A sonic era ended in my house last week. My giant ’70s-style speakers had fallen silent. It wasn’t their fault. It was because the 1982 Pioneer receiver that powered them had finally given up the ghost. My wife was quite pleased. She had been asking me for years to get rid of these two hulking boxes that looked so out-of-place in our living room.
In fact, she wasn’t very happy the day I surprised her with them. Like many music lovers and stereo buffs, I bought the speakers from two strangers in a white van. I was driving north on Harlem, when a van pulled alongside. The passenger had an irresistible sales pitch. “Wanna buy some speakers?” I followed them into Oak Park.
They opened the rear door to reveal a bunch of large boxes. “How much?” I asked. $150 apiece. I didn’t have that kind of cash on me and they accompanied me to an ATM. We completed the transaction. I didn’t bother to open the boxes, to see if I had bought $300 worth of cinder blocks. I threw them in the trunk and raced back to my home-office. When I announced to my wife, “I just bought two new speakers,” she burst into tears. It wasn’t the reaction I was expecting.
My father was also upset. “The speakers are stolen, so you’re going to have to turn yourself in and bring the speakers to the police station.” I was startled. Did he want me to do time, so he wouldn’t have to pay me? I dutifully drove to the Oak Park police, because the “crime” had happened on that side of Harlem.
I told the desk officer that I had some stolen speakers in my car and he said he would send someone out to look at them. When the officer opened one of the boxes, I was glad to see there was a speaker inside. He examined both of them carefully. “These weren’t reported stolen.” I was free to go. I was giddy when I got home because I saw these were “Water Cooled” speakers, whatever that meant.
I called a stereo store to see what kind of bargain I had gotten. When I mentioned the “water cooled” part, the clerk said, “We don’t sell those. You can only buy them out of a white van.”
I cranked up the volume to play my vinyl. The speakers were earth-shaking. They had woofers the size of Frisbees and a special “loudness” button on the back. I didn’t know how long they’d last, but they kept pumping out for the next 30 years. One of them alone was enough to rock a block party. Every 4th of July after the fireworks, I’d play patriotic anthems at high volume for the crowd parading back from The Park.
When we upgraded to a DVD/CD player, I suddenly had a surround-sound movie theater. If no one was home, I could play U2 concert films at full blast. I’m sure my neighbors and former neighbors could testify to their power.
My wife and kids thought they were outdated eyesores that took up too much room. The day the music died, I reluctantly carried them out to the alley. They disappeared quickly.
Just to let you know, I wasn’t the only Forest Parker to make a purchase from the white van. I walked into a friend’s living room and spotted his “water-cooled” speakers. I was hoping that I had paid less than him but the guys in the white van were consistent with their pricing: $300.
John Rice is a columnist/private detective, who has seen his business and family thrive in Forest Park. He thoroughly enjoys life in the village and still gets a thrill smelling Red Hots, watching softball and strolling through cemeteries.