Nov 18, 2012

The Power's On But Nothing's Working

I have this nice set of laptop speakers from Logitech with this cool square subwoofer that adds some nice bass to my iTunes mix.  As a music purist, I appreciate sonic quality.  Thus, my immense and now-deceased massive LP collection.  I'll pontificate upon that loss another time.  It's too tragic to talk about now....
These Logitech speakers, they cost about 150 bucks.  They were connected to an old barely-working Sony VAIO laptop I put in my post-divorce workout room.  I was spending a lot more time in that room of my Staten Island home because of my NYC Marathon training, getting into shape and listening to a lot of music on Spotify and iTunes while I did.  I've run 800 miles this year and all 800 of them with music feeding into my ears.  Music fuels me, it always has.  I made playlists.  I hand-picked albums based on weather conditions, my mood, and time of day.  I timed out runs, on my treadmill and outdoors, based on album lengths.  My music OCD and my running OCD had found each other - soul mates - and were having deep, passionate sex.  I would run 10 miles and pace myself knowing I could do the first 5 by the time Prince's Dirty Mind ended, and by the time I got to the second half of Black Sabbath's Paranoid, I would be going up a steep hill, banging out the last mile to the cosmic metal thump of "Fairies Wear Boots."  I had it all figured out.  Dirty amazing electric musical running sex.

I'm looking at those same Logitech speakers here in my Brooklyn refugee camp right now as I write this. The subwoofer was on the floor of my main level when Sandy came to Staten Island.  That's where subwoofers go.  On the floor.  You don't expect 10 feet of water to get into your house.  It got wet.  Significantly wet.  Imagine being on the second floor of your home and you're standing in your bedroom and the water comes up to your knees.  That was my house on October 29, 2012.  Everything below that dreaded watermark - the basement, the back yard, the front yard, the shed, and everything in them - completely underwater.

Everything on the floor underneath the Logitech Speaker System Z523 (Made In China) drowned, it all drowned.  Anything that once plugged into a wall - and there was plenty in my part-music studio, part-home office, part-kitchen, part-cozy den, part-bathroom, part-storage closets, part-arcade, part-laundromat, all-Mancave finished basement - it would be forever lifeless.  You could try plugging it in, positive vibes and all, but be sure to keep the fire extinguisher handy and prepare for the possibility of electrocution.  It's all really expensive junk now.  Uninsured trash.

My refrigerator getting warm by the fire.
Now I suppose I have been misinformed.  I, like most people, thought having a $250,000 flood insurance policy means when the waters come and wash your turntables and your computers and your musical instruments and your microphones away, you get at least some money to replace them.  This is not just an expensive hobby, this is not just a passion.  This is my business - this is what I do as a musician, a music producer, a radio producer.  I live, breathe, and excrete music.  I am a music making and music consuming machine.  And the floods can't take that away from me.  My heart, my brain, my ears, my eyes, my soul, my spirit, the hands I play the piano with, the voice I sing and talk with.  The feet I tap to the beat and dance like a sometimes-interesting-to-watch middle-aged white boy with.  The skull, terrible genes and non-conformist attitude that make up the first two-thirds of what I officially labeled my passion.  Bald Freak Music.  That all remains.  But the circuitry used to run it all?  That's all gone.

And insurance covers none of it.

None of it.  Never mind that, as my fellow hurricane victims are aware, the insurance companies and FEMA are moving at a snail's pace, and low-balling everyone.  Stereotypes are sometimes well-founded.  My flood guy at Allstate (hi Allstate! remember me?) hasn't returned my daily calls in five days.  He promised a full inspection of my house a full week ago and I have heard neither hide nor hair from him since.  THE MOLD IS GROWING, CHRIS FROM ALLSTATE.  SPREADING.  I pay $1300 annually for flood insurance.

