My First eBay Bidding War–Definitely Worth Recording

Susie went out this evening for dinner at The Spaghetti Warehouse, and then to the 11:30 showing of The Rocky Horror Picture Show at Studio 35.  So, it’s just the laptop, the blog, and me here right now.  (Susie flies back to Florida late Monday morning, but she has managed to see many of her good friends while she has been visiting here in Ohio.)

While I was in Florida, I ventured where I had never been–but in territory which is familiar to many people I know.  I found myself in a bidding war on eBay.

A day or two before Christmas (and going down to Florida to celebrate the holiday), I set my sights on a Lafayette RK-710 reel-to-reel tape recorder.  I picked the brains of my fellow members of the Reel-to-Reel Enthusiasts’ group on Facebook, since I had never heard of Lafayette.  All reassured me that the Lafayette Radio Electronics Corporation was a reputable company.  So, I submitted a bid a dollar or two above the price listed in the posting.

To my surprise, eBay sent a notice to my email saying that someone had bid higher than I had.  I immediately jumped onto eBay and raised the price by a dollar.  It was after placing the bid that I realized that my “opponent” had only raised the stakes by about $0.11 or $0.12.  I raised it a dollar, and saw that bidding would close the next day around 8 p.m. EST.

Steph pointed out to me that I was the one who was driving up the price.  Apparently, the other bidder realized this as well, since he/she automatically set the account to raise the price a dollar each time I placed a bet.

I sat out the next 12 hours, although I set the alarm on my cell phone to go off five minutes before bidding closed.  Patiently, I watched the timer run down, and discovered that the other bidder had placed a $40 ceiling on automatically raising bids.  As time was down to about 15 seconds, I increased the bid by $0.50, and received the good news that the tape recorder was now mine.

A Facebook friend told me that there was another–far more universal–tactic for bidding on Facebook.  It is called “sniping,” and it involved not driving up the price by matching and exceeding bids.  It involves sitting there quietly as the time runs out on bidding, and, as close to the last second as possible, putting in the highest bid.

The recorder came yesterday by FedEx Ground.  Susie was home to take it off the porch, which was a good thing, since there has been a rash of package thefts here in SoHud during the Christmas season.  She emailed me at work that the package was here, so I was on the edge of my seat the rest of the day, willing the clock to move more quickly to 5 p.m. so I could get home and try out the new machine.

My new toy, the four-track Lafayette RK-710 recorder.

Oddly enough, this would be the third reel-to-reel machine to be under my roof.  This past summer, I met my old friend Scott–we met in seventh grade at St. Mary’s Middle School.  As the only non-Catholics in the class, we naturally gravitated toward each other.  In high school, we discovered a mutual fascination with radios and iron oxide tape, so we spent many hours immersed in tape, patchcords, and microphones.  
When Scott and his wife moved to a farm in Licking County, he decided to unload many of the possessions he no longer needed–a lesson I have yet to learn!  So, we met for brunch at the Blue Danube, and, after long conversation and the usual filling meal, he gave me two portable tape recorders, a Sony and a Penncrest, both of which were familiar to me from the afternoons and evenings we spent using them.

I wanted to buy yet another machine because neither portable machine could accommodate seven-inch reels.  Also, the motor on one machine seemed to be DOA, and the other did not record, at least not with the microphone that came with it.

The new Lafayette machine (pictured above) had one cosmetic flaw.  The tone and volume knobs are both missing, so I turn them with a small slothead screwdriver that fits just perfectly.  (The missing knobs did not concern me; I changed channels with a pair of pliers on the TV I had when I lived in Cincinnati.)  Also, the machine’s 1 7/8 inches-per-second speed did not seem to work.

I tried some of the tapes that Scott had given me.  (Since he no longer had the equipment to play them, he gave me his reel-to-reel tapes as well.)  One was a three-inch reel of the audio of Star Trek‘s third-season episode “The Tholian Web” (Stardate 5693.2), and the sound quality and speed was erratic, which had me worried.  I had better results when I took a five-inch reel at random, and heard a crystal-clear recording of Side 2 of Pink Floyd’s Animals.

