published in Volume 2, Issue 5 on November 8th, 1995I inherited the swing records. The box full of ancient 78s had been unceremoniously deposited in my room. A day later, the equally old phonograph player arrived. My father was cleaning out the last of Grandpa's things, one minivan load at a time. He hated the whole affair, going through the odds and ends of an old man's life, searching through dusty closet after dusty closet, encountering only detritus.
Dad put the records in my room because he had run out of space for them in the garage. He could have put them in his office; none of Grandpa's old stuff was in there.
"Here," he said, letting the box fall to the floor. I was lying on my bed, TV idly by, thinking of awful high school stuff. "You like music, don't you?" Dad tried smiling, lamely. He was just looking for a place to dump all this crap.
That night, I opened up the box and discovered records. Records! What's a record? The records had pictures of men playing trombones on them. There were illustrations of people in uniform, neatly lined up, playing instruments. I took the records out of the sleeves and ran my fingers across the deep vinyl grooves. It was so different from a CD.
"You'll never guess what I was checking last night," I told my friends. We were gathered at a lunch table in the Commons. They were eating junk food and scoping for women.
"What?" someone said.
"LP? Who's that?"
"Records, idiot. Long-playing records."
"Huh." They were utterly uninterested.
When Dad hauled in the old phonograph, I pretended to be annoyed at the imposition. On the way out, he carefully shut the door behind him. I dragged the heavy phonograph across the room to a socket and plugged it in. The cover had a rusty metal latch. The speed of the turntable was controlled by switches as big as my hand. A plate on the side said that it had been manufactured at Versatile Manufactures in Cleveland, Ohio. I cued up the record and dropped the needle into the groove, just like I had seen them do it in the movies.
Nothing happened. Then I found the round volume knob on the front of the box. I turned it and.... Sound, rich bass sound, poured out of the tiny speakers. It wasn't like my stereo, the music wasn't clear, it somehow was overlaid with background noise and static. I could see the needle tracing the groove, feeling the vinyl, and knew that that was where the sound was coming from.
The music was rhythm, it was a song, a melody, like something from an old movie. I had never heard it before, ever, but knew that if I heard it more than once I'd be whistling the damn thing. I really hated myself but it was true--I liked this old crap. The mind tried to resist but was borne away by song.
Who could I tell? I couldn't tell anyone. Grandpa was dead. If I told my friends, I'd be laughed out of Sun High. This was beyond old people's music--this was dead people's music.
I went through the box and listened to all the records. It was a sick kind of fun, using this ancient technology. I liked the fact that the records were so big, much bigger than a CD. And heavy, the box full of them must have weighed fifty pounds. I liked watching the records spin inside the old box; I would see a scratch coming and then hear (and see) the record jump. I didn't worry about Mom or Dad finding me listening to all this fogey stuff--is our son weird? They both worked late and were never home. When they were, Dad tended to hole up in his office, typing, working on a spreadsheet. Mom would sit in the kitchen and work the phone, calling clients.
There was still a lot of work to do with Grandpa's estate. Dad traded e-mails with my aunt regarding the "final disposition". He told me all this as if I cared. I couldn't see how it mattered very much--Grandpa was dead, all that was left was his stuff.
Dad had finally emptied Grandpa's apartment. "It was like a rat's nest in there," he told Mom. She was standing in the kitchen, portable phone in one hand. Something was cooking in the microwave. Dad was still wearing a tie and the sun was washing over him, making him squint.
"I couldn't believe how much shit he had saved. There were his old report cards, from the thirties. Timeslips from his first job--ten cents an hour. Letters from Mom, when he was fighting in the Pacific. Shoeboxes of old pictures, of their first house, of me, of those crazy picnics in the back yard. Pictures..."
"Maybe we can put them on a CD-ROM?"
"And do what then?" Dad loosened his tie. "Who would have time to look at it?"
The microwave beeped. Cooking was finished.
Mom carefully peeled the plastic sheet off of the plastic dish, steam escaping. The air conditioning kicked in, a loud whir that shook the house.
"Well, you have to do something about those things in the garage, those boxes and furniture. I hate to leave my car on the street."
"It's got an alarm," Dad said. Mom gave him a look. "But you're right, we need the garage back."
Mom took her dinner out to the living room.
"So," Dad said, opening the freezer, "we have Budget Gourmet, Weight Watcher's lasagna, bean burritos, Szechwan Chicken..."
I delved more into the music. I can't remember the songs, I can't remember the bands. They had names like old white people--Miller, Herman, Dorsey.
And the song titles were a laugh--Jersey Jump, Woodchopper's Ball, Chattanooga Choo-Choo. They were simple songs about spring and trains and love, always on the way to love, or pining for lost love, or waiting for love to arrive on exactly the right train. No tales of teenage angst, suicide, self-mutilation.
Then, one day, my records were gone. I found Dad in the living room, rocketing through cable channels, not looking at anything in particular. I stood there watching him until he noticed me.
"What do you want?"
"What'd you do with the records, you know, Grandpa's old records?"
He turned to face me, setting the remote down. "I took them to a record dealer. Sold them."
"Uh-huh," Dad said. A strange smile crept across his face. "You didn't want those old things, did you?"
"No, it's just, it's just like it was Grandpa's stuff. I thought we might keep them."
"No room. You heard your mother."
I walked out front and sat down in the driveway. Gnats buzzed around my face. I sat with my arms over my knees. Some kids I knew from school rode by on bikes, yelling obscenities at each other. Dad was inside watching cable TV. I sat in the dark, doing nothing but thinking.