What Goes Into Making a “Free” Stereo Work

One of the symptoms character traits of a person with Asperger’s syndrome is fixation on a single project, to the exclusion of everything else.  I am currently enjoying the fruits of such a fixation as I type this.  Currently, I am listening to the soundtrack from the movie FM: The Original Movie Soundtrack (MCA 2-12000).  The album is pretty much a glorified K-Tel compilation album, featuring the music from the movie FM (1978).

About two weeks, a woman posted on the 43202 – Freecycle/Buy/Sell/Trade Facebook site that she was giving away a combination turntable/dual cassette deck/AM-FM receiver.  The only caveat was that one of the cassette doors was defective, and that it did not come with speakers.  I sent her a private message, and the next day, after work, it was mine.  (She left it behind a big Rubbermaid tub on her front porch.)

Once I got it home, I went to another Facebook site, Vintage Hi-Fi and Stereo Equipment.  I subscribe to it, but rarely post.  Normally, I’m content to sit and look at the equipment others have displayed, much like a 10-year-old mooning over the centerfold in Penthouse.  I was almost ashamed of the model I posted (a General Electric 11-6025A, the type you would have bought for a teenager), and asked what type of speakers would be best.  This led to a heated discussion and comparison of notes.  I got a crash course in ohms (My Buddhist friends, feel free to chime in with some puns and jokes here) and electric impedance.  I learned the wrong model could blow out the speakers, and finally everyone came to consensus (after I posted the pictures of the output jacks) on what equipment I needed.

Next step, I went online and bought a pair of brick-sized Pyle speakers.  (As it turned out, I bought two pair.  I misunderstood the text of the ad, and thought the speakers were packaged singly.  I learned differently with the FedEx Ground guy dropped off the box, and I saw that I had bought two pair.)  Late this afternoon, I sent the extra set back, and they’ll credit my debit card once they receive them.  (They’re going by FedEx Ground to Oklahoma City, so it’ll probably take the rest of the week.)

At the suggestion of a friend online, I bought a speaker cable online from Radio Shack.  This came in today’s mail, but I found out that it had the right male RCA, but the other end was female, and would not plug into my speakers.  These will be going back to Amazon.com by the end of the week, when I have time to go to UPS and ship them.

So, tonight I went to Radio Shack (after seeing off the extra set of speakers at FedEx Ground), described my situation, and lightened my wallet a little more by buying two sets of audio cable, with a male RCA plug on one end and with the other end stripped.

When I got home, I had to do some rearranging in order to find a berth for the stereo.  (People are moving out of many places in this neighborhood, as the summer semester at Ohio State is nearing its end.  This means that the sidewalks and alleys are a smorgasbord of discarded–and almost all 100% fully functional–appliances and furniture.  It is a definite mitzvah that this place is smaller than the one on E. Maynard.  I’ve been able to resist the temptation to bring in more furniture just because I can.  I’m no interior decorator, but I don’t want the place to resemble Fibber McGee’s closet, either.)  I already own two turntables–a Crosley that I bought several years ago, and another Crosley a friend gave me–but this is the only one with speakers that can really project.

The finished product, and the end result of about two weeks of trial and error, and many hours on audiophile Websites.

The finished product, and the end result of about two weeks of trial and error, and many hours on audiophile Websites.  Just below the light switch, behold my General Electric 11-6025A!

I never had a desire to become a serious audiophile.  I saw several when I was in high school, because I had a stereo store, Sound Solutions, on my newspaper route in Marietta, and I learned about all the high-end brands, such as Fisher, Akai, B.I.C. (I learned the hard way that you pronounce this bee-eye-see), and Technics.  I learned about woofers, tweeters, and midranges.  Other than the financial angle, I did not yearn for expensive stereo equipment because I bought most of my records second-hand (as I do now), and I did not want advanced technology to show off all of their flaws.

I also learned about high-tech equipment around the time quadraphonic stereo had its brief moment in the sun.  This involved four speakers instead of two, and most people put one in each corner of the room.  I understand why this craze was short-lived; when I go to a concert, I have no desire to sit with the orchestra.  It is overkill.

