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The Audiophobe File: Setting Up Shop
Fall has just shouldered itself into New England. The evenings come earlier, crows are flying in reverse, and the maddening school buses have reasserted themselves on the landscape with their blinking lights, extending stop signs and yellow bars that halt oncoming traffic. Any more accoutrements and they will look like phosphorescent deep-sea creatures, all neon and blind.
Here in this little resort town in Connecticut, summer breezed past us, turning the corner conspicuously sporting an out-of-place tan. Old-lady fat, packed in woolen pantsuits against the damp-leaf air, now wanders about the village gawking at the gift shoppes and stealing candy for a thrill from the Sweet Mill on Main. It is time to stop to breathe in the flavor of clam chowdah (the kind with cream, not tomato juice, or, like in Rhode Island, with nothing) on a rainy day, curled up to the fireplace (or lacking that, a three-wick candle). We must settle in to a routine before the onslaught of the holidays and that, that, that "music" they pump out year after year.
Ha ha! I shall outwit the purveyors of the overplayers. Oh yes! (I rub my hands together mad-scientist-like, evilly giggling.) Ross, you see, has placed the order for the preamp kit I was writing about last time. (The "Foreplay." If you want to join this strange, mystical journey with me, contact Dan Schmalle at email@example.com) or visit his website at www.bottlehead.com) I can feel it winding itself to me! By the time the snow and the holidays hit, I shall be safely ensconced inside a wall of music of my choosing, played through a music system that features something that little ol' me put together. That holiday "music" shall not get to me!! Hee hee!!
In Utero (or, What I Did On My Summer Vacation)
After my call to Build-A-Kit last summer, I knew that I didn't have space in the downstairs of our house to work on it. I could have opted to walk to the "Shop Up Back," as we call Ross' huge workshop, but then I'd have to, well, walk up there, which would mean being away from the phone and Oprah, and that would be bad. My workspace would have to be in the house somewhere.
The only place I have is a small room upstairs, unimproved as it was. And yet there was benefit to this. Ross and I had seriously discussed the music room over the past few months, the Ultimate Chamber of Sound . I had given him a partial, Xanaduian vision of it, involving large amounts of purple and velvet, with gilded walls, beanbags, beads, and multicolor stairwells. I was promptly informed that although he loved my quest for thelets say "eclectic"these dreams were really not fathomable. They did not lend themselves to great sound, often quite the reverse. The best idea for the sound room is SIMPLE SIMPLE SIMPLE. Oh, was I ever crushed... until I thought of that upstairs room.
"Ross, love. Does the decor of my workshop matter to the outcome of the Preamp?" I asked of this Man of Incredible Patience.
"Yes. You don't want it to be too distracting."
Hmm. Distracting. He said "distracting!" I can deal with things distracting. Nothing about the surroundings negatively affecting the Kit! Run with it!! Ask him no more questions.
I promptly picked up my bare feet and padded to the top of the attic stairs. I looked into a room packed to capacity with about six years worth of collectibles, mostly acquired at the free area of the Town Transfer Station (not to mention the rest of the contents of my folks Victorian that they sold a few years ago). I sighed, but I knew I could work a little magic here with the aid of a decent boombox playing the Allmans and Kid Rock, a few gallons of triple-strength iced coffee, and several return trips to the Town Transfer Station to unload the excess. Which is exactly what I did for the next three months.
I pushed and pulled and sawed and hammered and nailed and fixed and painted and affixed. Three months up here, ninety days in the hot, humid attic, replacing the falling-apart boxes and ends and bits with fine treasures I had saved in seasons past for reasons hitherto unrealized. This is the way a redhead lives, collecting things, and there is a purpose to it. Things do have a place to go, just please don't ask when she brings it home in the first place.
Bold-Faced Lies (Wrapped in Pretty Cellophane)
Cue up the music from 2001: A Space Odyssey.
The door creaks open, spider webs drape and dance themselves across my cheek. (Uh, sorry, that's the October atmosphere creeping back in.) I step into the room and approach the far wall, which is where I began the Great Renovating after The Clearing. I used up half of July's spare moments scooping out wood shingles and drywall and mouse nests and pink fluffy insulation, and fenced in the room with a giant triangle of floor-to-ceiling triple-paned glass. At the top I installed a two-way fan to remedy dangerous fumes from the soldering. As a result, we now have a view! The window looks out over a deep and lush pine forest, planted here long before this cottage was popped on the gentle northern slope of the mountain, and the hills roll gently down to the Sound in the hazy distance. On clear days, like this October beauty, we can see all the way to Long Isl... I mean Borneo. (We were able to catch the second half of Survivor live from this window. Don't tell CBS, but we knew about Richard.)
