[SoundStage!]Audio Hell
Back Issue Article
March 2002

Music Room Mayhem

In the near corner, "Clumsy Me"

Over the past 20 years, I have scratched, dented, and chipped more audio equipment than anyone in the known universe. Even worse, I have dinged myself on occasions too numerous to count. Every day, I seem to bang some part of my anatomy on a sharp audio object. If we played by NBA rules, I’d have to take a "visible blood" timeout at least once a week. This is more than mere clumsiness; it is negligent disregard for the dangers of the listening room.

In the far corner, "Hands of Stone"

Not long ago, with the arrival of a pair of $20,000 loudspeakers, I resolved to be more careful. This was difficult. Many close calls ensued. Luck prevailed. Despite having been on display for a year, the Wilson WATT/Puppy 6es remain pristine. This is not to say they are safe for the future. They have to contend with a new threat. This one used to be a prizefighter.

Alex stands waiting for something to destroy.

To our cast of characters, please welcome my new assistant, Alex the ex-bantamweight. Even at 30 pounds over the limit of 118, Alex is not a large person. However, his great strength caught my eye when we transferred to new digs a year ago. While the Allied moving men were working in pairs, Alex, who manages the building to which we relocated, was hoisting heavy boxes all by himself. He was also energetic and quick of movement, traits I admire. Little did I know that my pugilistic neighbor had no sympathy for inanimate objects. In a decision akin to Pope Leo employing Attila the Hun to guard Rome, I resolved to hire Alex as an equipment man. Over the past year he has become Cato to my Inspector Clouseau. We are a wrecking crew.

Preliminary instructions

Recently, we engaged in a major project that punished men, equipment, and real estate.

The day begins with a meeting in the hallway between Music Rooms 1 and 2. Alex and Monica the maid are awaiting instructions. Monica is wearing cut-off jeans and a Tasmanian Devil T-shirt. Alex is in gym shorts and a sleeveless T. I am clad in Italian loafers that leave the upper part of my foot exposed. This will be a sore point later. I am about to issue orders in an apparently unintelligible language, possibly Esperanto. Alex bounces on his toes, eyeing Monica, with whom he is infatuated. Monica ignores him. She looks longingly at her manicured fingernails as if for the last time. She has experienced music room setup before and knows it can bring casualties.

"Listen up, people," I begin. "This is a big day -- lots of work ahead. We have to clear out Room 1 to the bare carpet and walls. Take everything out. Put it into Room 3 for the time being. After Room 1 is empty, we will move the equipment that is in Room 2 to Room 1. The big boxes in the front hall are new monoblocks that we are going to install in Room 1, as well. Any questions? OK, let’s go."

The feeling-out process

I head for Room 1, Alex heads for Room 2, and Monica goes back to the kitchen. We are a team, but first we are individuals. I track the two of them down and herd them into Room 1. In my best Esperanto I indicate to Alex we must lift a huge power amplifier and remove it to storage. He bends over one side of the amp, I, the other. Our heads meet in the middle with a loud thud. I drop to one knee while Alex rubs his brow. This would be funny if it happened to someone else.

From his days in the ring, Alex is experienced in head butts. Could he have done it on purpose? I dab fingers to my forehead feeling if it’s moist. Luckily, I am not cut, but a lump is forming. Rather than give Alex any satisfaction, I merely grunt and point for him to go to the long axis of the amplifier. This time, we lean back away from each other. With only biceps at work, we can’t budge the amp.

We are forced to lean forward, but this time we have at least an inch of clearance between foreheads. The amp weighs 150 pounds. I have to remember to lift with the leg muscles. What leg muscles? On a count of three, we hoist the amplifier to dead-lift position. My legs are rubbery as we shuffle back toward the doorway. Alex is steering me. He is a careless driver. When the point of my elbow bangs into the doorframe, a burning pain shoots up my arm. I go into light shock. Wincing in agony I somehow maintain a grip on the amplifier. Is it my imagination of is there a flicker of a smile on Alex’s face? Dazed and bleary-eyed, I soldier on.

As we approach the storage room, my head suddenly clears. I pivot to the side and shove Alex toward the doorway. He dodges my ploy by sliding past the entrance and pulling the amp toward him. As if ducking a right and throwing a counter left hook, he shifts his weight and I go wheeling into the storage room. My shoulder hits a second a doorway. I keep my grip on the amplifier, but on my scorecard Alex is ahead on points.

But now I have a surprise of my own. As we lower the amplifier onto an amp stand, I drop my end. The amp crashes down, pinning Alex’s tardy hands. He doesn’t scream as I’d hoped. Instead he lets out a low moan. Nevertheless, I find this strangely gratifying. Alex looks toward me for help. As I stand over him, I realize this would be a good time to kick him in the face while he’s unable to move. Instead my good nature takes over. Murmuring apologies, I ease the amplifier up. Alex’s fingers come free, but they are slightly flattened. He puts them in his mouth. Oh, that must hurt. I struggle to keep a serious look on my face.