My next concern was whether I had a two- or four-track machine.  When I lived in Cincinnati, I bought a Wollensak reel-to-reel recorder from my across-the-hall neighbors, who sold it to me one night when they were desperate for beer money.  (When you’ve got ’em by the addiction, their hearts and minds will follow.)  Soon afterwards, the College Conservatory of Music had its annual record sale.  At this sale, they featured commercially produced reel-to-reel tapes for $0.25 apiece.  I bought two operas, plus a recording of an Israeli string quartet.  (I had no idea what music was on the latter tape, since the liner notes and listings on the box were all in Hebrew.)

I came back to my apartment eager to try out my new treasures.  I threaded one of the opera tapes into the Wollensak and pressed the PLAY button, and was utterly crestfallen.  I had a two-track machine, and it was a four-track tape.  While playing side one, the machine played side two backwards at the same time!

This afternoon, while Susie was having lunch with her Coming of Age mentor, I went to Used Kids (where, as faithful readers of this blog will remember, I bought four milk crates of 78 RPM records for $20 in November).  The manager was nice enough to give me a piece of equipment I desperately needed and which did not come with the recorder–a seven-inch take-up reel.  I spent $3 on a four-track commercial reel-to-reel album, Tribute to the Big Bands under the Tape-Mates label (TMS-102).  It’s a three-hour tape which includes all the big names of the Big Band era, such as Glen Miller, Artie Shaw, Les Brown and His Band of Renown, Duke Ellington, etc.  With trepidation, I put it in the Lafayette, and lo and behold, it played crisply, and only one side at a time.

My fascination with recording, and my tendency to want to hang onto things “in case I need them later” was the cause of an ongoing battle Steph and I had whenever we contemplated a move.  The Wollensak came with me in 1995 when I moved from Cincinnati to Columbus, although I kept the same spool of tape on the machine and never played it (and never found a microphone for it).  Steph kept urging me to get rid of it, but I was adamant that where I went, it went.  The conflict was similar to a friend of Steph’s son, a teenager who refused to part with his Fisher Price farm set, which had been in a box collecting dust in the basement since he had been in grade school.  He balked at allowing his mother to give the set to Susie, who was a toddler at the time.

I have owned a variety of tape recorders since I received my first one as a gift on my eighth Christmas.  Most of them have been cassette recorders.  As is the case now, I did not collect eight-track tapes or recorders.  (Eight-track is the only medium that is explicitly unwelcome in my home.)  Tape fascinated me so much that I began avidly following Watergate once Alexander Butterfield disclosed the existence of Nixon’s secret taping system.  I also looked forward to Mission: Impossible reruns so I could see the way that Dan Briggs and Jim Phelps retrieved the recordings that would explain their next assignments.

(I was quite happy when one technophile posted a YouTube video showing the different makes and models that Mission: Impossible employed in the series.)

Susie is not a fan of Big Band music, so while I was trying out the new (to me) tape that I had bought at Used Kids, she put on her earbuds and listened to music from her laptop.  I was in the dining room (which, among other things, is the place where I moor the Schwinn Meridian) with the tape recorder on a bookcase, and she was typing away at her TV Tropes and fan fiction pages, listening to the music she liked while I was listening to the various Big Band instrumental numbers, this time more to see how reliable the machine was, although I developed a liking for swing and Big Band music through my association with the old-time radio circuit.

Maybe I’m older than I realize.  Just after I won the bid for the Lafayette, I proudly posted a picture of it on my Facebook page.  One of my fellow bookstore co-workers, who is 20 or 21 at the oldest, posted, “What is that?”  He had no idea what it was, or what I did.  So, I explained, and then posted a link to Wikipedia’s entry on reel-to-reel recording.

That way, I can tell myself I educated someone, as well as spending money on a new toy.