When I bought my first cheap (but not cheap to me, not then!) stereo at Sears, I tried to look “cool” by taking off the cloth screens.  My dad pointed out that if it was “cool” to let dust get into your speakers, it was totally on me; he would not give me any money to replace them.  So the screens remained.

My first exposure to stereo came from, of course, my parents.  Even for the mid- to late 1960s, their equipment was rather primitive.  It was a Magnavox console that took up most of one living room wall.  It was a wedding present to them, so the latest it could have been manufactured was 1959.  Until I was about nine or 10, it was off limits to me, except for the radio, which I could not break.  (I dialed it incessantly, especially after dark, when lower-powered stations had signed off for the night, and kept a notebook of AM stations I picked up, such as KMOX (St. Louis), KDKA (Pittsburgh), WBZ (Boston), WKWK (Wheeling), WCBS (New York), and–miraculously one clear night–KOA in Denver.)  Possibly the fact that it was off limits to me was what sparked my interest.

Even to my too-young ears, the Magnavox produced sound far superior to my little orange and white mono phonograph, which was a step above a Kenner Close N’Play.  My dad made me a Dave Brubeck fan, and whenever he was playing Dave Brubeck’s Greatest Hits (CBS 32046), I badgered him to skip straight to “Unsquare Dance”.  I would sit with my ear at one speaker, loving the drum beat that alternated channels, and I would always get a kick out of hearing drummer Joe Morello’s relieved laugh at the very end of the song (relief that they had gotten through the last chorus).

Thanks to my parents, I learned to become a fan of some artists most people of that era disdained, such as French conductor Paul Mauriat, The Lettermen, The Four Freshmen, and guitarist Charlie Byrd, all of whom did vocal or instrumental covers of popular songs.  My parents were shocked when I used birthday money to buy a record called Presenting the Very Talented Peter Nero! (RCA Camden CAS2416), a 1970 release by the very famous pianist and conductor.

So now, with three turntables, two dual cassette decks, and two compact disk players, I may actually have “the wall of sound.”  (Marietta High School’s band bore that nickname, and I’m thankful for that, because the phrase does not conjure the image of that freak Phil Spector.)

I am not tempted to “pump up the volume” with this new system. There are many in this neighborhood who pick up that slack for me, and the police have never been even-handed in enforcing it.  Near campus, I remember an officer issuing a ticket to a guy one Saturday afternoon.  The guy was in front of his house washing his car, and he had his car speakers blasting music.  Down the street, some guys were sitting outside their fraternity house, throwing Frisbees and grilling on a barbecue.  They had concert speakers out on the porch and in the yard, blasting music that made windows and nerve rattle, and the police officer did not make a move toward his ticket book for them.  When I lived in Weinland Park, one of the constants were clowns who thought their car stereos were no good unless the bass registered on the Richter scale.

I was not fixated on this stereo and these speakers to the exclusion of all else.  I walked quite a bit these past few weeks (I accumulated more than six miles just last night), went to work, went to yard sales, et. al.  Foremost in my mind, however, was trying to figure out just what combination of components and cables I needed to make my “free” stereo work.

Now what do I do for an encore?

A Talent I Never Developed

A constant refrain on most of my report cards is “He is quite brilliant, but he just doesn’t apply himself.”  When I go to the Facebook page for my Neighborhood Watch, there are often stories about car break-ins, home burglaries, and various other thefts.  These worries make me thankful that I never cultivated the talent for burglary that I discovered I had.

When I was a sophomore in high school, my dad and stepmother went to Indiana for a seminar.  I stayed with the widow of one of my dad’s Marietta College colleagues.  She was a sweet old lady in her early 90s, and her daughter and son-in-law lived with her.  They were in their late 50s or early 60s.

I stayed in a first-floor guest room just off the kitchen.  I was sociable at dinnertime, but since there was a small portable TV in the bedroom, I pretty much stayed there in the evenings.  I brought over my tape recorder, radio, cassettes, changes of clothing, and my diary, so I was quite adept at entertaining myself.  I also knew better than to expect wake-up service in the morning before school; it was not a hotel.

