I’m awoken at 2:30 by something crawling on my back. I turn on the light, and there beside me in the bed is a big, black cricket. I scoop it up and pad downstairs, open the front door and toss it out into the darkness.
Five and a half hours later, my dad and I are rummaging around in the basement of my parents’ house, looking for the big can of miscellaneous nuts and bolts. I’ve just been given an old stereo — my first in fifteen years — but one of the speakers is missing a nut where the wires attach. The nut can isn’t in its usual place on the shelf. We look high and low without success, and we’re on our way back up the cellar stairs when I spot a can on top of the shelf where the nails are kept. Eureka!
The stereo only came with one, thin speaker wire, but I find a couple coils of thicker stuff in one of my dad’s boxes of electrical supplies. Now let’s see if I can put it all together. It’s an overcast morning, with rain in the forecast — perfect weather for puttering around indoors.
The stereo components appear to date from the late 60s or early 70s. There’s a Sherwood receiver, AR speakers, a Pioneer tape deck and a Benjamin Miracord turntable. It would be cool if the tape deck works — I have a lot of cassettes — but I already have a boom box if it doesn’t. I’m mainly hoping that the record player works, so I can bring down some of my classical records from my parents’ house and listen to music in the evenings, which is generally when I would prefer to listen to music, I think.
The previous owner had kept all the manuals, which is good, because unlike more modern equipment that I’ve owned in the past, the connections aren’t color-coded; everything is explained in terms of ohms. After a great deal of fussing and muttering, I get it all hooked up and plugged in, but now I can’t find the “on” button. I turn up the “Loudness” knob and get a rain of static — the radio works! In a burst of inspiration, I connect the old, thin speaker wire to the screws where an FM antenna is supposed to attach and run it up to the ceiling, and suddenly I’m listening to NPR’s Scott Simon oozing fake empathy. Huzzah!
One of the speakers has a distinct, rattling buzz. I get a screwdriver and pry off the cover, and as I suspected, only a small piece of foam still connects the woofer’s black paper cone to its frame; the rest has disintegrated. I gather from the web that speakers in this condition can be repaired, though I’m not sure I’m up to the task. What’s surprising is that the other speaker still sounds fine. If the turntable works, I’ll count myself lucky.
First, though, I test the tape deck. It makes a faint grinding noise when I turn it on — that’s all. I recall that my dad’s brother gave us an old tape deck a few years back thinking we might be able to use it, though we never did. I go fetch it from my parents’ attic, and it sort of half works: sound comes out of the left channel loud and clear, but nothing from the right. That’s O.K., I guess, since I only have one good speaker. Fortunately, the receiver has a monaural setting.
My classical records are up in my parents’ collection, as I mentioned, and years ago I sold off my blues records in a fit of madness, so all I have down here right now are a couple dozen old metal and punk records. For testing purposes, Black Sabbath’s Master of Reality should do. Besides, I don’t have it on cassette — I haven’t heard these songs in a very long time.
The needle looks O.K. I drop it in the groove between the first and second tracks and “After Forever” comes on. Damn — it sounds good, even with the one fuzzy speaker! The great, stoned, bass-heavy riffs instantly take me back twenty years, but the lyrics sound relevant as ever:
I think it is true it was people like you who crucified Christ
I think it is sad the opinion you had was the only one voiced
I listen to the rest of the record with one ear while I type. Then it’s over, and the phonograph arm returns to its cradle with a quiet whir and click — a sound that provokes a nostalgia all its own.
In the aftermath, I find myself focusing on the crickets. There’s a loud one calling right outside the front door.
UPDATE: I replaced the buzzy speaker with the one that still sounded good from an old pair of Polk speakers in my parents’ attic. So I now have a working stereo.