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Mythology Comes Alive

My first exposure to the Sisyphus myth was a bronze pair of bookends that one of my dad’s colleagues had his book- and record-filled apartment in Marietta.  Until then, I thought Sisyphus was something you took care of with lots of penicillin and tetracycline.  My dad explained to me the myth surrounding this unfortunate monarch: To punish his chronic and almost constant deceit, the gods condemned him to spend eternity rolling an enormous boulder up a hill in the Underworld, only to have it roll back down as he neared the top.  Repeat throughout eternity.

I know that Albert Camus wrote a small book, The Myth of Sisyphus, which I have not read.  During a mythology class I took at Marietta High School, I concluded (to my teacher’s reluctant agreement) that the closest manifestation of the Sisyphus myth was Wile E. Coyote, and these frequently involved boulders!  (Anyone who watched The Six Million Dollar Man saw more laws of physics violated than in an eight-minute Road Runner cartoon, but Lee Majors did not bear out any significant mythology.)

Gentle readers, I bore out the myth of Sisyphus a day or two before the Washington trip, and I now understand it completely–although I did have a way out of it, unlike the poor bastard in the Underworld.

I left work early the day before my departure for Washington, and ventured to Used Kids Records on N. High St.  I was in a good mood, about leaving work early because there was nothing to do, because I would have some Interstate underneath me in about 24 hours, and that I was flush to buy some records at Used Kids.

Used Kids is located upstairs in the 1900 block of N. High St., and its black-painted walls house a very eclectic selection of recorded music, on all media that is currently available.  There are even commercially produced reel-to-reel tapes, as well as the God-awful eight-track tape.  The bulk of Used Kids’ inventory is vinyl.  There are also stereo components and speakers for sale.

But my eyes were all for the shellac.  They had a fairly substantial, but completely disorganized, collection of 78 RPM records, and I have become like a guided missile when it comes to stashes of 78 RPM records.  This is aided by the fact that several generous record store owners have given me their cache of unwanted 78s.

I asked the manager about the prices of the 78s.  I was going to buy one album full of records.  (A little explanation is necessary here: The maximum capacity of a 10-inch 78 RPM record was about three or four minutes’ running time.  A longer work, such as a symphony or opera, had to be spread out over several records.  If it was a single body, it came in an album with paper sleeves to hold each record.  This is why, even on a compact disk or on an LP, and even today, a single collection of music is called an album.)  The manager looked at me, and I suspect my reputation may have preceded me, because the vinyl peddlers in Columbus seem to have a relationship that is more cooperative than competitive.

He seemed to be deep in thought.  “Tell you what,” he said.  “I’ll let you have the whole lot for $20.”  That was music to my ears, if you’ll pardon the expression.  I said sure.  I went home to drop off my knapsack, and to put on a denim jacket, since it had gotten a little colder than when I had left work.  I came back, handed the cashier a $20 bill, and asked if I could bum their dolly.  My yield turned out to be four milk crates, all four of them bursting at the seams.  “Please tell me you have a freight elevator,” I said.  No, they did not.  With help, and also borrowing a frayed bungee cord, I was able to get this load all the way down the steep steps to High St.

Used Kids Records, myself, and the plethora of 78s which are now piled up on shelves, in crates, and desk surfaces in my half double.

I envisioned that the worst part of the experience was cataloging the whole acquisition on Discogs, between the tedium and the often snide comments that moderators and administrators make to those who are still learning the ropes.  I was wrong.

Hindsight is always 20/20, and I realize now that what I should have done was, after paying the $20, was tell them to hold the records, and then got on the phone either to a friend with a car or to a taxi dispatcher.  But no, I had to try to get it all home myself.  As retro as I have become in the last few years (almost to the point of considering typing out this blog on my Royal Skylark, almost like a more orthodox diary, and scanning the entries to go up here), I came away with an appreciation for iPods that I did not have when I got out of bed that morning.

