Prince Versus Plasma: My Cassette Tape Conundrum

Among Best Buy's TVs, some stretching nearly three yards across, the 46-inch plasma model suddenly looked small. And the fifty was on sale "with, like, a free Blu-Ray player," noted Trevor, my Product Consultant, braces glittering on the smile beneath his peach-fuzz mustache.

My bleeding heart already doubted a new TV. Where did all the old ones go? Shouldn't I be reading more? I drop cell phones into toilets. I melted my last laptop setting it on the stove to study a recipe. Why should this tech dunce go digital?

But I couldn't argue with Trevor's "Service Superstar!" badge. And I couldn't bear another football season calling friends for scores of the game I was already watching on the square analog set I'd had since college. I signed the keypad, a happy new member of the modern world.

Two days later, the delivery truck beeped slowly backward to my stoop. The drivers slid out a box the size of, oh I don't know, a beluga whale, and deposited the TV into my living room.

Wow. The great thing about a 50-inch TV's 50 inches of high-def bliss. The "Hunger Games" resolution invited me to jump right into the action, like Mary Poppins and Dick the chimney sweep in his London street pastels. Except this was "Hunger Games," and the dancing penguins would eat your face.

The problem with a 50-inch TV requires 50 inches of space. More, actually. Which meant cleaning and re-arranging the living room, an exercise in dust bunnies, extension cord snarls and a "souvenir" from puppies I'd fostered in 2010.

The Blu-Ray player and cable box also needed homes, which required the worst cleaning of all: sentimental. I pondered the shelves of sleek Pottery Barn bins secretly stuffed with four decades of music cassette tapes. Madonna, The Clash, Prince, Elvis, Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch. (What? He's a serious actor now.)

I had nowhere to play the tapes, but how could I trash them? Especially the home-made mixes (play, record, stop, rewind, erase, yell at your mom for talking over the track, repeat...).

iTunes could never replace Richard Marx's "Waiting for You," scrawled with a summer camp crush's devotion. Or "Casey Kasem's Weekly Top 40, March 6, 1985." Or "Chicago 16," the last Christmas gift from my father before he died. Every tape bore the smears and tears from hundreds of rotations marking some adolescent event.

And let's not forget the investment. Tapes in my childhood cost a scandalous $7, the bulk of one babysitting job. I now had in front of me... nothings of dollars in plastic. But immeasurable value in memories. And you can't write a love note on an iPod.

I'm sure Trevor would laugh at these musical mah-jonng tiles-colorful, clackety, ancient-just like I laugh at his contemporaries' devotion to the Next Big Whooseewhutzit. Every generation believes their music/hair/clothes/values are better than the other dullards' decades.

And I am no different. I love my new TV, but I tense up every time it blinks, or the signal fades, or worst of all, the whole shebang goes black for no apparent reason at all. At least with tapes, a quick twist of your pinky did the trick.

Which is why I dumped the cassettes into a duffel bag and shoved it into the spare room closet. Maybe someday cassettes will enjoy vinyl albums' revival. Maybe someone will find a nifty new use for them, like those t-shirt quilts. Maybe the Funky Bunch will get back together.

Or maybe when I give in and buy the Next Big Whooseewhutzit, Best Buy will have to haul the tapes away to some island of misfit technology, but where they will always be cherished among the TVs, the eight-tracks, the memories of technophobes past.

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