Finding a working time machine is hard.
Correction. Finding a working, inexpensive time machine is hard.
There are lots of cheap ones out there. So far, I’ve bought two.
First one failed out of the box*. Not encouraging.
Second one, worked for a few hours of use. Then started coming part.
OK, I’ve been speaking metaphorically.
Let me try this again, more literal:
Finding a working audio cassette player is hard.
Correction. Finding a working, inexpensive cassette player is hard.
Who cares about audio tape players, you ask?
Clearly, I do. If you haven’t figured that out, you should just stop reading now. The rest of this post will be utter gibberish for you.
I care, because a working audio cassette player is, for me, a snapshot into the past.
A time machine, if you will.
What the heck am I going on about?
I found a bunch of old audio tapes recently.
Music mix tapes from friends and past flames, some weird recordings of old public service announcements, and an audio ‘letter’ or two.
I got it into my head that I wanted to hear these.
That it would be fun. A real kick.
I had a tape player, a nice one, expensive at the time I bought it (some two decades ago), but quickly discovered it doesn’t work anymore.
There was one tape in particular I really wanted to listen to.
It became an obsession.
But not one I wanted to spend more than twenty, thirty bucks on.
I’m a cheap skate. Even with my obsessions.
Cassette players fall into two camps: less than thirty bucks and over a hundred.
Less than thirty bucks buys you, apparently, a few hours of play time.
The tape that got under my skin, that drove this whole ordeal?
An audio diary entry of sorts. The label on the cassette couldn’t have been more clear as to the contents, or more alluring:
“Reflections on — & other things 04/28/91”
The scored out part? The name of an ex-girlfriend, blotted out to protect the innocent. Our breakup devastated me, and in the throes of that agony, I committed my thoughts on that event (and other things, evidently) to magnetic medium.
But also irresistible.
The good news, if you’re still interested enough to have reached this point in this post, is that the second tape player worked long enough for me to transfer the tape to digital.
The bad news, for everyone, myself included, is that the second player worked long enough for me to hear parts of it.
I haven’t listened to the whole recording. I’m not sure I can, or ever will.
I checked in periodically during the transfer, to make sure it was working, and heard snippets.
Turns out I broke up with her, which isn’t how I remember it at all. That was weird.
There was a lot of sniffling, and no, I didn’t have a cold at the time.
There was a lot of naiveté, which considering how young I was, and given that this was my second girlfriend, ever, isn’t shocking.
Those parts made me thankful for the growth I’ve achieved since then, the maturity, poise, wisdom, and confidence that 24 subsequent years of life bestows to us all.
Well, most of us.
But there was one section, and my sampling was random, so I don’t know how prevalent this tone was, that showed just how…ill-equipped I was at dealing with relationships back then.
Working or not working.
I was angry.
Not screaming, howling at the moon angry.
Dark, fuming vitriol angry.
The type of anger so sublimated that it isn’t readily apparent to those around you.
Or even self-evident, unless you wait twenty-four years to look back and analyze the situation.
It was disturbing.
(OK, quick note for anyone who might have gone there: this was not a “shoot up the mall” type of anger. Ultimately, I would characterize it as internalized. Self-destructive.)
In a way, I’m thankful for the snippets I heard.
It paints a stark contrast between my emotional and mental maturity then versus where I am now.
To paraphrase Virginia Slims, I’ve come a long way, baby.
But the more enlightened Ian of today is…uncomfortable with the Ian of twenty-four years ago.
I wasn’t a bad person then. Stupid, lonely, misguided, why-do-nice-guys-finish-last entitled, yes. But not bad.
However, I look back on this example of how I thought and how I saw the world, and I’m a bit horrified.
I am not a wise man, not by a long shot, but if I only had then the small amount of wisdom I possess now, my life would have been so much…
I want to say better, but I don’t know.
I’d have been a lot less nervous, a lot less afraid, a lot less likely to internalize things rather than get them out in the open and deal with them.
But the hard truth of it is, I wouldn’t be who I am now if I hadn’t endured the idiocy of youth.
If I did have a working time machine, an actual time machine, I wouldn’t go back. I wouldn’t try to give myself a leg up.
I had to learn these things the slow, hard way, because I had to learn them for myself.
And let’s face it: I’m a slow learner.
But once I get something down, it sticks.
And looking back, I can happily say life stuck to me.
Just as Target did, selling me a tape player that didn’t last a week.