When my dad and his wife returned to Marietta, I went back home, and discovered that I had left several tapes and my diary behind at the elderly woman’s house.  I realized this around 9 in the evening, after the sun set.  I went over to the house and rang the doorbell, and after three or four tries I remembered the doorbell was broken.

The house was dark, except for in the upstairs bedroom that faced the street.  The lights were out in there, but the TV was on–I could see the shadows on the bedroom walls through the window.

I knocked a time or two, to no avail.  The older woman had hearing loss; you had to face her and enunciate slowly and loudly to make yourself understood with her, and I suppose her daughter and son-in-law had the TV on too loud to hear me knocking.

The normal person would, of course, have gone home and remembered to stop by after school the next day.  But what did I do?  I opened the storm door, turned the doorknob on the inner door, and found it was unlocked.

On tiptoe, I made my way through the front room (I suppose you would call it a parlor), through the living room and kitchen, and to what had been my bedroom.  Its door creaked like a sound effect on The Addams Family, and I nearly had a heart attack when I opened it.  I turned on the light, and was able to find both the notebook and the tapes in less than a minute.

I reversed the process when leaving, worried with each step that I would bump into something and make noise, especially in the kitchen, where I could envision myself knocking over several pots and pans and awakening the whole household.

But none of that happened.  I didn’t start breathing until I was several doors down from the house.  While I was walking home (about a block and a half away), I was thinking of a paper that my dad had showed me.  A student in his night school class, who was a police officer or a deputy, had written it.  The title page was “How to Be a Successful Cat Burglar,” and it pretty much reiterated the things that absent-minded residents do that make a burglar’s job easier.  (He said the first thing to do, if the target’s house has an outside dog, is bring along a can of Alpo, preferably one with a tranquilizer in it.  The idea, I suppose, that while Mangler is either eating or asleep, the burglar can go inside and go about his business and be on his way.


I didn’t learn about this until years ago, but the family with whom I stayed had a history with uninvited nocturnal guests.  When I was an adult, my dad told me the story about what happened in the late ’50s in the same house.  The old woman and her husband lived there, and so did her daughter and son-in-law–exactly the same situation (minus the husband) as when I was their guest.

One night they heard the back door open and some footsteps across the linoleum in the kitchen.  The son-in-law put on a bathrobe and planted himself at the head of the stairs holding a chair in his hands, ready to throw it at any intruder who would come up the stairs at him.

No one rushed him, and then it became very quiet downstairs.  The son-in-law tiptoed downstairs to see what he had heard.  That was when he saw a man, very drunk, sound asleep on the living room couch.  This was a man who was terminally ill, and who decided to spend the evenings left to him closing up the bars in Marietta.  If he didn’t make it home, he would just flop wherever he happened to be when he collapsed.  He turned up on park benches, porches, and in churches (some of the churches kept their doors open 24/7 in those days, their signs beseeching people to “Enter, rest, and pray,” and I guess this man only made it to the first two).  Most people and police were charitable when he did this.  He was a harmless drunk, and all he did when he stumbled into a house was sleep.  More than one person served him breakfast in the morning.

(A footnote to this story: A year or two after he died, one of my dad’s colleagues was dating his widow.  She lived on Front Street, which is the south-north street which runs parallel to Muskingum Park downtown.  They had a bad fight one evening, and she told him to leave her house.  He did, and she found in the morning that he had pushed her sports car into the Muskingum River.  He put it in neutral, very industriously pushed it across the park, and then rolled it down the bank and into the river.  Hell hath no fury like a lover scorned, I guess.)

That was my last attempt at breaking and entering, except for times I’ve had to break into my own house or apartment because of forgotten keys.  However, when I was a teenager in Marietta, I intimately knew many of the roofs, fire escapes, and alleys, exploring these during my frequent nocturnal wanderings around the city.  Ohio is a stand-your-ground state, so I’m even wary when it comes to taking shortcuts across people’s yards.  I would not like to give some mall ninja an excuse to “go medieval” (to quote Pulp Fiction) on me.

