Further trials in my quest to find an old stereo

Back in December, I went to Victoria to buy a vintage stereo. The experience went poorly. I wrote about it here.

Several weeks ago, I tried again and went to Victoria to try to buy another vintage stereo. This time went ever worse than the first. I wrote about it here.

Manic and frustrated with my experiences, I decided to try a different route in my quest to find a vintage stereo. I looked on ebay and found some stereos I really liked. I accepted the idea of paying more for them in exchange for the lack of hassle. I was hopeful that this experience would be better so I bit the bullet and spent far more on this stupid obsession than I ever thought I would.

Well, after weeks of excited, anxious waiting, the latest stereo showed up in the mail. I unpacked it and hooked it up to test it out. Guess what. It’s fucked too. The right channel only works sporadically, and if you press the button to activate the second set of speakers, the first set of speakers cut out almost entirely.

I haven’t emailed the seller yet to figure out how we’re going to attempt to make the best of this diaper of a situation, nor have I started looking up youtube videos on how to fix an old stereo. That annoying stuff is coming soon enough. But I wanted to capture this moment of incredible bad luck before I finally draw a warm bath and end it all, or the situation inexplicably and wonderfully fixes itself. Those are really the only two options I’m willing to accept at this point.

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Gee whiz, I’m having a hard time finding a vintage stereo.

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Can one ever have enough ugly old shit?

Just now, I was idly perusing a local used stuff website when I came across an extremely tempting ad. I took a screen shot of it to share with people so they can laugh at me and my obsessions.

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That’s right. After all the searching, painful correspondence, problem solving, and favours I called in from friends last year to procure myself a vintage toaster oven, I have now come across one here, in my very backyard. Granted, this one isn’t quite as attractive as my current toaster oven (I prefer the fake wood print and orange highlights on the one I have) but all things considered, this one I just came across is still a very attractive little unit — lots of chrome, simple mechanical controls, nice colours on the temperature dial graphics. Not too shabby at all.

And now, I’m left with the unpleasant decision: do I merely chuckle to myself, close that tab on my browser, and continue on with my day?…

…Or do I take the plunge into becoming a full-on hoarder and buy this stupid fucking thing, just to squirrel it away in my basement and probably give it away in 10 years?

I don’t know yet but I thought it was funny and wanted to email it to a select group of people. Then I realized that the people I wanted to email it to read this anyway, so hey, why not make my dilemma public?

The fire test: what do I value?

Yesterday a co-worker asked me what I would save from my house if it was burning and I could only grab a few things while I was running out. I’ve been thinking about it since, and realized a few interesting things.

One thing I became aware of is that we don’t have anything expensive or ‘nice’ that is worth saving based on monetary value. Our TV is the newest, ‘nicest’ thing we have but it’s also one of the cheapest and smallest on the market. Our computers are all old and worth nothing. I like the home stereo I have put together but it’s not made of any rare or expensive components. All our home appliances are old too. Same with our vehicles. We have lots of cheap, old stuff that works just fine. I like that.

So the first things I thought about grabbing — the things I felt a weird obligation to grab — are my old guitar and bass. But while I do really like both of them, it’s not like I couldn’t replace them. There are lots of other guitars and basses out there I’m sure I’d be just as happy with. Same with my amps and cabinets. I like them just fine but they don’t hold a special place in my heart. So nope, I wouldn’t grab them.

The first thing I thought of that I would actually want to save is: my toaster oven.

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This thing’s my star pupil, my teacher’s pet.

Yup, the very same toaster oven I blogged about here a while back. This thing was so difficult to find and get my fucking hands on, and it brings me so much joy not just when I use it but even when I just look at it, that this is probably #1 on my list of things I would grab in a house fire.

And that got me thinking about the other cool, semi-rare vintage stuff I’ve collected, and I realized I would definitely want to grab a few of those things too: there are the light organs (which I blogged about here), a few silkscreen pictures (which I also blogged about here), and a picture my grandmother painted when she was an art major in university (I blogged about my grandma way back when, here). I think it’s telling that I have blogged about most of the things that I would save.