Middle rounds

Monica pictured in happier times -- before the broken fingernail.

Meanwhile, Monica has done the unthinkable. While struggling to free cables from the system, she has broken a fingernail. I find her in a depressed heap on the floor. She is muttering something about three day’s incapacitation. I gently lift her to her feet and tell her I’ll glue the torn nail back on. She is inconsolable. It’s my fault. I shouldn’t have left her alone with all the "snakes." Monica is relieved of duty and sent back to the kitchen where it’s safe.

While I am preoccupied with Monica, Alex manages to single-handedly insert a dolly under a loudspeaker and is wheeling it toward the narrow doorway. I yell, "Stop," but I am too late. He clips the wooden doorframe with the edge of the dolly. The bottom of the frame disintegrates in splinters. At least the speaker hasn’t been damaged. That will come later.

As I approach the dolly, Alex frees it from the doorway and sends it flying toward me. I ward off the attack but the loudspeaker begins to slide off. I reach for it, but its momentum is too great. As the loudspeaker is about to crash onto the tile floor, I wedge my Italian loafer-clad foot under it. The bottom edge of the speaker meets the exposed part of my instep with a crunch. The pain is crippling. I have saved the loudspeaker from disaster, but I may need a cast for a broken foot. Do I hear Alex say, "Ole?"

After an application of ice, I am gimpy but determined. We manage to get the second loudspeaker into the storage room but at the last second, with the slightest of contact, the bottom edge of the dolly takes a chunk out it. Why is it that when steel meets wood veneer, wood veneer always loses? I’m unable to calculate the loudspeaker’s instant depreciation, but it is hundreds of dollars, at least. Oh, how I hate moving loudspeakers around.

Alex disappears. While I myself am as quick as a cobra, Alex is a mongoose. If we ever fought, he would kill me. This notion does not daunt me. Cobras are never daunted. But maybe if they thought about it, they’d leave mongooses alone.

Alex reappears with a CD player stacked on top of a preamplifier. "Wait, wait," I say, knowing from experience that "one man, one component" is a safe rule. Alex stops on command. Inertia sends the CD player flying. It lands on top of my other foot with a dull crunch. Oh how I hate Italian loafers.

After patiently explaining to Alex the "one man, one component" rule, I lift the CD player off the floor and carry it to the storage room. Alex follows, bearing the preamp. I motion to him to place the preamplifier on the floor. As he straightens up, I swing the CD player into stacking position, but I am somewhat wide of the mark. The corner of the CD player slices cleanly across Alex’s chest, tearing a strip of flesh while leaving the T-shirt intact. As a streak of red begins to show across the unbroken T-shirt, I ponder whether Steven Spielberg would film such an event. It’s probably not realistic enough.

Late rally -- decision Alex

The first-aid kit again comes in handy, but we aren’t quite finished. Everything in Room 2 has to be carried into Room 1. Alex will get several more chances at revenge. He makes the most of his opportunities. First, he ties a pair of interconnects into a knot. Why would someone knot up a pair of cables? I almost cry to see a thousand dollars worth of wires wrung into an object for a cat to play with. Luckily, my revolver isn’t strapped to my hip.

Next, Alex convinces me we should move the Wilson loudspeakers without separating the 65-pound WATT from the 115-pound Puppy. "Faster that way," he says. We almost succeed before the WATT topples to the floor in Room 1. I do not attempt to put my foot under it. The WATT is enormously tough and bounces off the carpeted floor with no damage. However, I am traumatized yet again. Psychic injury is as real as the physical kind.

Later, while jockeying an equipment rack into storage, we manage to break a small windowpane. This will require immediate repair or the mosquitoes will enter. Alex, of course, is our repairman. Alas, I have another reason not to throttle him.

After barked knuckles, a strained back, and chest pains, I foresee the end of our labors. After connecting all cables, I ignite the pyre -- I mean, I turn on the equipment. Nothing happens. Following an hour of troubleshooting, I realize the power cord connected to the power-line conditioner has been forcibly detached. I look at Alex. Could he have any prior knowledge of this situation? Had he yanked on the cord when disconnecting the unit? In my best Esperanto, I ask Alex about the cord. He denies having done anything to it, but his gaze is enigmatic -- Alex the sphinx. If I could only torture him for awhile, I might learn the truth. But physical torture is forbidden in Paradise, while the infliction of mental suffering goes unpunished. I award the final round to Alex.

When we finally break for lunch, I uncap a couple of beers and guzzle them down. Alex, who doesn’t drink, scurries home to a hot meal and a change of bandages. Monica broods over her broken fingernail. The equipment is in place, playing music. Another setup day has passed. All is right with the world.

Actually, I am thrilled to have Alex around to help with equipment setup. He’s good friend and neighbor, as well. The mean, evil sentiments expressed above are purely in jest. If someone should translate this article for Alex -- honest, Alex, I didn’t mean it!

...Jim Saxon


[SoundStage!]All Contents
Copyright 2002 SoundStage!
All Rights Reserved