Shellac and Bakelite records are heavy!  When you multiply this by four crates, then the weight and the bulk are burdensome.  There was no way I could remind myself of the famous litany (often spoken in vain) when helping someone move.  “This isn’t heavy, it’s just bulky.”  In the case of the 78s, it was both.

I believe now that every sidewalk between N. High St. and E. Maynard Ave. is warped and uneven.  I was making very slow progress, less than a mile an hour, and trying without success to keep the stack of cartons from toppling at every small bump.  I think that even if I had run over an anthill or a crushed beer can on the sidewalk, the whole load was in danger of collapsing.  And if that happened, the records would shatter.  It would be like holding up and dropping a box full of china.

I made my laborious way east on E. 18th Ave., going north on Waldeck Ave. (a mistake; the street is more uphill than I remembered, although I had no trouble traversing it on my trike or on foot on many nights), and finally east on Lane.  After coming very close to spilling all the records–and having these nightmare visions of going through all the shrapnel that had been four crates full, and finding the remains of an Elvis Presley Sun 78–I took out the cell phone and called a cab.  The driver did not look happy about this, and I am sure the car was riding lower than usual once I loaded everything into the back seat and the trunk (I had to ride up front with him).

I walked like Quasimodo the rest of the day, and I had to look behind me to see whether or not I had a knife handle sticking out of the small of my back, but I gritted my teeth and said it was worth it.  So far, the most valuable record in there is Patti Page’s first recording of “Tennessee Waltz”, which originated as the B side of “Boogie Woogie Santa Claus” (Mercury Records 5534).  I also acquired some unexpected LP vinyl treasures–all nine Beethoven symphonies, conducted by Arturo Toscanini, and a multi-record set of organ concerts by Albert Schweitzer, to benefit the people of Lambaréné and his medical mission there.

This is why I have never used the Sisyphus myth to describe my grappling with NaNoWriMo and all the many words and keystrokes that result from it.  (On that subject, I am down to less than 10 thousand words, about 3000 of them written today.)

Currently, I’m in Kafé Kerouac, and they will be closing soon, and I will venture out in the falling snow to get home to bed.  I have my headphones on, and the “Jewish Elvis,” Mr. Neil Leslie Diamond, is singing “Cherry Cherry,” my favorite song of his. 

A True Risk-Taker: Opening a Record Store in Downtown Columbus

Early yesterday afternoon, Susie and I ventured downtown for the grand opening of Spoonful Records at 116 E. Long St. (around the corner from the A.T.&T. building).  As part of molding Susie into a well rounded and erudite individual, I have insisted that she know what long-playing records were are, and that she know about such things as phonographs, turntables, etc.  I have taken her to record stores in Columbus and Cincinnati, and made a point of buying LPs whenever we’ve gone to the Old-Time Radio and Nostalgia Convention.

With the economy in free-fall, and downtown Columbus businesses dwindling almost daily, starting a business–any business–requires a leap of faith that I cannot even comprehend.  So, I was quite surprised to see that a new record store would be opening in downtown Columbus.

I first noticed it when I was walking up E. Long St., en route from work at lunchtime to the credit union to cash a check.  A long-abandoned former furniture store suddenly had butcher paper over the windows, and an OPENING SOON! sign hung in the windows, along with the name and telephone number of the business soon to open–Spoonful Records.

Yesterday was the big day.  I had spoken to the owner, Brett Ruland, on the phone earlier in the week, and it turned out we had some mutual friends and acquaintances through the used-LP grapevine.  He worked part-time at Lost Weekend, a record store a few blocks from my house, and had seen Susie and me in there.

Susie bought Everything’s Archie, the Archies album which premiered “Sugar, Sugar,” their most popular hit.  (She searched for but couldn’t find any Archie comics for sale.)  She was impressed by the spiral-bound sketchbooks and journals for sale, with covers made from LPs.