I would also put our vintage microwave on the list except for the fact that it’s just too big and heavy to easily grab and carry out. Maybe if it was a really slow fire, I could justify it. It’s a rad old thing, and makes me almost as happy as the toaster oven.

I wasn’t sure how to end this post but I just thought of something that most commercial bloggers and instagram stars do, where they close their post with a question that encourages their audience to comment on the post. For example, if I were a savvy twat, this is where I would write, “what would you grab and save if your house was on fire?” Guess what. I fucking hate that stuff. What a sad, pathetic technique to lure people into a sad, pathetic online world where they feel like they’re genuinely interacting with the author of the piece and other readers when really, it’s a delusion. No one reads those comments. No one cares what the plebes think. And if your comment does get a ‘like,’ it’s only because all that takes is a tap or a mouse click. If it took any more effort, no one at all would ‘like’ it. It’s crushing to think of the losers who routinely bite at the ‘closing question’ lure of their internet heroes, and the dark souls who routinely set that trap for them.

And that’s why I won’t try to encourage anyone to comment on my blog. Doing so is like talking in a vacuum, just like I’m doing now. But I know that I’m talking in a vacuum, and I like it that way. Hmmm, maybe I should disable comments on this thing altogether.

the difference between ‘vintage’ and ‘retro’

As I’ve been chronicling here, I’m on a journey to replace most of our hideously bland household stuff with neat, ugly, old-looking stuff. So far it’s been going well. Sure, I’ve had to enlist the help of numerous friends to traffic some of these items to me all the way from Vancouver, not unlike some kind of nefarious drug smuggling racket, but when you live on an island and have ridiculously obscure tastes, such challenges are simply unavoidable.

So far, the most difficult and exciting finds in my quest have been a toaster oven and a CD player. I thought there would be a lot more of these things kicking around from the 70s and 80s but sadly, it is not so, and I’ve had to search the deeper pools of a metropolitan city to find them.

But as difficult as it was to procure these apparently rare items, I am now seeking what I believe may be the holy grail of my quest:

a vintage microwave.

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This will serve as the timestamp for when I officially lost my mind.

I know — are old microwaves safe? Do they even work as well as new ones? Blah blah blah. I don’t care, Russ. I’m not too worried about my microwave giving me brain tumors since the rest of this ill-begotten world most likely has that covered already. I just want a kitchen appliance that doesn’t raise my ire every time I look at the fucking thing.

Now let me get to my point: I’m have a bastard of a time finding a vintage microwave on the various used stuff sites so I’ve been experimenting with different search terms, and in doing so I’ve learned something interesting. Apparently, ‘vintage’ generally refers to something that is genuinely old, while ‘retro’ is something newer that has simply copied the styling of an older thing. For example, the above microwave is a vintage model — it’s actually from the 70s or 80s. Meanwhile, the turd below is a retro microwave, currently in production, all cheap plastic and gimmick.

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I’m a little blown away by this revelation. I always thought vintage and retro were basically synonymous, although I felt retro was used for slightly ‘louder’ styling while vintage was more demure, boring. Well, colour me red. Turns out I was quite incorrect.

The things you learn while obsessively scouring craigslist and hoarding ugly things.

I might have to take up smoking.

I’ve been on a kick of replacing lots of our household stuff with neat vintage and retro shit so I’ve been spending lots of time at thrift stores. I’ve noticed that there is a section at the local Salvation Army for ashtrays, and virtually every one I’ve seen there is hideous in the most exquisite and retro way. Like this

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And this

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And this

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I guess there is a glut of these things because the 70’s was the golden age of both loud, gawdy housewares and ubiquitous smoking. It’s amazing.

But it’s also a fucking shame because I already have a retro ashtray that has some sentimental value to it, I don’t have multiple residences I need to furnish with this kind of junk, I don’t smoke, and not many of my friends smoke. I can’t justify collecting these things but man, I wish I could.

I suppose I could buy all the ashtrays I like and then rotate them. Have one for each month, something like that. That might be fun. But it seems like a dangerous game of toying with a hoarder-like obsession, and I’m terrified of that. My dad is a level 100 hoarder so I’m very familiar with that world, and I don’t want to fuck with it.

