At some point, we got a piece of junk mail with a little gimmick — to answer “yes” or “no” to whatever magazine subscription (or whatever) come-on it was, you were supposed to detach a little tiny plastic toy of a phonograph record and enclose it. Or something. One record said YES, and the other said NO. My parents, to whom it was addressed, looked at it for three or four seconds and threw it away.
I fixated upon it.
How old was I? Four? Five? Less than four? I was aware of the outside world and some things on television. Our TV worked sometimes, and sometimes I went and hung around at someone else’s TV. At any rate, internal evidence indicates I knew the characters in the Rocky and Bullwinkle universe, specifically Boris Badenov and the Moon Men, all of whom appeared in dreams that were at least somewhat memorable. I believe Cloyd and Gidney (the Moon Men) were in a dream first, where maybe I saw them in a grocery store or something. There was even a faint flavor of California in the dream, like it was from early on in the Colorado years, when I still dreamed of the old place some of the time.
At any rate, the more elaborate dream concerned Boris Badenov, and he had an elaborate and unwieldy contraption (My dreaming predilection for unconvincing visuals: could it be a legacy of these cartoons that I watched so much? Like the ‘squalid’ dreams seem to echo the poverty-stricken backdrops of Fleischer and Columbia cartoons they showed on TV when I was a kid.) that was capable of playing those little YES and NO records.
(Later, Kathryn or Martha asked me what the record played. I said I didn’t know, and they theorized that they were just the one word on the label, repeated over and over. No doubt this was correct.)
Playing the records was, of course, part of some scheme he had. I think he may have even explained it to me, or maybe he just bragged about his complicated device. (Was Natasha there? I like to think I would have remembered her.)
By my middle years in grade school, I knew that the record hadn’t been a real record. It wasn’t the only time I dreamed of a tiny phono record that could be played. One dream I had was apparently set in “The Time Way Back When Cracker Jack Prizes Were The Real Things.” Thus, even though the disk was the size of a dime, and not a perfect circle (see? unconvincing visuals!), it was understood that it really played something on some sort of player. This being a nostalgic era, the tune was some sentimental song, perhaps involving violets or lilacs.
At some point, Linder’s got in a display of a toy record player for kids that played real, actual little disks of music recorded by kids, judging from the few offerings I saw. I lusted after one of those, even with the rather idiosyncratic software you could buy for it. Needless to say, it was unaffordable, and the cheap things were soon gone from all stores, remaining behind only as unrequited product lust in my youthful soul.
Once, in third grade, I proudly brought my Spike Jones LP, Omnibust, to class, along with a portable record player slightly smaller than I was. I don’t remember asking permission or anything, just playing it to the amusement of my classmates, particularly the clownish ones who often harassed me. I don’t suppose I got a chance to play more than a track or so before getting on with the important work of third graders, but I think the incident may have given me a mental image of myself with a not-too-huge record player on which I could listen to whatever I wanted, whenever I chose. How many records should I be able to carry with it? Three? Six? No. NO! It should be a great big number, like a hundred. Yes! I should be able to have a hundred records to listen to. Maybe those weirdo little tiny ones like I never got to have.
In sixth grade, Tim Corley brought in his little tape recorder. It played reels that were only about an inch in diameter — noticeably smaller than the three-inch reels I’d seen. I wanted one of those, and was able to focus enough to save up and get a more reasonable piece of hardware on lay-away at Penney’s, which had three-inch reels and two entire speeds. I lugged it around, and as many tapes as I could shlep. After three years or so, I decided cassettes weren’t so bad after all and got a little Panasonic recorder at a department store in Kerrville when we were down there at Christmas.
After a while, I got a better Panasonic recorder. Then I got a Sony boom box (stereo!), and another Sony box later on. When the second Sony let me down, I got a much smaller Sanyo that remains my favorite such deck to this day (shortwave!). In 1984, I got a personal cassette player that was the first of a sustained series of such units, many of them free replacements under extended warranties, which really paid off with these quirky and temperamental little machines.
At the same time, I was carrying differing numbers of cassettes with me. When I carried them in a black plastic Amway case, there was room for 78 tapes. The case seemed like overkill when I started using a Walkman-type unit all the time, so I got smaller containers that were made of nylon fabric. Each one held a score or so of tapes.
It occurred to me one day that I finally had my teeny tiny record player, complete with little bitty records. Yes, they were a different shape and mechanism, but close enough! It felt like the realization of an inane childhood dream, and it would have been perfect if I could have just carried a few more titles in maybe less space.
So when it got to where you could record CDs full of mp3s and listen to them on a personal CD player, I had realized my dream even more than before. With just a single hardshell CD case and the player, I had more stuff than I could have carried on cassettes. Mission Even More Accomplished!
Now I have, literally, thousands of hours of audio on my mp3 player. I don’t think my grade-school self would have even ventured to guess at such a bounty of music. It really makes me want to go back in time and lord it over Edison. “Hey, Edison! Look at this! And listen to that great sound! Really makes your phonograph records seem shabby, huh?” Then after that, if I still had the time machine, I’d go show it to Johann Sebastian Bach.