Susie fell in love, however, with the two pinball machines in the back.  (She was discouraged by her lackluster performance on Bally Wizard, but did quite well once she tried the other Bally machine, Four Million B.C.)  I had to remind her that 20 or 30 thousand for a pinball game was quite a respectable score when I was a teenager, and if she broke 100 thousand, the machine would either reset and she would lose all her points, or it would go totally nuts with all kinds of alarms and lights.  Once she learned how to work flippers and the fine art of gently jostling the machine (I have to explain the concept of “tilting” to her, but I’m happy she didn’t learn it the hard way) to guide the ball, she spent a lot of time at Four Million B.C., and beat the high score by a very decent margin.  “Damn!  I gotta start practicing!” the previous record-holder said when I told him.

Susie poses between games of Four Million B.C.
Several record stores opened and closed during the first 20 years of my life in Marietta.  I received my first phonograph–a portable orange and white plastic General Electric–for Christmas when I was about four, and bought a cheap stereo from Sears with newspaper-route money when I was 15.  At the time, the best places to buy records were at Hart’s Department Store or the Marietta College bookstore.  (There was a store called Scents ‘n’ Sounds in downtown Marietta, but my parents didn’t let me go there because–they said–it was also a head shop.)  In high school, Side One Records and Tapes opened, and I remember that was where I bought Q: Are We Not Men?  A: We are Devo, the only Devo album I ever owned.
One of my many country-mouse-becomes-city-mouse moments when I moved to Boston was turning to the Yellow Pages and seeing columns and columns of record store entries.  At that time, however, I relied exclusively on my tape recorder for music, since I had left my turntable in Ohio.  This limited my choices of things I could buy.  (I remember the first album I bought in Boston–on cassette–was Toto IV, because I had become quite fond of the song “Africa.”)  I was surprised to see the price for which 78 RPM records sold in Boston.  On one of my trips home, I brought back a stack of 78s that an old lady had given me when she paid me to clean out her attic.  (Her husband had died and she didn’t want to stay alone in a 10-room house.  She was moving to a condo, and she hired me to clean out her attic.  I had right of salvage for anything other than family personal effects–letters, albums, etc.)  They didn’t fetch much, but it was a little extra folding money for me.
I have long supported the merger of bookstores and record stores.  Spoonful had a few books for sale, and record stores in Cincinnati included rock memoirs along with some token Bukowski books and Beat authors, and shrink-wrapped editions of The Andy Warhol Diaries and Madonna’s Sex, but that was about it.  My ideal was Rooks and Becords, a store on Polk St. in San Francisco which I visited on my cross-country Greyhound trip in 1987.  I marveled at how well the two co-existed.  I bought books and I bought records, and gingerly transported them in my knapsack on the return trip to Ohio.  Half-Price Books has made the effort as well, but with the corporate look of the place comes a lack of intimacy.
Spoonful will be featuring listening stations, much like the record stores of New York (and other cities, I’m sure).  They’re not ready yet, but Brett holds out hope, as evidenced by this picture:
I’m sure Brett will have to post step-by-step instructions
once his equipment is ready to use.  Some of us
still remember how to do it; it’s like riding a bicycle.
I don’t remember ever being in a record store that had the small listening booths.  I remember a passing reference to them in William Styron’s novel Sophie’s Choice, and I saw allusions to them here and there in New Yorker anthologies, but I had never seen one.  The closest I’ve come is using the wall-mounted CD players at Used Kids Records on High Street, but standing there just isn’t the same.  (These players were in Used Kids’ newer location, opened after the fire in 2001 which destroyed their old location, along with some 70 thousand albums.  Lost forever was one of the best collections of spoken-word albums I had ever seen.  I had bought a record of Howard Hughes’ 1972 telephone press conference there.)
So, we have a new record store in downtown Columbus, and another one has opened in Clintonville, just south of W. North Broadway.  It’s called Dreadful Sounds, and it specializes in punk and metal.  I have yet to visit it, but I have passed it on the bus and on foot.  I learned about it from Columbus DIY’s Message Board, and plan to stop in soon to pay my respects.
Vinyl may be coming back into fashion.  My hope is that people won’t look at me quite so funny when I speak of my love for typewriters.