Monday, February 20, 2006

Callow Youth

I finally built some shelves for my records this weekend. Yep, records. Previously, they occupied the bottom shelves of the living room bookcases, which were always too shallow for them. In January, I replaced the old bookcases in my living room but the new bookcases were also too shallow to hold albums, so I moved them to my gameroom, where I temporarily stacked them, unceremoniously, on the floor. Yesterday, I decided it was time to remedy the situation. This involved a trip to Home Depot and the use of various power tools including the drill and belt sander, all things that I enjoy doing. Tonight, the gameroom smells faintly but pleasantly (to me, anyway) of minwax, which I used to stain the red oak boards that I used for the shelves. As I alphabetized my albums and put them on the shelves this afternoon, I thought of a post I wrote last summer on AOL about when I was young, in love, and an audiophile. In honor of my LP's and the long overdue new shelves, I'm reposting that recollection here:

In the summer of 1969 I was 19, living on my own in Chicago, in a single furnished room in an apartment hotel on Clark Street, across the street from the Lincoln Park Zoo. I'd left Minnesota and my parents' home 2 years earlier, at 17, the day after high school graduation, with not much more than $100 in my wallet when I arrived in Chicago. I worked as an au pair that first summer, living in the suburbs with the family whose children I cared for. By the summer of '69 I had a full-time job in downtown Chicago in the Clerk's Office of the Federal Court for the Northern District of Illinois, and I spent my days quipping with lawyers (one of whom I eventually married) and occasionally with federal judges. Four nights a week I attended classes at City College, on Lake Street, after which I'd catch either a 22 (Clark Street) or a 36 (Broadway) bus back home, where I'd run a hot bath in which I'd soak, while working on trig problems or conjugating Russian verbs by candlelight. It was great to be young in the '60's, and to be 19 and on my own in Chicago, in 1969 - although money was always tight, it was a heady time for me.

That summer I discovered Leonard Cohen. I mean, I first discovered a Leonard Cohen album: Songs from a Room. I'd first become aware of him the previous summer, when I heard his song, Suzanne, sung by Judy Collins on her album, In My Life, and I was curious about the Canadian poet who'd written the haunting lyrics.

I was quite the audiophile in those days. I didn't have kitchen facilities in my furnished room, but, much more important to me, I had an AR turntable with a Shure cartridge that I kept balanced within the recommended weight range using a small set of plastic disc weights and counterbalance supplied by Shure when I purchased the cartridge. While my best friend was reading Cosmopolitan and Glamour, I was reading StereoReview (to which I'd subscribed) and Scientific American. I was interested in having the best possible sound quality of the recordings that I listened to (she says in self-defense).

That summer, in addition to working full-time, going to school part-time, and being an audio nerd, I was still seeing My First Love: G, a 22-year-old about whom I was totally nuts. We'd met back in Minnesota at a street dance, when I was 16 and just finishing up my junior year in high school and he was 19, and just finishing up his sophomore year at the Catholic Men's College in my town. He was from Chicago, and seemed incredibly sophisticated to me...but then, anyone who wasn't Minnesotan seemed incredibly sophisticated to me in those days. I was immediately smitten.

When I moved to Chicago in the summer of 1967, G was about to begin his senior year of college in Minnesota, so although we stayed in touch (I still have his letters), we stopped seeing each other. A year later, after graduating from college, G returned to Chicago, where he attended law school for exactly one day ("I knew it wasn't for me," he said). One day in early fall, 1968, we literally bumped into each other, on Randolph Street, and we began seeing each other again. I was totally nuts about him, and there weren't many things I wouldn't have done for him, and he knew it, although there was this one thing...

I remember the night I first listened to the Cohen album, Songs From a Room. The Cohen song that had first captured my attention, Suzanne, was not on the album, but it was an absolutely amazing album nevertheless. As I sat crosslegged on my bed, listening to Cohen's raspy voice singing Bird on the Wire, Story of Isaac, A Bunch of Lonesome Heroes, The Partisan...I was blown away. G called, and I told him about it. A couple of nights later, G came over. One thing led to another, and afterward, as we lay curled in each other's arms, spent and happy, we listened to the album as it played on my AR turntable with the weighted Shure cartridge. G especially liked the last song on the album, Tonight Will Be Fine. I was touched and slightly embarrassed when he said that the lyrics reminded him of me: Oh sometimes I see her undressing for me, she's the soft naked lady love meant her to be...she's moving her body so brave and so free, If I've got to remember that's a fine memory...and I know...from her eyes...and I know...from her smile...that tonight will be fine will be fine will be fine will be fine....for awhile.

When the album ended, he asked me to play it again. I was totally nuts about him, and there weren't many things I wouldn't have done for him, and he knew it...but not that. I refused to play the album a second time for him that night. Audiophile that I was, I explained, earnestly: "Playing it twice in a night will flatten the grooves, I've read about this..."

Sheesh. I was SUCH a nerd. Amazingly, he continued to see me for almost 2 years after that, and we remain friends to this day. I can only say...and this isn't Cohen, but a fellow Minnesotan (Dylan): Ahhhhhhh, but I was so much older then, I'm younger than that now.

Thank goodness.


TJ said...

Nerd..nah! You've been busy. Albums, how nice that you have managed to hold on to them. Don't they sound so different compared to all this digital? I don't even have anything to play a record on just dawned on me!

emmapeelDallas said...


Me too! They sound much different from the digital stuff, and I'm hoping to get my old AR turntable running again, or to get some sort of reasonable substitute. There are things I want to hear in all of that vinyl!


Theresa Williams said...

I can always count on your entries to transport me and to make me laugh. I loved reading about your life in Chicago. I keep meaning to go back there and really take in the sites. I was there two years ago for a writing conference (AWP) but didn't get to see anything hardly but the inside of that beautiful hotel where I went to writing sessions and slept at night. I definitely would like to see the aquarium and the zoo. Your entry really reinforces that desire. It sounds like you forged a very wonderful life there. You were brave! I did laugh when you write that about the grooves: I remember saying things of like-silliness and now I, too, am surprised the people in my life overlooked all that silliness. This one is a winner; I enjoyed it ALMOST as much as the one about the internet sex talk: remember that one? I still think about that entry ALL THE TIME! It was great.

emmapeelDallas said...


You made my day! You're such a fine writer; I wish I could begin to write as well as you. Ok, you've referenced it, I'm going to repost that entry about cybersex in the next couple of days. I'm glad you enjoyed it.


Judith HeartSong said...

I loved this post. I adored records and the art on the jackets.

Theresa Williams said...

Oh, I can't wait to read it again. I laughed my hinny off when I read that: I thought, Wow, this woman can WRITE! And she ain't a bit scared to, either!

Paul said...

I remember this entry clearly. And the cybersex one, too.

emmapeelDallas said...

Somehow, Paul, that doesn't surprise me...


Deborah said...

Judi! This story is so well told that it gave me an idea about your callow youth, and it reminded me of me own.

Truly it is a writerly gift to be able to do that.

Well done!