Su Lum: Slumming

Su Lum
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado

I’ve worn reading glasses since I was 14, and time, as it is wont to do, has taken its toll to the point where I read the newspapers with a magnifying glass as well as my reading glasses and have to crank my Kindle up to 14-point type. Over the declining years, I’ve turned more and more to books on cassette tapes and then progressed to books on CD from the library.

At first there were just a few books on CD, with a plethora of Danielle Steele and associated trash, but now the library carries several shelves of CDs, which I troll looking for the “new” stickers and often pick at random. More and more, they stock good stuff (Faulkner’s “Absalom, Absalom” is recommended) and they will cheerfully and swiftly order anything that has been recorded from their inter-library loan system.

Thank God for the baby boomers’ coming of age: More and more books, both old and new, are being recorded for the visually infirm.

My problem was with the equipment I was using to play these recordings.

Until very recently, I had a collection of five (count ’em) football-sized little “boom boxes” that serve as radios, cassette players and CD players, and all of them were so unreliable I was at my wit’s end.

I’d put in a book on CD and bang, right in the middle of the story, it would stop short, usually when I was totally absorbed.

Eyes pop open, animal scree sounds emerge from my lips, the CD refuses to advance or to find its place, another boom box is plugged in (they all, it goes without saying, have slightly different methods of operation), and often the third, fourth and fifth before one of them gets going and the book continues, by which time I am wide awake and in something of a lather of rage and frustration.

Some of the CDs played very softly, and no amount of volume control could compensate for it. Put on a different CD and it would blast, but not the one I wanted to hear.

The most expensive players in the big-box stores cost only about $45, and my son-in-law Bruce said that this was my problem. Like, what do you expect for under $50? I was willing to pay more, but what to get on the Internet? I even looked at Bose radios, in the $500 sphere, but read in the customer comments that their CD functions were ultrasensitive, prone to the very frailties I was trying to avoid.

I’d love to report the perfect solution but I can’t, without reservations, recommend the Califone multimedia radio/cassette/CD unit I eventually purchased for about $150. It works for me, but if you turn it off you lose all your pre-programmed radio stations, so I have to leave it on to wake up to NPR. But the CD function is great – the CDs with the faintest volume come in loud and clear and it has a remote control, a feature I adore, and it has never faltered or stopped short or had a nervous breakdown if a nearby drawer were closed too sharply for its delicate system. For me, case closed. For CD reliability, I can put up with a lot.

Meanwhile, my car radio blew a fuse many months ago, and I knew it was time to rectify that situation when I found myself singing aloud to compensate. This in itself wasn’t too scary since no one was around to hear it except the dachshunds, but when I realized I was singing such songs as, “Walking in a Winter Wonderland,” and “If I H-knew You Were Comin’ I’d a Baked a Cake,” (“hatcha doo, hatcha doo, hatcha doo …”) I began to worry about teleporting myself back in the past.

Of course the dinky little fuse was in the back of the radio, so the whole thing had to be dismantled at a price that probably could have replaced the entire unit, but I’m back to NPR in my car, the CD player is working at home, and all is right with the world.

Well, not in the world, just in my Radio Land corner of it.


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