Then there's my homeowner's insurance policy, which covers $203,000 in "Personal Property."  That policy only covers wind, not flood.  If a tree fell on my house, or the if hurricane just tore my house to the ground, I'd be in better financial shape.  But my roof is just Jim Dandy.  It was a tidal wave that got me, a tidal wave that flooded me a mile off shore.  The homeowner's adjuster took some pictures and laughed at me.  "Good luck, sucker.  Thanks for your $1420 a year."  The only relationship I have with FEMA thus far is with their automated telephone lady, who calls to tell me if I want to stay in a cheap hotel for another week, to call a phone number.  No thanks, lady, that part I've got covered.  It's my fucking HOUSE that needs fixing.  Forget about fixing it, my house needs to be put on life support.  My house is in the Emergency Room and no doctors are coming out to perform surgery on it.

Because this is an outbreak.  I'm not the only dude whose house has cancer, not by a long shot.  Some houses are already completely buried, never mind the people who were once in those houses.  People need to remember this.  Soon the turkeys will be stuffed and the trees will be lit and the malls will be full, and there is something comforting about that for those who are suffering and those who are not.  Normalcy.  Consumerism.  But people need to remember.  This is going to be a big problem for a lot of people for a very long time.  You better come back, Barack, with elephants and fireworks and Batman, and keep your promise to Staten Island and to New Jersey and to every tri-state area coastal community that was stunned and stunted by this storm.

So you have to be patient.  You're not the only one.  Baby steps.  One day at a time.  I saved my piano.  It's safe.  I'm close to finding a new place.  I did my laundry.  I went on a run and played fetch with my dog, I played with my friend's kids.  I have a job to go to tomorrow.  I have a life, I have friends.  Be patient.  Forget about all that loss, forget about all the other loss you're feeling....

But when you're a music making machine, a boy grown up in Technology Land, patience can be a bitch.  I need to make music now more than ever, and minus a few key items, my gear is all gone.

Just put your iPhone in a bowl of water right now and think about how much that will ruin your day, maybe even your week.  You've gotta buy a new iPhone.  You didn't register the product, you were too busy Shuffling Songs and importing all your Rush albums.  Putting your iPhone in a bowl of water isn't covered by warranty.  You went to The Apple Store and waited at the Genius Bar for 46 minutes and some dude with a blue shirt and a nose ring turned you away.  "Sorry, dude.  It's toast."

Then imagine that not only is your iPhone ruined, but you might not be able to get another one for a week, maybe a month, a year.  Or you might not be able to get an iPhone at all.  You're gonna have to work double shifts at the Arby's for 6 months to get that new iPhone.

Well that's me times a thousand.

It shouldn't matter.  In a lot of ways it doesn't matter at all.  Even for a music making machine, there are more important things in life............  Right??

None of it matters but everything matters.  These easily replaceable $150 Logitech speakers matter.  I brought them back to refugee camp two weeks ago and plugged them into my laptop, then into the wall.  They didn't work.  Dead, no sound.  I set them aside for the disposal pile, along with a Conair hair dryer, a Brookstone back massager, and an old alarm clock.  More junk for the Jawas.  All were below knee level on my main floor, all experienced the waves, they just weren't submerged for a full day like everything underneath.  And they were all dead too.  They just died slower deaths, like the wealthier men on the Titanic (I'll never let go, Jack).

Incidentally, when I plugged the waterlogged alarm clock in, this is what it displayed: 
Starting Over at Zero O'Clock
I've mentioned how much I enjoy symbolism, yes?

My friends and I brought a generator to the house last week and plugged my treadmill in.  The treadmill is one of the few items in the house my ex-wife could have easily laid claim to but didn't (her old boss gifted it to us before we were married).  That treadmill and I became greater friends in my post-divorce world, through every too-cold or too-rainy day during my 8 months of marathon training, with those Logitech speakers pumping out the soundtrack.  The treadmill powered on when we plugged it in, but the motor would just run at a breakneck pace and wouldn't respond to any of the buttons on the keypad above.  The LED lights were all on red.  My friends joked that I could still use it to run 10 miles per hour, then jump off when I was done and just unplug it.  Levity feels good for about a minute.  Then it's time to write down another serial number and take another photo without completely losing your mind.  It's just stuff.

