From the Braver Institute
Lately I have been spending a lot of time in my memories, and as a result many of those memories have been finding their way into this column. I know that reading sorry, old memories can be a lot like watching a slideshow (Google that if you don’t know what one is) of someone else’s vacation at their in-laws place in Nebraska, so this week I thought I would write a little about everybody’s favorite subject: the upcoming presidential election.
Here is what I have to say about that whole mess: I can’t wait until the whole thing is over so I won’t have to listen to people telling me how the incumbent is sending everything to hell-in-ahandbasket, or how the challenger will send everything to hell-in-ahandbasket, if elected.
There, now that that is out of the way we can get back to the sorry, old memories.
It seems to me that I have always been fascinated with machines of all sorts and what makes them work. I used to stand in front of our record player (Google that if you don’t know what one is) and watch it go around and around. I was most likely thinking about the inner workings of the player, and what made the whole thing work. My parents thought that I was just mesmerized by the spinning of the record. Grown ups can be stupid that way.
How mechanical things worked was interesting, but how to make things work that no longer did became a challenge. Throughout my life I have taken great joy in repairing that which was broken. Bringing things back to a useful life gave me much more satisfaction than going out and buying something new.
From the time I was old enough to pilfer tools from my dad’s toolbox, I was fixing things. For most of my childhood I rode around on bikes that I had cobbled together from parts scavenged from the handful of backyard scrap metal piles that could be found around my neighborhood. I enjoyed these “Frankenbikes” more than the two new bikes I was given.
When I was a kid, my big sister Sorta had a tape recorder (Google that if you don’t know what one is). It was a portable model and it was avocado green. They called it portable because it had a handle, and even though it was the size of a compact car, you could carry it with you if you wanted to. Sorta eventually moved out, but the recorder stayed, probably because there was no one in the house strong enough to pick the thing up, and it was broken. Being avocado green may have also had something to do with why it was left behind.
One day (with all of my might) I took the recorder off the shelf and I started to mess around with it to see if I could get it to work. It was missing the knob to switch between stop, play, fast forward, and rewind, but I discovered that I could use a pair of pliers to select the mode. The big problem was that it didn’t play. It most likely was in need of new batteries, but we didn’t have any. I determined that there must be a way for me to plug this thing into the wall.
In those days I knew very little about electronics and electricity, but I did know that I could not simply attach a cord to a batterypowered device and plug it into a receptacle. The recorder was powered by DC and household current is AC. I needed an AC adapter.
AC adapters are used to power countless electronic devices these days, and it would be safe to assume that I have twenty of the things sitting in a box somewhere right now, but back then they were much less common. Thinking back, it kind of surprises me that my family had a spare one, but we did—either that or I commandeered one from some device that I determined my family no longer needed.
There was no port on the recorder to plug in the adapter, so I hardwired (Google again) the two together. To my surprise it worked.
I now had a tape recorder. I needed something to record. I recorded me.
When I played the tape back, what I heard was very puzzling. I was hearing the words that I had spoken, but it was someone else saying them. I played the tape for my mom ,and explained that the tape recorder worked but it changed my voice. She said that it sounded exactly like me. It was at that moment I became convinced that grown ups were stupid.
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