From a Columbia Records Sleeve circa 1961

This was inside the Dave Brubeck Quartet's Brandenburg Gate Revisited album:


1. THEY'RE YOUR BEST ENTERTAINMENT BUY. Records give you top quality for less money than any other recorded form. Every album is a show in itself. And once you've paid the price of admission, you can hear it over and over.

2. THEY ALLOW SELECTIVITY OF SONGS AND TRACKS. With records it's easy to pick out the songs you want to play, or to play again a particular song or side. All you have to do is lift the tone arm and place it where you want it. You can't do this as easily with anything but a phonograph record.

3. THEY'RE CONVENIENT AND EASY TO HANDLE. With the long-playing record you get what you want to hear, when you want to hear it. Everybody's familiar with records, too. And you can go anywhere with them because they're light and don't take up space.

4. THEY'RE ATTRACTIVE, INFORMATIVE AND EASY TO STORE. Record albums are never out of place. Because of the aesthetic appeal of the jacket design, they're beautifully at home in any living room or library. They've also got important information on the backs—about the artists, about the performances or about the program. And because they're flat and not bulky, you can store hundreds in a minimum of space and still see every title.

5. THEY'LL GIVE YOU HOURS OF CONTINUOUS AND UNINTERRUPTED LISTENING PLEASURE. Just stack them up on your automatic changer and relax.

6. THEY'RE THE PROVEN MEDIUM. Long-playing phonograph records look the same now as when they were introduced in 1948, but there's a world of difference. Countless refinements and developments have been made to perfect the long-playing record's technical excellence and insure the best in sound reproduction and quality.

7. IF IT'S IN RECORDED FORM, YOU KNOW IT'LL BE AVAILABLE ON RECORDS. Everything's on long-playing records these days…your favorite artists, shows, comedy, movie sound tracks, concerts, drama, documented history, educational material…you name it. This is not so with any other kind of recording.

8. THEY MAKE A GREAT GIFT because everybody you know loves music. And everyone owns a phonograph because it's the musical instrument everyone knows how to play. Records are a gift that says a lot to the person you're giving them to. And they keep on remembering.



Sliced Bread

After a cup of coffee and Morning Pages, I came up from my basement office, showered, shaved, dressed for work. Breakfast I keep pretty light. A piece of toast with butter. This morning, I grabbed the bread from the fridge and thought about sliced bread.

You know the old saying, right? The best thing since sliced bread. A bit of searching reminds me that machine-sliced bread came about in 1928. Otto Frederick Rohwedder invented the machine. The saying came later.

I grew up with sliced bread. It didn't occurr to me to slice bread for a sandwich. Ridiculous, that. We had a weird, cheap bread knife, its serrated edge like a dull bow saw that tore the hell out of even the hard Italian bread we brought home for spaghetti dinners. Thank goodness for sliced bread.

This morning, I took the loaf from the fridge. The community center at which I work gets donations of bread, likely day-old. There's more than we can give away, so I grab a loaf each week. This morning I set the loaf on a cutting board and took hold of the good bread knife my wife gave me years ago. Its edge is fine and sharp enough to cut bread (and tomatoes) clean and thin as I like.

This morning I cut a thick slice — I was hungry — popped it in the toaster, wiped the knife clean and put it away, and uncovered the butter dish. Slicing bread was a moment's work. Using the knife was a joy like using any good tool. I waited for the toaster and thought about how slicing my own bread is just so much better than sliced bread.

Convenience is such a myth.

Sustainable Listening

I take the album from its paper sleeve which I had pulled from the cardboard sleeve in which it rested. The vinyl is forty-seven years old. I set it on the platter, switch the turntable on, and brush it. The amp hums. I swing the tonearm over the record and lower the lever. (My fingers were never steady enough to lower the needle on their own and now I'm even less steady.) Crackles pop in the speakers, then Neil Young sings about packing it in, buying a pick-up, and taking it down to L.A.

