Sunday, March 4, 2012

From Carpets To Cassettes, Via Kohlrabi

One should refrain, we have it on good authority, from giving a mouse a cookie; for if you do, he is surely going to want a glass of milk. If you give him a glass of milk, he is going to want to wash his face, and so on, ad infinitum.  This afternoon, friends of ours gave us some floor coverings, and this simple act of generosity initiated a series of events that culminated in our divesting ourselves of literally hundreds of old audio cassettes.

On our way out to church this morning, Audrey informed me that we would be stopping to see these friends of ours in order to both drop off their crock pot (left at our Oscar party) and to pick up a couple of area rugs they were no longer using.  Fair enough, I thought, and asked where they were going, as there had been speculation about a number of possible locations during previous conversations.  Her plan was to put one or both in the unfinished section of our basement, and since this would result in a warmer and comfier circuit to and from the downstairs (i.e. beer) fridge, I expressed my immediate and unconditional support.  Since they were rugs and not carpets, I figured no actual work would be required, having witnessed rug deployments on a number of previous occasions.  No gluing, no cutting; no muss, no fuss.

Obviously I had neglected to take into consideration the fact that a number of items currently at rest on the cement floor would need to be moved prior to the rugs doing their thing.  Fair enough, I thought, so Fenya and I moved the old toy box, the bottle and can bin, the dog food, the dance pads and a few other things.

This reallocation of goods revealed a horrifying assortment of brobdingnagian dust bunnies and an assortment of other detritus such as errant bits of kibble and many a wayward bead.  Clearly, even a rug could not be situated in such squalor, and so we dragged out the vacuum cleaner to rectify the situation.

We hadn't even finished the vacuuming when Glory appeared at the bottom of the stairs with the Swiffer, under the direction of her mother.  Well, now that the dust had been removed, it only made sense to throw a little more elbow grease at the cement floor before covering it with a rug, right?  Fenya kindly took care of this while I packed away the vacuum cleaner, and soon, the entrance to the basement was cleaner than it had been since we moved in, I'm guessing.

At last, Audrey and I were in a position to finally place the rugs.  Her original plan was to lay them in an overlapping l-shape, so both the entrance and the area directly in front of the refrigerator could benefit from this comfy coverage.  However, she became concerned that someone might catch their foot on the topmost rug, and seeing the potential for spilled ales, I quickly shared her concern.

"We can place the two rugs side-by-side," she estimated, "if we can fit this other one under the fridge." I wasted no time expressing my opposition to this, since emptying the fridge to facilitate moving it vastly exceeded the personal resources I had budgeted to expend on this endeavour.  Audrey's deft measurements soon revealed that the fridge would not necessarily need to be moved, merely tipped, a far more agreeable option.

Tipping the fridge did not seem to present a problem in terms of its contents, but like every other flat space in the basement, the top of it was laden with a variety of items, including a space heater, a bundle of blossoming twigs, a fan, and boxes full of about 500 cassette tapes dating back to high school for the both of us.

Well, a few minutes later, we had emptied the top of the refrigerator, tipped it the required amount, and slid the rug under it.  There was no denying the two rugs both looked and felt good, but viewing the boxes of cassettes, we both realized that, having lugged them from college to our first apartment together, and then to Toronto and back, and finally into this house, there was very little point in returning them from whence they came.  After all, I had listened to perhaps 7 of them since moving into this house six years ago.

And so it came to pass that I spent much of the remainder of the afternoon going through these outmoded sound storage devices, dividing the commercial tapes from the copies traded with friends, and simultaneously  jotting down which of them would be worth replacing.

Strangely, there won't be as much replacement as I'd thought.  Many of the cassettes I'd purchased had been done on the basis of a strong single, and often the accompanying album did not bear this out, such as David & David's "Welcome to the Boomtown".  Others had been superceded by various "Best Of" collections or box sets, or simply reflected an exploration of my youth that I would be just as comfortable revisiting through YouTube, if at all.

There were some exceptions, however.  The first was in a handful of oddball cassettes, like the "Diane Tapes" of Agent Dale Cooper from the television series Twin Peaks, or the soundtrack to the brilliant blaxploitation spoof, "I'm Gonna Git You Sucka", that I can't imagine finding in another medium, and will hang on to them in the meantime.  Others, like the audio tour of Gettysburg from our 1998 visit, or the tape of Conversational Klingon failed to make the cut.

The other exception was the assortment of mix tapes made by myself and others.

I explained to Audrey my reluctance to part with these audio time capsules, and she quickly agreed that we could find room for them.  I was pleasantly surprised to find my first 'serious' mix tape, made largely with tracks from my friend Rob's collection, hence the name Kohlrabi.  Rob was a bit of an audiophile, and showed me how to correct the recording levels in order to avoid jarring changes in volume, as well as explaining how to properly construct a properly balanced and paced mix tape, moving seamlessly between genres and tempos.

Later came Return of Kohlrabi, Son of Kohlrabi, It Came From Beyond Kohlrabi, and many others.  Even tapes I made for others bore similar names, like Gift of Kohlrabi, or Seasonal Kohlrabi.  In college, several of my friends saw the appeal of this quirky naming convention, and quickly adopted it for themselves.

Radio Free Kohlrabi was taped from a number of demo CDs we discovered languishing at the campus radio station.  "There is a warning label here that says 'Not For Resale'," one person observed nervously.

"That's fine," I reassured him.  "There's no money changing hands here, right?"

Others were specifically recorded for a road trip or vacation, such as Kohlrabi Mountain High, or Pete's Chaosburg Address from our trip to Gettysburg, Chaos being his own iteration of Kohlrabi, even prior to our meeting.

Looking back at these collections, it is comforting to see that I have been an eclectic music listener for as far back as I can remember, due in no small part to the diverse tastes of my friends like Rob and Island Mike.  Some of these Kohlrabi tracks are still the soundtrack to my life in some fashion or another, while others have a far more vestigial resonance, or serve as a trail marker to a place where I once was, but am unlikely to return to.

I don't know how much Kohlrabi lies in my future to be honest; even with the technology to burn compact discs for truly Digital Kohlrabi, I don't do it very often.  This is the age of the playlist, after all, not the mix tape.

We only have one working tape player in the house, and it is a bit dodgy, to be honest.  If I had a lick of sense, I would transfer the Kohlrabi Kollection to the computer in an mp3 format and listen to it like some sort of time travelling podcast series.  I wish I had written down the date they were recorded, but knowing they reflect what I listened to between, say, 1986 and 1999 (I don't recall recording any after we returned to Edmonton from Ontario), they still have both a sentimental and archival value, at least to me.

I knew that moving rugs and carpets would shake loose some dust, but I certainly wasn't expecting any from  25 years back, and I didn't expect it to bring so much nostalgia along for the ride, but like giving that mouse a cookie, it is impossible to predict where such ventures can end up.

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