Thrift Store Audiophile

(This post is a requel (half reboot / half sequel) to It’s Getting Thrifty in Here)

I used to play Pokemon Go. Like a lot. Open-the-app-100-times-a-day-defending-a-gym-at-3AM-late-to-work a lot. I was a master of min/maxing and resource management. I was free-to-play user which necessitated calculated and precise resource management to perform at an elite level. One night, curating my IV power breakdown spreadsheet, a haunting thought overcame me. If I were able to channel this effort, energy, and expertise into my financial planning, I would have retired at 30.

Arrested Development Narrator Voice: He did not.

Though hung up my Pokeballs long ago, retirement is a distant and horrifying dream. The vague outline of an uncertain future got me firing up spreadsheets again.

Two score into this savage game of late-stage capitalism, I’ve been forced to reckon with my financial nature. And under the rock of my checking account, I’ve discovered a deeply contradictory and incompatible creature in the morass.

I despise work. Not necessarily my job, but the act of working. There’s a price on your existence. If you don’t believe me, look at your paycheck. You’ve got a dollar amount for what your life is worth.

My MacBook Pro is from 2009. I’ve nursed it along life-support for the last decade. It powers off the moment it can no longer suckle at the loving teat of A/C power adapter. It’s been begging to be pulled from life support, but I refuse to let it go gently into that good night. 

At the moment I’m typing into my phone on thrifted iPad Bluetooth keyboard. The abomination apparatus is attached to a folding eyeglass case velcroed to a MagSafe charger. Total cost: $25. Or, in my stark terms, a half an hour of my life paid to the soul-crushing work machine.

Then why subject myself to this?  Why do I refuse to throw money at these problems? Why do I grind everything on hard mode?

Could I buy a fucking iPad with a sick-ass Magic Keyboard? Of course. Would it greatly improve the quality of my writing life and improve my workflow? No doubt. But is it worth twenty hours of your life? That’s the exchange rate. Is it worth 2.5 days of commuting, receiving “per my previous email” emails, and not seeing your loved ones?  

All purchases exist on an x-y axis of value and functionality. Buying a new iPad Pro setup is 10 functionality with 0 value. My trash panda setup is 9 value and 4 functionality.  

Anyone can throw money at something and get the best stuff. I could have paid for Pokecoins and dominated Wicker Park even harder. My record collector friends drop triple digits for some killer records. And I just can’t do it. I have a, perhaps misguided, belief that if I’m patient enough, I’ll find it at a reasonable price. I’ve been to enough record stores in my life, I’m certain to find it eventually. Then, when I do find it a decade from now, I appreciate it even more since I got a good deal.

There’s a saying among music enthusiasts: An audiophile and his money are quickly parted. Sure, you can be the Yankees and just drop a month’s salary on a McIntosh setup with a Nakamichi Dragon. Max function. Or, you could rescue something from Goodwill, clean, calibrate, and replace the belts for the cost of a big bag of dog food. What can the Oakland A’s make from scraps? 

My system is pieced together from Facebook Marketplace, Goodwill, and garage sales. All my Monster Cables were purchased for less than two dollars. My Pioneer Elite CD player acquired in a Panera parking lot 45 minutes outside of Indianapolis for $25. My Nakamichi CD2 tape deck came free when I bought a bunch of old Gen X tapes from this dude whose new wife said she’d leave him if he didn’t downsize. My amplifier’s volume knob hasn’t worked in ten years, but I just programmed a Logitech multi-function remote I got for $10 off a guy who wanted really bad to get me in his house for some reason. My system has been cultivated over the last twenty-five years. She might not look like much, but she’s got it where it counts. 

I’m desert casino trash, but I punch above my weight. I was a Mathlete out of tHug High. Should be dumber and poorer than I am, but I’ve gotten a lot of mileage out of this ‘83 clunker. If you are resourceful enough, trash can do some pretty miraculous things. Seeing old, broken, forgotten, and disregarded things brought back to life makes me romantic. Let’s hope this skill for rescuing vintage garbage works on myself.


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