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Moving In Stereo

I’m livin’ for givin’ the Devil his due –Blue Oyster Cult

My friend Heather , who visited last week from Philly, possesses perhaps the most sincere laugh on the planet. Once engaged, it eclipses mere amusement and shifts in to something more electric and potent, knowing neither decorum nor inhibition. It is equally likely to power on at a ballgame, on the subway, or during a polygraph test. It can begin as excited acknowledgment of the intricate processes of humor and then quickly erupt in to joyous appreciation for laughter itself. Sometimes it’s impossible to tell what she’s breaking up over; only that it’s innate and has to run its course. None of which is to suggest that the girl is an easy laugh. Her disappointment over failed or substandard attempts is as real and visceral as her connection to the genuine item. “Wait, wait  …” she’ll sometimes say, “that isn’t funny.” Then she’ll stare with a child-like look of disappointed anticipation, wanting the offender to make it right.

I met Heather when she was nineteen and had just moved to San Francisco. I like to tell the story that she moved there because of a crush she had on the (fictitious) WWF wrestler Brutus “The Barber” Beefcake, whose ring introduction included the line “from San Francisco, California …” She did have a thing for Beefcake, but that was when she was thirteen. By the time she left home she’d figured his deal out, but had also developed a soft spot for the city after visiting there with an aunt. San Francisco and Heather were an incendiary combination with a decent shelf life. The place reflected both her youth and alternating current, fluctuating evenly between excitable and grounded. She used to ask me to grab her by the shoulders and shake her hard – either to stir something up or to settle it down. The city and Heather also shared a deep history belied by their years. With some people and places, you can just tell that they’ve been around for a spell.

I hadn’t seen Heather for a long while, despite our paths running almost identical east/west coast routes. She arrived in Brooklyn a week after my latest vintage stereo receiver came via UPS from Los Angeles. I’ve been purchasing these old receivers of late – the last one was a Harmon Kardon that I bought from a guy in the neighborhood for fifty bucks, and it lasted three years. The current model is a 1974 Pioneer SX-737, an eBay find that ran me about a hundred with shipping from Los Angeles. I like its weight and the solid feeling you get when turning its pulley-rigged tuning dial. The face glows with subtle, cool blue light and there’s a faint, warm waft and scent of electronics from the top vent on the wooden cabinet. When I first turned it on the right channel sputtered and the sound crackled, cutting in and out. I reasoned that this was the risk one takes buying something that’s over thirty-five years old, and prepared to chalk it up to experience. But after leaving it on for a few hours the internal connections strengthened and I could sense it coming back to life. Since then it’s performed flawlessly and the sound seems to become richer by the day. Maybe I’m projecting these qualities, influenced by a combination of nostalgia and that nifty blue glow – but I don’t think so. The thing just plays right.

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