What baffles me is how careless many people in my neighborhood are when it comes to displaying their expensive belongings.  This is especially true at night.  When you have your lights on in the living room, and your drapes are wide open, you might as well be on television.

When Susie and her friends walked from school to the library, they used to play a little game called “What Do They Have?”, and this entailed glancing in people’s windows and saying, “I see a chandelier, an entertainment system, a big-screen TV,” etc.  There would be no challenge for kids playing that type of game in many of the neighborhoods, especially in the houses where students live.  It’s quite easy to see who is watching what.

My dad’s hands were not entirely clean regarding this.  Our kitchen window faced a street that came to a dead end.  There were houses on the opposite side of this street, and there was an elderly widow whose picture window was almost parallel to our kitchen window.  Most evenings, she sat in front of her big color TV, and she usually watched The 700 Club or The PTL Club (never found out if that stood for People That Lie, Part Thy Legs, or Pass the Loot).  However, she was a Cincinnati Reds fan (as was my dad until Marge Schott bought the team).  So, when Dad was standing at the kitchen sink doing the dishes, he would often tune in the Reds game on the radio and watch the game through her window.  (She didn’t seem to mind.  Dad sent me over there once to ask her to take a plant off her windowsill because it was blocking his view, and she was happy to oblige.)

Friday Night Mania, Saturday Malaise

I christened the blog at this new site on Friday, and still had quite a bit of energy once I hit Publish and the entry popped up in my Twitter feed and on Facebook.  Not sure why I was so wound up.  (I did wonder if I was heading into a manic episode.)

I stayed online until around 4:30 or 5 a.m., doing one of those self-indulgent activities that actually masquerades as productive work.  I logged onto Collectorz.com, and then brought an armload of records from the living room and began piling them onto any flat surface I could find on this desk, and for the next several hours I was entering information about my LPs (only doing one or two of my 78s, and none of the compact disks!) onto its database.  The work was not as cumbersome as I feared.  In all but one or two cases, I was able to type in a record’s catalog number, and the program pulled in all relevant information from its database.

The punch line to this whole thing, of course, is that if/when I enter all the information about every recording I own (Susie says I am treading the fine line between collecting and hoarding), I probably will keep them shelved in the same disorganized fashion as they have always been.


peanuts_proud_records Although it was first starting to get light outside when I finally went upstairs to bed, I was up again by about 8:30 or 8:45, so I could go to the 10 a.m. showing of Cartoon Capers at the Ohio Theater.  I was a little late in arriving, because the bus ran into a few snags, including The Color Run.  East State Street was closed so that workers could hoist a Mr. Peanut neon sign onto the façade of a building.  They used a crane, so they cleared the street for an entire block, including the block where the theater is.

The Ohio Theater shows Cartoon Capers twice each summer, but I didn’t go to the first one because it coincided with the Gay Pride Parade.  I remember feigning hardship when Susie was about nine or 10.  She had a friend at our place for a sleepover, and part of the plans included going to Cartoon Capers on Saturday morning.  I “grudgingly” agreed to take them, although I think everyone knew that I was taking me as much as them.

My mental and physical energy tanked by the time of the intermission, probably caused, and certainly not helped, by not having eaten since about 7 p.m. the previous night.  I left before the intermission ended, and went directly to Subway and ate a big meal.  That improved my mental energy a little, but when I headed home, my plan was to log another armful of records, go to the library, and go to one or two yard sales in the neighborhood, not necessarily in that order.

Instead, I crashed and fell asleep on the love seat in my living room.  I slept for two or three hours, and only the sound of the letter carrier coming up on the front porch brought me back to full wakefulness.  I am not sure I would have stirred fully had he/she not opened the storm door to put a package in there.

Even though I didn’t feel all that energetic, I managed to walk for about 45 minutes (about three miles) north to Laughing Ogre Comics.  I felt like a bit of a ghoul, but I just had to pick up Issue #36 of Death Life With Archie, in which Riverdale’s favorite son actually dies, jumping in front of a bullet to save his friend Kevin Keller, the first openly LGBT character in the Archie Comics oeuvre.

