Turning the table

At our house, there are certain chores that just never seem to get done during normal times. They might get discussed optimistically, but usually they end up taking their usual place at the bottom of the to-do-list. But these times are anything but normal. For me, darkness and daylight replaced hours and minutes. Tasks left undone due to time constraints no longer seem out of reach. Traditional chores, like cleaning the bathroom or vacuuming remain relevant. But, at least lately, these odd jobs are getting my attention.


One of those jobs sat undone in our basement for years. Half of this unfinished room directly beneath our kitchen serves as a food pantry. The other half is a workshop, of sorts. This is where light bulbs, batteries and tools live. There are paint cans, deck screws and leftover weatherstripping. But it got so cluttered and dysfunctional that my son began to add air quotes whenever the room came up in conversation. Really, Dad? “Workshop?” I took that personally. I needed my workshop back.


It had become a sad gathering place of stuff too valuable to throw away, but not important enough for its own space. Distractions were everywhere. There were the remnants of half completed projects, cardboard boxes (“Hey, we might need those”), bins of old toys and hundreds of movies housed in square plastic cases called video discs (see RCA SelectaVision).


And, of course, the record player.


The Fisher MT-715 Servo Drive Stereo Record Turntable, circa 1985, sat near the door on a small project table, partially covered under a thin layer of spongy packing material. I often glanced at it on my endless quests for needle nosed pliers, duct tape or maybe an Allen wrench.


It belonged to my brother. I decided to pull it out from Mom and Dad’s garage more than a decade ago. I left it down in the workshop, in limbo, while I debated whether it still worked, if it could be repaired, or if it just needed to be thrown away. Part of me didn’t want to know the answer.


In a few hours, I made some progress organizing the workshop. Then I took a closer look at the Fisher. In its time, it was a better-than-average turntable. Austin loved music and he loved his stereo system. The Fisher was one part of a multi-component stereo system, stacked on top of each other and neatly housed in a handsome cabinet with a glass door. Some of our musical tastes overlapped, but he leaned more to classic hard rock than I did. The Fisher was a huge part of his life. It was a big deal. But he’s been gone now for more than 30 years, and since then it hasn’t been touched. It was his. It didn’t seem right to use it without his permission.


I wiped it down with a soft dust cloth, and carried it upstairs and plugged it in. Nothing. No lights. Nothing moved. I lifted the pick-up arm that was missing a needle and carefully moved it inward, toward the center. The turntable began to spin, silently, at 33 revolutions per minute.


As though a diamond needle had just touched down on a groove in my memory, I saw him. Austin was lying on his back, wearing basketball shorts and a t-shirt holding his electric guitar. He was on his bed playing along with the music. His eyes were looking up at the knotty-pine ceiling, supported by exposed 2 x 10 rafters. I couldn’t hear any music, but he was clearly transfixed on the sound pumping out of his speakers. He nodded his head slightly while his fingers danced along the guitar strings.


I scanned the room. The bi-fold closet doors were open. His black guitar amp and distortion pedal were on the floor near a tangled jumble of power cords and plugs. There were clothes strewn on his bed and the floor. There were music anthology books for electric guitar. His guitar case was lying open. He wasn’t plugged in, but he was definitely playing along. It was midday. Sunlight poured through the windows. I could tell he knew I was there, standing in the doorway of the bedroom we once shared. But he didn’t take his eyes off the ceiling. He just kept playing.


After a moment, I realized the turntable didn’t have an on/off button. It just turned on whenever the pick-up arm moved toward the vinyl. I stood there, in the kitchen, watching the center plate turning. Finally, I unplugged it, gathered up the cords and carried it up another flight of stairs toward my office. I wasn’t sure if I could find a stylus on the Internet. It might need a new turntable belt. Regardless, the Fisher MT-715 turntable would not be going back to the workshop. Another long-dormant project had just moved up the list.