He played Side A of the cassette tape. It was a 90 minute tape. We listened as the tape played the same stories I’d heard on all his previous mix tapes.
After five minutes, I asked, “Is there anything different about this one? Or is it the same stories that are on all the rest of your mix tapes?”
“Different,” he assured me. “This time I recorded with a different microphone. And some of the stories are in a different order than last time.”
He folded out the cassette sleeve. Each line was numbered with a different story.
“Last time the shoe story was track 3. This time I moved it to track 1.”
“So, it’s essentially the same?”
“The same,” he said. “But I re-recorded them since last time. And mixed up the order.”
“I can’t listen to this again. Can I at least take it home and listen to it at my convenience?”
“No,” he said. “You must listen now. I’ve put a lot of effort into this project. I’d think you’d want to support it by giving it your undivided attention.”
After 45 minutes of the same stories, he was still enthralled. He anxiously turned the tape over to Side B.
Side B contained all of his current musing about the state of affairs of his life. And nothing on it had substantively changed from the last tape and all the prior ones.
After Side B ended I said, “I’m telling you this for the last time. I won’t be seeing you again unless you can came up with something for us to do.”
“Like what?” he asked.
“Anything,” I said. “Any sort of activity besides listening to these tapes.”
“But these tapes are my life,” he said. “They mean everything to me, so, as someone who’s supposed to care, how can they mean so little to you?”
“But it’s the same old thing,” I said. “Nothing changes.”
“You’re wrong,” he insisted. “This time I recorded mid-morning. Last time I recorded early-morning. And next time I’m planning on recording late at night. And I’m even thinking of a whole new series where I might record in the basement. Or in my car.”
“But the same stories and the same musing?”
“Okay,” he said. “How about next time we listen to my newest tape through headphones instead of speakers? Or we can listen to it out in the garage. That’ll make things more interesting.”
“I don’t think so,” I said.
“Okay. Then here’s my next idea. How about if I record on a higher quality tape next time? Or, better yet, a lower quality tape. I can go low-fi. That’ll be cool and sorta edgy.”
I hated making his decision for him. But in this case, I was making the decision for me too.
“Why?” he asked.
“Because the content will be the same.”
“Same?” he defended. “It’s my life, and life’s not trivial. And I noticed how you weren’t paying any attention to my story about falling into the creek. I added over two minutes of detail this time. Two minutes of detail that I took away from how I learned to make homemade bread at the restaurant.”
“We need some sort of activity,” I pleaded. “Something between us besides just you.”
“Activity?” he asked. “What do you think switching this tape from Side A to B is? It doesn’t magically happen of its own accord. And somebody’s got to press play. It doesn’t play by itself.”
I didn’t think it was possible but I died a little bit more than I already had in the previous 90 minutes.
“And this insistence on putting something between us? What the heck do you think a cassette player is? And all these tapes. And I’d gladly tell you all about the recording process, but you never show any interest.”
“See, when I talk about the recording process, it’s the process that’s the subject, not me. But still, you don’t care to hear about it. You only care about yourself and having something to do that interests you.”
“What about something that interests us?”
“All of my tapes could interest us,” he said. “If you’d only think about something other than yourself and your own boredom for once.”