Insurance companies recommend cataloging all documentation and serial numbers for any damaged property that is destroyed by a flood.  Why?  None of it is covered.  I did it anyway.  "It can't hurt," everyone says.  But it does hurt, having to visualize things that don't exist anymore, to realize that a lot of your symphonies will remain unfinished, that the physical reminders of days past - yours and others' - are gone.  Whether what you lose is made of metal or made of flesh and blood, a loss is something you shouldn't dwell upon.  So I wrote down the serial # of each once-electronic hollow shell (after I rubbed the brown shit water off each item in order to find said #), took a photo, logged it.  Tagged it and bagged it.  As for documentation, all of it was down in the basement in an underwater file cabinet.  I suppose there's nothing in an instruction manual that instructs you on how to de-ocean-water your DVD player.

Last week, I got to the Logitech system.  Wrote down the serial #.  I took pause, then I plugged the speakers in one last time.  Positive vibes were in the air and the fire extinguisher was nearby.

The speakers worked.

There was a little whoosh noise coming out of the subwoofer, but they worked.  It was one of those small victories that feels tremendous simply because it's so rare.  It's like when the 0-15 high school football team wins the last game of the season by a field goal.  It's bigger than it should be because it's the lone highlight in an otherwise dreadful season.  But it still feels good.

I started pumping these Logitech speakers with fresh tunes, with the music on my surviving laptop, my favorite albums, the only music I owned anymore, all physical versions having washed away.  I was giving it oxygen.  I was vilified, and $150 richer.

But the joy was short-lived.  Joy is always short-lived, that's why it's joy.  If it wasn't so fleeting, it wouldn't be so valuable to us, nor make us feel the way it does.  Be sure to cherish the joy that comes into your life, for however long it lasts.

After the first day, the whoosh in the subwoofer became more of an ocean roar.  After the second day, the whoosh spread to the left desktop speaker.  Even after you turn the speakers off, the whoosh remains.  It gets louder.  There's water in the wiring.   I unplug it and it stops, but it's not safe.  It's a Logitech fire bomb waiting to explode.  Just another victim of Sandy's wrath.

Part of me wants to keep these speakers until they finally crap out, to keep that glimmer of hope that one day I'll turn them on and they'll just work and stay working.  That I'll just hear sweet music and not the sonic reminder of the waves that came crashing into my house and into my life.  That they're not broken.  But a lot of things in my life are broken right now.  My mind is getting better, my back is getting better, but my heart is still broken.  I didn't ask for any of this, and I know I didn't cause any of it either.  I am not responsible for any of this.  I could have lived in the jungle and gotten mauled by a gorilla, I could have lived in the desert and drowned in quicksand, I could have lived in a palace and been murdered by my lecherous manservant.  An anvil could have landed on my head while chasing a roadrunner.  I could be dying.  I could be dead.

My plans are broken, yet altered.  And maybe altered is good.  Maybe I was never meant to keep any of the things I lost.  Maybe I will replace some of them with better things.  Maybe I'll learn to let some of them go.  I've already got plenty of practice.  Losing things is what I do best these days, it seems.  But I still have the things that matter most - a soul, an open mind, courage, and desire.  I still desire greatness in my life, I still won't settle for anything less than happiness.  I refuse to allow these waters to sweep my spirit away.  In spite of this huge setback, I still desire to be the greatest Ronnie I can be.

In my last blog post, I mentioned three men in my life who are amongst my angels, and they inspire me to be what they are - a great friend, a great boss, a great father.  Someone to lean on during hard times.  Someone who will take care of you.  That's all I've ever wanted to be, just as long as I was happy too.  Great relationships are based on give and take.  Both parties need to give with a full heart and take with a clear conscience.  We reap what we sow.  Being a good person, a good partner, a good employee, a good parent, a good citizen - these things are so much more valuable in this life than a treadmill, a fireplace, or a Logitech speaker system.  It's just stuff.  Really expensive uninsured stuff, but just stuff.

The stuff inside you is what matters most.  Be brave, fellow survivors.  Stay strong.  Make peace with this, make peace with yourself.  Set an example for the next generation.  Try to find joy in this otherwise joyless existence.  The worst is far from over, but there's always a chance the best is still to come.  Just stay in the game, man.

This baby has no idea what I'm going through.

And pick up your subwoofers next time there's a hurricane.  Whooooooooooshhhhhhhhh.

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