Here’s some breakfast. Mommy and daddy love you. We’ll bring you back surprises!” We walk out the door as I pull on my boots. We run to my truck with giddy smiles and drive away. It’s really not that big of a deal. Our oldest is thirteen and she comments rarely on our absence; she can’t see much through her cloud of angst. And our six year old is a feral beast who can fend for herself. If the zombie apocalypse ever actually happens, I’d help her fashion a spear and send her on her way. She’d be just fine. It’d probably only take her a month or two to assemble her own band of invincible road warriors. Mad Max is a punk in comparison.

Our first stop is always for coffee. We drive for what seems like twenty years down off of the mesa, through town, and to the rutty parking lot in front of 81301. In case you didn’t know, 81301 is a coffee shop right across from the north City Market here in Durango, and in case you haven’t been there, their coffee is the best on earth. This claim is sans hyperbole. They import and roast in house all sorts of exotic beans from seemingly mythical places like the slopes of a volcanic crater in Peru. They poor hot water lovingly over the grinds through crystalline beakers like caffeine scientists. Their espresso machine is unlike all the others as well. It uses leavers to pump through the coffee perfectly heated water. It’s not one of those hissing and quick contraptions that one finds in lesser coffee shops. I always order an iced Americano with four shots, honey, and almond milk. I guess I could start calling it a “quad shot,” but it just seems apropos to keep my order lengthy considering the amount of time and attention that goes in to brewing my beverage. My wife orders her drink, an almond milk wet cappuccino, and then I trade a couple of my dollars for quarters. I buy a newspaper and we sit to sip. The news in the newspaper is overlooked. We’re hunting for garage sales.

The garage sales here in Durango are just as mythical as the coffee at 81301. The wife and I were at one two weeks ago when she spied an “Alaska Grown” T shirt down in the grass amongst all of the other treasures. We asked the affable looking lady clutching a wad of ones if she was from Alaska. She said no, but she had family there, and did we by chance know the Keeners? Yes! I did know the Keeners! I grew up with Jon! The woman with all the ones turned out to be his cousin. So I got his number and called him. As it turned out, it was his birthday. Think about that for a moment. I was three thousand miles away from Alaska at a random garage sale in a tiny mountain town. I found a shirt, asked a question, and was then reconnected with a dear friend with whom I hadn’t spoken in twenty years, and it all happened on his birthday. My brain exploded so hard that grey matter erupted from my ears like two miniature geysers.

But that has nothing to do with why I’m writing this. At a garage sale not far from Turtle Lake, my wife found a Walkman. I stole it from her and paid the three dollars before she could object. It’s mine now. Mine mine mine. As a side note, is Turtle Lake really named thusly because it’s full of turtles? A friend told me that it was, but I have my doubts. And if it’s true, what’s Nighthorse Lake full of? Anyway, this wasn’t just any Walkman, it was the one I always wanted as a kid. It was shiny and sleek and not much bigger than a cassette. My mom bought me an off-brand “Walkman” when I was young (she was ever the thrifty one) and I suppose my dad thought that the Gameboy and psychological issues he gifted me were good enough. But now I have my Walkman, and it’s almost perfect. I say “almost” because it didn’t come with those foamy headphones like the ones sported by that guy in Guardians of the Galaxy. It’s for the better. If it did come with those awesomely retro headphones, I’d start questioning the very fabric of reality.

Here’s the kicker: the Walkman came complete with a mystery mix tape trapped within its steely bowels. Life’s tedium faded to mere background static as I started to wonder about which songs were written magnetically on the brown tape between the reels on that mix tape. Fast forward to a few hours later. The wife and I found out as we stared from our backs into the darkness above our bed. We shared the headphones, one ear bud each just like Jeremy Grimes and I did on the back of the bus during a band trip two decades ago. He and I were listening to Metallica. My wife and I were listening to Annie Lennox and other relics from the early 90’s. Someone had loved that mix tape and made multiple recordings. By listening carefully, I could hear the ghosts of songs recorded previously hidden in the silence. There are songs on that tape that I’ve never heard before, and you have no idea how odd that is for me. I memorize eidetically every song I hear, and to hear something new after all this time came as a shock. My ear drums were drowning in wonderment. One of those new songs was “Silver Thunderbird” by Marc Chon. Dear god, how is it that I’ve never heard that song? It’s incredible. As I lay there listening to his melodies and syncopated piano, I wanted to make sure that I was hearing everything that he had to offer. So I fumbled with my Walkman and flipped the switch from stereo into mono so that I could hear both the left and the right tracks.

Have you ever wondered why old-school devices have that little switch that allows you to toggle in between stereo and mono? I know why. So does my wife. And so does Jeremy Grimes if his memory is still lucid. It’s so music can be shared in its entirety if you’ve only got one set of headphones. Can you do that with your iPhone? Nope. That’s because your iPhone isn’t meant to be shared. It’s a device created to ensnare you within its high tech trappings. It can tell you in real time what the weather is like in Cupertino. It can talk to you and understand your requests. It can plot maps taking you to places where you really don’t need to be. But it can’t give you music in mono because it doesn’t want to be shared. So put it down. This weekend, if your children are old enough to be left alone, leave them that way. Head into town. Stop for coffee. Wake up. Find a garage sale and hunt for your very own Walkman (you’ll never ever ever get mine). Find someone you care about and switch to mono, because life is lived better with only one ear bud.

Walkman