But damn, I love those ashtrays.

Hmmmm.

i’ve had some good craigslist experiences lately

In the last few weeks, I’ve really kicked my craigslist vintage shopping into high gear. I’ve been checking a few craigslist-like sites for vintage shit on an almost daily basis, and the results have actually been great. I’ve scored some really neat things at good prices but what is most noteworthy is that a few of the recent craigslist interactions have not been total fuck-arounds. Astounding, I know, but true.

First, several weeks ago I contacted a guy about some beautiful old vintage tins he had for sale. There were very reasonably priced, and the seller ended up being a very interesting guy who was knowledgeable about a great many things, and his house was absolutely full of beautiful old stuff. Virtually everything I looked at was worthy of consideration. He was happy to show me a bunch of his neat stuff, and we commiserated about the trials and tribulations of dealing with craigslist dickheads. He hated them at least as much as me, possibly even more, so that was funny. I probably spent close to an hour just BS-ing with the guy. What a welcomed change that was from the usual craigslist freaks one must contend with.

Something this first guy said really resonated with me. He said he had accumulated tons of this vintage stuff throughout his life, and now as he is getting older, he decided it is better to sell it to ensure it gets into the hands of new owners who will hopefully cherish it as much as he did, rather than hold onto the stuff until he dies. Because when you die, he pointed out, your family doesn’t care about your vintage cookie tins. They’ve got a whole damn house to clean out before they can head back to Vancouver so they’re going to toss everything that is not obviously valuable in the trash. To someone like himself who cares about those items, that’s a sad waste of beautiful things. So, this fellow reasoned, he’d rather sell it now, make someone happy, and use the money to do something fun like take a trip at the end of the year. I loved it. Sage wisdom.

Second good recent experience: I posted something for free on the local used stuff site about a week ago and instead of the usual “gimme gimme gimme” responses that never follow up, someone came and picked the items up when they said they would. Wow!! They even emailed me afterward to thank me and tell me how sweet our dog was. That was lovely of them.

And third, today I had an experience similar to the first one I just mentioned. I bought a bunch of vintage xmas decorations from an older couple and spent about 30 minutes with them, chatting about the family history of the decorations I was buying — how and where they hung them, who in the family liked them most, how carefully her mother put them away each year, etc. They also took the time to show me how to set them up, which I really appreciated since some of these things were like a Rubick’s Cube. I ended up telling the old couple what the first guy had told me about getting these things into the hands of people that appreciate them instead of leaving it behind to get thrown out, and the old couple agreed wholeheartedly. So it’s been nice to connect with a few people through craigslist that I have some things in common with.

However, it’s not all roses, of course. The items I gave away for free to the grateful person were two partially used natural deodorants — it was sort of an experiment to see if anyone would actually want used deodorant (one time, Bill gave away a half-used bag of kitty litter and I always found that gross and wanted to outdo him) or if the ad would get pulled over breaking some kind of ‘no used personal hygiene items’ rule. So that was kind of interesting.

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Don’t put anything past a hippie, I learned.

And I did have a bad experience with some clown who had a cool old vintage vase that I wanted but they were terribly inconsistent about replying to emails, took multiple emails to give me the info I asked for right at the start, and then never answered their phone or responded to text messages. At one point in the middle of our two-week long back-and-forth, they apologized for their tardy reply and said they had been dealing with a family emergency for the last several days. I’ve been pretty clear on how I feel about the old ‘family emergency’ bullshit craigslist excuse so I pretty much gave up on the stupid fucks (shout out to golda for that little gem) after that.

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THE FUCKING VASE I WANT. JUST GIVE IT TO ME, PLEASE.