Archie will be back, alive and well, in Issue #37, although I’m not sure how they will accomplish this miracle.  When Susie and I decided to attempt National Novel Writing Month, we were talking about fictional characters killed off and then resurrected by their creators.  I told her that, hands-down, the best return from the dead was Sherlock Holmes in “The Adventure of the Empty House.”  Unquestionably, the worst was the return of Bobby Ewing in Dallas.  Killed off at the end of Season 8, he appears, alive and well in the shower at the end of Season 9, to the surprise of his fiancee.  As it turned out, she had dreamed the entire season that he was dead.

Ruminating about Sherlock Holmes, from his “death” in “The Adventure of the Empty House” to his aforementioned return to the pages of Strand magazine led me to spend the rest of last night watching “A Study in Pink,” which is the debut episode of BBC One’s Sherlock.  Susie introduced me to it over a year ago, and we would sit up and watch the episodes on DVDs that I had checked out of the library.

There’s been no coherent thread holding this entry together.  That has happened before, of course, and it will happen again.  Anyone who has followed this blog at its previous sites knows this is quite common.

On Friday night, I was able to cross something that had been on my “to do” list for much too long. I dictated a long promised and too long delayed audio letter to a friend in California.  I had recorded one earlier in the week, but the tape was too cheap, and as I was in the home stretch of side 2, I realized the tape had wound three or four times around the capstan of my Panasonic RQ-32OS.  I had to throw away that cassette, after needing to use a butter knife to get it out of the machine.  So, I was proud that I was able to sit down, microphone in hand, and record an entirely new letter to him.

On the B side, I included a 1949 episode of Archie Andrews, the radio comedy based on the aforementioned comic books.  I put that in as a memorial to Bob Hastings, who played the title role.  He died on June 30 at the age of 89.  (He played Elroy Carpenter on McHale’s Navy and Captain Burt Ramsey on General Hospital, but I remember him as Tommy Kelsey, the bar owner on All in the Family.)  I met him at several old-time radio conventions in Cincinnati, and he sat down for an interview with Susie, who was all of nine years old at the time.  She came to the convention, armed with her microcassette recorder, to interview him for a class project. 

The Prose That Got Away

This is actually the second go-round for this entry.  We’ll call this first WordPress entry, Take 2.  I wrote a few screens of some good prose and my usual rambling, stream-of-consciousness, and I clicked the wrong command and it seems to be gone forever.  I posted and deleted a one-sentence test (the old The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dogs, which you use to test a typewriter, since it uses all 26 letters of the alphabet).

I set up the template for this new blog location, but tonight is the first night that I have the energy to actually sit down and write something.  This is much like when I received my first diary on Christmas Day 1973, when I was 10.  It was one of those silly little blue diaries with a lock on the cover, but I eagerly awaited New Year’s Day, when I could write in it.  As it turned out, I wrote for the first time in the back seat of our blue 1973 Dodge Dart, en route back to Marietta from Richmond, Va.  We had gone there on the 28th of December to be with my maternal aunt, as her husband was hospitalized from the congestive heart failure that would kill him the following March.  I took a dull pencil and wrote an entry, and even included a dateline at the top of the page, “Somewhere in Virginia.”  That sounded like the beginning of a Civil War-era War Department dispatch.

Last night, I saw Girl Shy (1924) with my friend Michael.  It’s a silent film, and we saw it at the Ohio Theater downtown.  The incomparable Clark Wilson played the huge console organ, and we both laughed all through the picture.  Michael got a kick out of my asking him, “What font are they using?” when the intertitles popped up.  (He is a graphic artist, and I have been a typesetter, so it was not a question out of left field.)  When Harold Lloyd sits down at his typewriter, I immediately took out my ballpoint pen and breast pocket notebook to write down the make and model of the typewriter (Oliver Standard Visible Writer).


The machine looks too heavy and too bulky, so I am not tempted to go straight to eBay and buy one for myself.

