Our Fair Share of Abuse
We were back east last week attending to family business. We attended my father’s funeral in Ottawa. We visited my mother in Montreal who enjoys ramming her new tricycle walker into the corridor walls of her residence because she can. Her cancer is in remission and I wonder if she understands the difference between that word and ‘cured.’ One snowy evening found Ann and me in the alley beside my sister’s non-smoking condominium sipping from bottles of Newcastle Brown using a dumpster lid as a table and topping up our nicotine levels. We weren’t at our best.
My sister had already decided for us that our Christmas in Edmonton this year would be an open house and not a formal sit-down. And since neither one of us want anything (although I’ve been hinting strongly about the recent Rolling Stones DVD+CD vault release of their ’75 L.A. Forum show and the ’81 Hampton Coliseum gig and the new Pink Floyd album), we discussed treating the house to a new turntable. Our repaired and re-repaired unit was a fine machine in its time. Now it is full of ghosts. You have to unplug it from the wall to stop it spinning. At the end of a side the tone arm skitters and skates across the label into the spindle. For all we know there could be wow and flutter or motor-boating.
Yesterday we went out to buy some vegetables for a stir-fry. Across the parking lot from the grocery store is Gramophone, a well-regarded audio shop. ‘Let’s poke our heads in just for fun,’ I said to Ann. ‘See what they’re selling for.’ I’d forgotten about Rick the audio snob who greeted us inside; I regretted not packing a beer to shotgun in the Honda in order to gird for an encounter with Rick the audio snob.
I paused to admire one on display, its base done up in a Union Jack motif. ‘That one’s $2400,’ Rick informed me. ‘It looks cool,’ I replied, ‘but a little out of our range.’ Ann ventured that we might like a turntable with an automated tone arm given our existing troubles. ‘That’s just throwing your money away,’ Rick told her. ‘Even if we carried that crap I wouldn’t sell it to you.’ Ann and I both said, ‘Ah.’
Rick turned to me. ‘What kind of speakers do you have?’ ‘Bose,’ I told him. This elicited a sneer. ‘We also have a pair of 30-year-old Missions,’ I hastily added. ‘I had the drivers replaced about ten years ago.’ Rick was dubious. ‘If you’re happy with the sound…’ he allowed. ‘They’re made in China now. We wouldn’t sell them.’ Of course not. ‘What have you got for an amp?’ My advertising copywriting trigger tripped. ‘It’s a dedicated stereo amplifier and tuner,’ I replied. ‘No home theatre or anything like that.’ He seemed to approve. I didn’t dare tell him it’s a Sony. Rick sat down on a white leather couch beside a pair of $48,000 white speakers shaped like Michelin Man treble clefs. ‘Let me think,’ he said. Ann and I stopped breathing; Rick must ponder our hopelessly inadequate system and our current requirements.
Rick got up and went to the back of the store where customers are not allowed to tread. He returned with an elegant black turntable. The brand was unfamiliar to us, Music Hall, the model mmf-2.2. ‘These are designed and manufactured in the Czech Republic. Good, basic machines.’ I joked, ‘I thought the Czechs only made beer.’ Rick did not find this remark funny. ‘The Czech economy is based on manufacturing and energy exports.’ Oh.
Rick’s go-to demo album is Frank Sinatra’s Come Fly with Me. ‘I remember this record in my parents’ collection,’ I said. ‘The production, the musicianship, the songs…’ he replied, ‘it sounds great.’ His next obvious question went unasked, thank God; I dreaded Rick the audio snob telling Ann and me he hated everything we enjoyed listening to. I believe if I’d asked him about the Rolling Stones he would have said something like: They can’t sing, they can’t play, they can’t write and their production is crap.
We bought the Music Hall turntable. Who knew intimidation was a sales tactic? Perhaps we felt guilty about inflicting moments of our puny, irritating lives upon Rick’s time. Rick assembled the turntable for us in the store and cautioned us to never play it without completely removing the dustcover; perhaps Rick does not keep cats. He showed me where to attach the counterweight knotted to its almost invisible filament. He loaded the unit into our vehicle beside the broccoli and carrots and suggested that our wisest course of action given the weather, the road conditions and our purchase was to go straight home.