This summer, during a stop over in Omaha, Nebraska, my friend Paul offered me three moving boxes worth of vinyl, free of charge. I’m not sure what prompted such a generous offering, but before he could change his mind I was on my knees, fingering my way through the boxes, picking out the choicest bits. In that one moment, my vinyl collection tripled in size. As you can imagine, I was in heaven.
Back in Texas, I pulled out my free copy of The Replacements “Tim” only to discover something I’d never seen before. The middle of the record didn’t feature the regular, ½ inch hole in the middle nor did it have the inch and a 1/2 sized hole often found on 45 inch records. I would later measure the size of the hole and discover it was an unheard of ¾ of an inch. Were these foreign imports? Had Paul pulled a fast one on me? After calling him up, he explained to me that the majority of the records in the collection were from his former college radio station. The strange hole size was a result of the records actually being promo copies, not for use outside the station. No, my friend didn’t steal the records. In fact, he saved them. During his last year, the college announced it would be closing and seeing that this goldmine of classic music would probably just get sent to the trash by non-vinyl-connoisseurs, he chose to rescue them.
But now I had my own problem to solve – how to play my illegal collection of records? I scoured the internet with terms like “¾ inch adapters,” “promo vinyl adapters,” and whatever other search I could scrounge up. Despite all the man-hours spent on Google, I came up with nothing, not even a mention of promo records on a message board (I will award you with a special prize if you can locate this secret adapter).
I tried playing the record as is and of course the black circle wobbled aimlessly without the adapter keeping it on track. I needed to be crafty, and in my life I’ve never known anyone craftier than my father. An Art teacher for over 30 years, my father spent his summers working as a carpenter, making woodwork an art form, one gazebo at a time. On the phone, my dad’s answer sounded simple enough: “Just get a ¾ inch dowel, cut it down to a size that works for you, and then drill a ¼ inch hole in the exact middle.” Then after some thought, I realized not only was his idea impossible for the uninitiated to wood working (me), but that I didn’t own any of the equipment required for such a precise venture.
A few days later, while assembling a book shelf, I held the solution in my hand – a nut (not the bolt). If I made a trip to Home Depot with a record in hand, I could possibly find a nut that kind of fit the hole and it would contain the symmetrical hole in the middle I would need.
As I walked through the Home Depot parking lot later that afternoon, I couldn’t help but wonder if I was the only person in the history of Home Depot to bring a vinyl copy of Judas Priest’s “Defenders of the Faith” with them. I wondered for a brief moment if they’d even let me inside with the record. Not because it could be used as a vehicle for shop lifting – because Judas Priest is dangerous in any scenario.
Once past the security guard at the door (“This is not the Judas Priest LP that you’re looking for.”), I made my way to the nuts and bolt aisle. I realized quickly that my idea was not going to work. The nuts were too bulky (not the first time I’ve written that), and the circles in the middle didn’t even match up perfectly with the ¼ inch diameter I was in search of. With frustration kicking in, I dragged my feet down the aisle, wondering if I needed to take on the dowel experiment after all. Then, I spotted it – washers! There were shelves and shelves of washers! Big washers! Little washers! Fat washers! Skinny washers! (Dr. Seuss is smiling down on me).
I began digging through the washer drawers, measuring them up to the Judas Priest hole. The ones marked ¾ were way too big. I realized then that I didn’t quite understanding the measuring system of the common craftsman. The 1/2 inch washer looked about right, but once applied to the hole, it was a smidge to large. After much searching, it came down to my final attempt – the 5/16 inch bonded sealed washer. Like Indiana Jones choosing the correct cup, I placed the washer into empty space in the middle of “Defenders of the Faith” black landscape and discovered I’d found the perfect adapter. Unlike any other washer I observed, this one featured a padded underbelly, and the upper-part was even raised up at an angle. I’d solved the mystery that the ancient fathers of radio had tried to hide from us all these years.
Or at least I thought.
Back at home, I went straight to my bedroom and placed the washer upon the record player – a perfect fit! I dug through my LPs, grabbed a John Cougar Mellenkamp album and set it down. It looked to fit snug, so I put down the needle and prepared for a celebration dance set to the sounds of “We Are the People.” But it didn’t work. My measuring had be off by the most minute of mili-inches, yet that little bit of wiggle room resulted in what it might sound like to see Mellenkamp in concert while on opium.
I sat down on my bed trying to figure out how to solve my quandary. How did I not get even an ounce of my father’s crafty talents? I laid back on my bed and stared at the ceiling, watching the fan spin like my record player should have done: perfectly in line, symmetrical, and rhythmic. “What would my dad do?” I asked myself.
I ran to the kitchen and pulled out my work bench, a small plastic container containing a hammer, a screw driver, and some masking tape. Not owning any duct tape was a sign of dishonor to my father, but I had no time to be ashamed. Masking tape would have to do.
Five minutes later I had the washer rigged up in sloppy fashion with a mili-inch of tape wrapped around it’s edges like a broken pinky. I was ready to take on the unconquerable promo record.
After removing a few layers to lessen the snugness of the fit, I placed the record down with rigged washer in its midst and dropped the needle like a gavel of judgement, one last time. As the sounds of Mr. Mellenkamp echoed through my bedroom, unaffected by the masking taped washer, I smiled knowing that maybe I did get just a smidge of my father’s craftiness after all.