But shit, you can’t win ’em all, and with three good recent craigslist experiences, I really can’t complain. I’ll save that until next week when things go right back down the shitter in the usual craigslist fashion.

ode to a toaster oven

I used to own lots of neat, ugly, retro stuff: a vintage blender; a sectional couch from the 70’s with mirrors, working globe lights, and a Lazy Susan built into it; tiny pink swivel chairs from an old cruise ship; blocky white end tables from the 60’s with mirrors on them; a big plastic swivel chair from the 80’s that looked like a throwback to Star Trek; and two light organs, to name of few things. But I moved a handful of times throughout my twenties and didn’t have space to store this stuff, and some of it I got tired of, so I wound up parting with a lot of it.

Over time, I wound up replacing a lot of those things with regular, boring stuff, and it was only recently that I realized how much hideously mundane junk I had allowed into my sphere. So I started taking a harder look at everything in the house to see what I didn’t like looking at. There were (and still are) a few things, but one item stood out to me: the toaster oven.

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the offender

It was a typical modern device: it made an incredibly annoying beeping alarm when your food was ready, had membrane buttons (a hallmark of shitty modern-ness which Dana pointed out to me), a lot of ugly black plastic on it, and a bright green digital display. It worked well but I absolutely hated looking at it. Oh, I found a pic of it.

So a few months ago, I decided to seek out a toaster oven like the ones I remember growing up with. I wanted something with levers or knobs, no digital display, a red light that indicated when it was on, and lots of brown, orange, and chrome. I thought this would be an easy find — little did I realize that most people seem to replace their toaster ovens every 5-10 years, making most of the ones I was looking for long gone. I couldn’t find anything around here, on the local used stuff listings or in any of the thrift stores. I posted wanted ads online, and even after many months, received only one response from a dealer who wanted $100 for one. I politely passed on it.

Then I found this one on craigstlist in Vancouver:

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[cue angel choir]

Note the brown and orange colours. Note the real, satisfying knobs and lever. Note the faux wood grain design around the knobs. Note the glowing red indicator light. And it was only $15! You can imagine my excitement.

Of course, we all know how craigslist interactions go. This one was no different — a complete fuck-around. I’ll summarize in point form.

  • Seller slow to respond to emails. Does not speak English well. Doesn’t answer phone or return calls. Voice mail message is a generic robot-like voice — all ominous signs. I wonder if it’s some kind of scam.
  • I finally manage to contact seller. He is legit but is ESL and has a hard time understanding me.
  • Jenn is going to mainland and tries to meet with seller but seller works odd hours and does not drive. He cannot meet with her.
  • I ask seller to ship me the toaster oven. He initially agrees but changes his mind after being confused by email money transfers.
  • My friend in Vancouver, Steph, tries to meet with the seller so she can buy it for me and bring it here. His work schedule again precludes meeting.
  • I notice the seller has now quietly raised the price in the ad to $20. Very odd and annoying, but not enough to make a stink over, and perfectly craigslist-ian so I actually find it kind of amusing.
  • My craigslist heroine, Kyla, manages to wrangle the toaster oven from the twisted old crone and bring it to the island for me. She regales me with tales of the old man’s tiny, filthy house, and how he uses a shoe string to carefully tie open the screen door upon her arrival. Kyla’s partner, Russ, decries the toaster oven as the second coming of Satan because he once burned his hands on one similar as a toddler, but I have already fallen in love with it and am deaf to such condemnations.
  • On our first morning with the new toaster oven, Jenn toasts scones for herself and Kyla. The new toaster oven promptly scorches them and sets off the smoke alarm. Jenn hates the new toaster oven. Kyla is amused.
  • I take the toaster oven apart and find the problem: a broken connection, just like I suspected. I reconnect it and blam, it now toasts perfectly, making a wonderfully pleasing ‘ding’ when Jenn’s scones are done toasting.

And with that ‘ding,’ all is well in my tiny world once again. Virtually every time I’m in the kitchen now, I look at this thing, and I marvel. What a journey it was to acquire this fucking thing, and how good it is to finally have it. It’s a charming little toaster oven.

Many, many thanks to Kyla. Not many friends are willing to wade through craiglist purgatory for a pal, and multiple times, at that. You’re a true blue doll, my dear. And apologies to Jenn for my obsession burning her scone. (Jenn hates burnt stuff.)