June has been my favorite months for the last three or four years, because of the Gay Pride Parade and Festival and ComFest, but the month was even sweeter because Susie was here for most of the month.  She completed her junior year at Merritt Island High School, and came here for some R and R before she flew back to Florida for her composition class at Eastern Florida State College (née Brevard Community College).

She connected with friends, and we went to our favorite restaurants (the Blue Danube and The Florentine).  She saw the new place for the first time (I have only been here since April; you can read the whole story of my landlord’s foreclosure and the new landlord’s hiking the rent on http://aspergerspoet.blogspot.com, and we hosted a housewarming/Susie is back in town party.  The remarkable feature of this party is that one of her friends brought her Cards Against Humanity deck, and it so fascinated the kids (and some of the adults) that they set aside the iPads and other social media to gather around the coffee table and play.

Susie loved her new bedroom.  It’s not fully decorated yet.  So far, the only wall hangings are the Bisexual Pride flag over the head of her bed, and the Pink Floyd poster over her dresser, but I am sure she will add more to it as it feels more like hers.

I was happy to see she had posted the ground rules on her door.  Prominent among them was Don’t do anything that will get my dad arrested!  This should be as obvious as “don’t eat yellow snow,” but she had a good reason.  She had friends over for a party, and one of the girls said she was going on the porch to smoke.  Susie thought that she was going out to smoke a cigarette.  Let’s just say it was not tobacco, and leave it at that.

We both had a good time at the Pride parade and Festival, but she was disappointed that she did not get to see George Takei, its grand marshal.  (For those of you who don’t know, he played Mr. Sulu on the original Star Trek and in the first six movies.)  She rode on a flatbed truck from Rendezvous Hair Salon, while I stayed on the sidewalk and took pictures.  We hoped Takei would be receiving at Goodale Park afterwards, but we didn’t see him.  Last year, Susie brought tears to my eyes when she marched with the Kaleidoscope Youth Center and carried the Rainbow flag.  A picture of that is my wallpaper on this laptop.

I plan to be at the 10 a.m. Cartoon Capers at the Ohio Theater, and I am so wound up that sleep is not even on the table at the moment.  (I had a bottle of Pure Leaf tea about six hours ago, and it must be packed with caffeine–almost like a soft drink from the ’80s, Jolt, which boasted “half the sugar and twice the caffeine.)  Once I make sure this entry made it successfully to my blog, I will watch a DVD of the first season of Sherlock.  The fact that I’m listening to David Shire’s “Night on Disco Mountain” from the soundtrack of Saturday Night Fever (1977) is not doing much to help me decompress.  (Saturday Night Fever is the first movie I lied about my age to get into.  Normally, I tell people it was The Exorcist (1973).)

On my “to do” list this weekend is to move the green steamer trunk upstairs.  It’s in the living room right now, and I’ve been tripping over it.  I found it in the trash in the alley earlier in the month, and I think it will take up permanent residence at the foot of my bed.  I plan to fill it up with my diaries (from 1990 to the present; all the ones from 1974 until when I dropped out of Ohio University are long gone) and the November 10, 1965 issue of The New York Times I bought on eBay earlier this month.  Its headline: POWER FAILURE SNARLS NORTHEAST; 800,000 ARE CAUGHT IN SUBWAYS HERE; AUTOS TIED UP, CITY GROPES IN DARK.   When I first fished the trunk out of the garbage can, I had troubling visions of Rope (1948) and the story of Ira Einhorn (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ira_Einhorn) if the allusion escapes you.

For a moment, I thought I relived the catastrophe that caused my first entry to disappear.  I hit a wrong combination of keys, and this screen vanished from my monitor.  I am happy to say I could undo this, so here I am.  I remember episodes of Lou Grant from the late 1970s, when the newspaper first converted to visual display terminals (VDTs) and cold type.  Many episodes dealt with an editor or reporter hitting the wrong key or command, and a story (or the entire newspaper) disappearing forever.

I realize now that the only way I will become proficient with WordPress is to post to this blog as frequently as I can.  It’s like how you get to Carnegie Hall: “Practice, practice, practice!”