Solid States by Benjamin Schachtman
She swirls her drink and says something like, ‘I’m so glad vinyl’s coming back now, I just can’t stand to listen to music on m-p-3.’ Her version of the initials are drawn out, over-enunciated, the way certain people say ‘N-Y-P-D’ or ‘F-D-L-S’ with knowing, fear-mongering intent; she means the music on my little pod is not only sonic diarrhea but also deeply corrosive to the fabric of modern society. So, fuck. She’s about to drag me into the conversation, the one that, apparently, all white people above a certain tax-bracket are required to have these days. The music talk. I regurgitate some Steve Jobs shuck and jive, talk about how I love the ease and convenience of being able to download all my favorite songs, all of which she dismisses as ‘overproduced, pro-tools shit’ without really asking what I listen to (she suggests, hurtfully, that I am a 311 fan). She talks about ‘depth’ and ‘timbre’ and how, when you listen to some obscure Midwestern rock duo on vinyl you canfeel the farmhouse they recorded it in. She talks about how modern music is designed to be flawless and uniform, a product pure and simple, from the writing to the recording to the distribution to the listening. She talks about how real music is supposed to have imperfections, vintage tube-amps and raucous, sloppy drumming. She misquotes Miles Davis, possibly just to see if I’ll challenge her. I don’t, and she continues: dropping Jack White’s name a half-dozen times and then claiming Detroit is overrated.
Outside of a Chrysler commercial, I’ve never even heard anyone rate Detroit, let alone overrate it. She’s that far ahead of the hipster curve. Now she’s talking about the garage scene in Grand Rapids.
I don’t want to hear this. Any of it. But I go along, through three drinks and a ten minute cab ride, as she bastes me, soaks me in weird fetish facts. White knuckles, I hang in there. Because this is the first time my dating profile has attracted a living human being, one who wasn’t obviously an animal-molesting psycho or a born-again Republican. Because, as Morrissey once put it, I am human and I need to be loved. Even if I have to be lectured first.
We get to her apartment and it is, without surprise, a temple to analog audio. There haven’t been this many German vacuum tubes in one room since the Third Reich. When she ducks into the bathroom, I scour place for an iPhone or some Beats headphones but there’s nothing, just a laptop in the corner with tape over the shitty little speakers. Duct tape, two different types, it appears.
When she comes back into the apartment, it’s clear all over again that she is too attractive to be with me. And, again, I think: she is going to dissolve my bones in her clawfooted tub, or else I am the ass-end of a practical joke. Some Funny Or Die wannabe shitbags hiding in a closet, giggling as I nod along to her rants against technocracy. And a third possibility: I am here for reeducation.
For a few minutes, I try to make small talk, but I’m stuck in the labyrinth. All roads lead to the great and global evil that is digital music. At one point, I try to check out, fragging myself by saying, ‘you know, I’m one of those people who never really minded pan-n-scan? I never buy the letterbox edition of movies.’ She looks up from the turntable, the one she’s been tinkering with, and says, ‘the fuck is pan and scan?’ I seriously consider answering this but then she gets the turntable working. Led Zeppelin, a surprise common ground, was our compromise for make-out music. All you can hear is John Bonham’s massive kick drum reverbing around the shitty little apartment.
It sounds great, just – amazing. Exactly the same as it does at my shitty little apartment. I want to shout at her: ‘Zeppelin sounds exactly the fucking same on my stereo as it does on yours, you pretentious brat, except that my stereo is portable and doesn’t require fifteen minutes of dicking around before you can play a song. I know heroin addicts who can shoot up three times before you can get one song played.’
But, she starts unbuttoning this quasi-ironic flannel thing she’s wearing, lust pulls rank on anger, and I forget pretty much all my complaints.
The sex is good, three drinks worth of inhibitions peeled back, and the music is up loud – so we get loud, too. The sex is also a little weird, but still, I’m tempted to say, it’s awesome. It is awesome, until she stops, leaving me splayed on the bed. Just, lying there, my dick frozen upright like a confused prairie dog. She goes into the other room, and – just as it occurs to me that this is a moment out of a bad Nineties comedy – there is a terrifically loud needle-scratch from the living room.
For a moment, I think we’re being robbed. By someone who doesn’t like Led Zeppelin. But then I realize: it’s just her. A distinct note of desperation creeps into my voice. I shout:
‘What are you doing?’
There’s no response, exactly, just a low grumbling.
I shout again: ‘What?!’
She shouts back, frustrated: ‘This needle is worn out.’
I grit my teeth, and manage: ‘Seriously?’
More grumbling, then: ‘I know! I just fucking got this one.’
My dick flops to one side, overcome with depression. After a moment, I get up and walk to the window. Across the street, a row of project houses: a hundred pinhole cameras, all these lives. People eating, sleeping, crying, laughing. A lot of people having sex – good sex and bad sex; routine, pragmatic married sex; risky, embarrassing single sex. All of it, or most of it, set to the endless, unlimited modern soundtrack: the one good thing about this godless colostomy bag of a century, music, music, everywhere, all the time.
I turn and walk into the living room. She’s standing there, naked in the pale light coming from the bedroom. She’s holding the turn-table arm in one hand and a tiny needle in the other. I don’t know enough about turn-tables to know if the arm is broken, or detachable. I suppose it must be at least a little tricky to operate in the dark after a few drinks. I turn on the lights, more than a little aggravated, ready to pounce.
I start: ‘See, this is why…’
But I stop, because she’s crying. By way of apology, I turn the lights back off. I walk over and put my arms around her, as she puts the pieces of the turntable down. I tell her it’s okay, that I like her, and that I admire how passionate she is about music. I tell her, ‘it’s okay, nothing’s flawless, this has been a pretty good first date.’ She relents, for a moment, leaning her head on my chest.
She says, ‘I just wanted it to be perfect.’
I tell her, ‘nothing’s perfect.’
And she looks up at me, already pulling away, already talking more to herself than to me when she says, ‘I know. I hate it. I always have.’
© Benjamin Schachtman, 2014
Benjamin Schachtmanis an expatriate of Manhattan's Lower East Side. He is currently hiding out on the Carolina coast. His work has appeared here and there online - including the incomparable Slush Pile Magazine - and in print from Anobium, The Conium Review, the Bad Version, and in Dig Boston's new fiction series.
Solid States was read by Ryan Ervin on 6th August 2014