Across the room I sit at an HP laptop reading work emails going back and forth between a couple of the directors. I signed onto the job thinking I'd just write grants, but it has turned into something more interesting because I want it that way and the people who hired me encourage such things. It's a sweet thing. About as sweet as Neil's voice out on the weekend.

My daughter is teaching me about sustainability. Because of her I've committed to never drinking out of a single-use water bottle again. Small steps.

Records are sustainable. I can feel it. The paper sleeve. The brushing. The crackles and pops. Sure, vinyl is pretty nasty petroleum stuff, but it's forty-seven years old and I'll keep it the rest of my days (having learned the mistake of ditching the albums from my childhood).

The job feels sustainable too. My old one was like sitting in a running car in a closed garage. I wrote a note this morning to an old colleagues. I keep wanting to break a window, open the door, something before he suffocates. That's how it was with me. And the effects of that linger. That place was poison to me. I'm only now just beginning to recover.

Over coffee I read Neil Young's Lonely Quest To Save Music and his idea that the compressed digital music is doing something bad to our brains, kind of like the mind-suck of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and whatever else feels necessary but disconnects us. That ain't sustainable either.

The record's almost over. Even that can't go on and on. But there's the other side and there's another record and another after that. Just the feel of the record, the act of putting it on, and the restorative sound flowing across the room, yeah, it's enough to sustain me. It all feels so good.

Magnetos & Compass Points

At my brother's garage I see a circular piece of what I assume to be cast iron or steel with bent pieces of metal radiating out from a central core. Next to it is a magnetic compass he bought at a camping store. The woman at the register said, "you know, there's an app on your phone that's easier and probably more accurate than this thing." My brother said it wasn't for finding his way. It's to help him work on one of his Model-T Fords. The bent pieces radiating from the core are magnets each with opposite polarity from the ones next to it. To know what's what, he uses the compass. I picked up the compass and watched the needle swing north to south as I moved from one magnet to the next. I smiled and kept moving back and forth around that circle, the act of it delighting and pulling me.

We were at my brother's garage because my 2010 Prius had gone 6,500 miles since I had bought it and I've no idea when it last had the oil changed. Synthetic oil lasts 10,000 miles but I hate leaving things up to chance and don't at all trust that the dealer (ugh, the dealer) changed the oil when I bought it. At 6,500 miles, it was close to time and now I get to do things right.

I could have taken it to an oil change place or, God forbid, the dealer, but I dislike paying upwards of ninety dollars for an oil change when my brother has a full-service garage complete with a lift. We bought five quarts of synthetic and a filter on sale for thirty-three dollars and drove to his garage, talking about this and that as we tend to do.

Driving the car onto the lift, figuring out where the filter might be and how to remove it, lifting the car and draining the oil, all these things were tactile, physical, literally within reach and we did them together. The oil warmed and stained my hands. The filter cover had to be persuaded with a hammer and punch worked carefully so as to loosen but not damage the thing. We stood beneath the car, a lead-lamp on a cord lighting the way for our failing eyes, fetching tools for one another, figuring things out. We kept talking too.

My father came up in the conversation often, as he does in the garage he loved and where his cars still reside. Banging with a hammer sounded like him. The oil smelled like him. The place is inhabited by his friendly, invisible, silent ghost. And there were my brother and me, imitations of the old man, newer models working with his tools and in his ways.

After we lowered the lift, refilled the oil, ran the engine, and checked the levels, my brother wanted to move cars around to line up his Model-T Fords and have access to the cars he was likely to drive over the next few weeks. We moved cars out of the garage, rolled the un-engined frame of a Model-T by pushing it around, and parked things where he wanted them to go. The whole thing was an exercise in joy, the simple kind that most people call contentment but which was, for me, too filled with wonder to leave with such a bland name. Afterward we stood talking and admiring the garage, the cars, the work of a garage.

As we made to leave, I took another look at the magnets and the compass. I touched a magnet as if to discern the direction of its pull. No such luck, but it exerted a whole other kind of pull on me, into the past, sure, but also forward, leading me where I'm meant to go. At least that's exactly how it felt.