Turning from my new glass wall, I glance down at the floor, intricately inlaid with hand-polished Brazilian Rosewood, and by hand-polished I mean not polished by hand with sandpaper, oh, no. I mean direct hand-to-wood contact. We employed thirty families (at a fair wagewe are not Kathy Leealthough we'd rather have enslaved Cody and Cassidy) from a third-world sweatshop working three shifts a day, burnishing this wood, infusing it with natural high-gleam essences and oils. It is on this floor that I will tread out my electric frustrations, the snapping sound of my hair being torn from root reverberating off the walls.
The walls! I devoted the second most amount of time to them. I wasn't worried about the acoustics, remember, so I had FUN! I re-did the walls, half-submerging into the fresh wet plaster shells and driftwood that I'd collected from the Bay side of Cape Cod as a sweet sixteen-year-old. I then hung fishnets from the ceiling in the corner, and strung more shells on fish line from these. The focal point in this wall of shells is a spine that Ross and I discovered a couple of years ago while we were walking on a beach in Northeast Massachusetts. This spine is remarkable in its resemblance to that of a human, and for quite some time we'd discussed sending it on down to Washington, DC, as Mr. C. had lost his (though in time it became obvious that it belongs to the Missus of that union, as I cannot quite get the fish smell out of it).
Underneath the spine I placed a table I'd squeezed up through the narrow stairwell, a lovely little thing received under circumstances that will remain unexplained. The table is low, and topped with a greenish marble, Japanese style. The base is of ornately carved dark wood, all toothy lizards and fish with bulgy eyes that stare with hungry expressions. Ross says I am nuts to use it as a worktable, but I have always held the opinion that if you can't use something, it's useless. Instead of a chair I have piled burlapped and betassled pillows on the floor so the cats will have something safer to pluck at than the hot soldering iron. It is on these pillows that I will ease back after a few hours of intense work, and gaze up at the stars. The ceiling is an angled affair, and lent itself most excellently to being painted a royal deep blue. Tipping off the blue, I stuck a bunch of those plastic glow-in-the-dark stars up there, then installed a black light to make them radiate. Ross rolls his eyes at the black light, but I am a child of the 70s. Cooooool.
Although September brought the end of the heavy work, I knew I was pretty much finished by the time I installed the refrigerator, helipad, and coffeepot. Nevertheless there was a nagging feeling in my head, one that I had to listen to. It refused to shut up. (This is what poor Ross has to contend with on a regular basisa voice that doesn't shut up, made worse by the fact it infrequently makes sense.) So I took a walk up to Ross' Shop Up Back, and immediately was reminded of what I had overlooked.
The Calendar (!!!)
I have always enjoyed hanging around Menshops, primarily because there were Men there. In these places, be they woodshops or auto or electric, there has been one facet, inescapable and without fail: the Totem of the Manshop, the Glory of the Girl, that sly measure of day and date, the Pinup Calendar. My Shop needed a focal point, one much like the boys have, with buxom girls draping themselves around cars and tools draping themselves around the girls. I needed an altar of flat out, unashamed eye candy! The main hurdle here was that the ones they make for women feature those buffed out studsters, overly muscular and too tanned and blow-dried. No, for this little shop of wonders, I needed a little less tack and a lot more depth.
So, to Ross's amazing forgiveness, I chopped up old issues of Positive Feedback, and made my own calendar featuring the Men Of Positive Feedback. There is Stan Ricker in his t-shirt as Mr. September, Michael Green with that delightful long hair as Mr. October, and as Mr. November our Doctor Gizmoin a kilt (drool drool). Ah, to look up there on that wall for inspiration in all things audio. When it seems I've soldered and re-soldered with cursed luck, the reassuring gaze of my Idols of PF tell me to relax and have fun with it, my fingers become unbound and I get that perfect, shiny bead of silver supremacy.
There is one omission in my calendar, and 'tis a sad thing. I have reserved Mr. December for the Elusive David Robinson, our Dear Dear Editor, whose portrait is suspiciously missing in our issues of PF . If anybody has a photo, e-mail me! Meanwhile I will have this thing of rapturous beauty clinging to the wall of My Shop.
The Next Big Thing (One Would Hope)
October is now haunting its way into cold November, days of turkey spirits piercing the thin air, days of preparation on the half shell. The Package will be arriving soon, along with all the giddiness usually found at the top of roller coasters. I will be working on this Preamp as pranksters dance about my lawn in ghostly garb. I will be soldering away as the first licks of snow drift onto the tips of the holly bushes. I will be completely grasped by the concept that even an inept girl of no technical background can Build-A-Kit with excited success as the days rub out into black and grey.
And then will come the day, that marvelous moment when I will hook up the Preamp, plug it in and turn it on, and it will work. I hope, I hope, I hope.