A couple of years ago, my dad got me a Squeezebox radio. I think it was a Christmas present. Squeezebox is an internet radio. It streams web stations and also from your iTunes library or anything on your computer, but it sounds a lot better than your computer speakers (or than mine, anyway) and it doesn’t have to be in the same room. It’s a great little device. Most of the time, we play Pandora stations on it. AJ has come to love Pandora and when I’m not home, likes to go down to my office, where the Squeezebox currently lives, and listen to music.
A couple of months ago, I discovered that there’s an app for my iPhone that lets me control the Squeezebox remotely. this is a nice thing because when someone calls for work, all I have to do is hit the mute button on my phone instead of getting up and walking across the room to turn off the radio. This is helpful because no matter what I do, I only seem to get three rings out of my phone before it rolls to voicemail, and that’s not always enough time to get to the radio and back without tripping over something. Tripping over things is very easy to do in my office.
But the very best use of this remote app is to mess with AJ. Because the app works from anywhere with a cell phone signal. This means I can control the radio from the kitchen. Or the bedroom. Or my apartment in New York.
Tonight, after dinner, AJ went down to my basement office, closing the door behind him. “I don’t want to bother you,” says AJ, which is what he says when he wants to be able to dance and sing along with the music without witnesses. It is pretty much the only time he ever expresses any concern about bothering me. I looked up from the kitchen sink, where I was washing the dishes, “Okay. Have fun.”
A few minutes later, I turned on the remote app. I could see that AJ was listening to AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell.”
I turned the volume down low. He turned it up again. I turned it down again and switched stations. Now he was listening to Perry Como singing “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.”
I see the volume switch turn down and he goes back to AC/DC. I turn the volume up. He turns it down. I turn it down. He turns it up. I put on Frank Sinatra singing The Christmas Song.
He puts on Green Day’s “Boulevard of Broken Dreams.”
I play Karen Carpenter singing “The Christmas Waltz.”
I hear him screech and see the volume make a rapid descent before he switches back to Green Day.
I stop tormenting him for a while and finish the dishes. When I check the app again, I can see that he’s listening to The Beatles’ “Come Together.”
I decide to try a different tack. I wait until the song is ending and then, hoping he won’t notice I’m changing his stations, I switch to Camper Van Beethoven’s “Borderline.”
I watch. The volume inches up. He’s listening. He listens to the whole song. Pandora shuffles up The Pixies’ “Where is My Mind?”
I’m still not sure he knows I switched the station on him. I’m not sure he wants to know that this is my favorite station too. Some things are best when you discover them yourself. Some songs are better when they belong to just you and not to your friends and certainly not to your mother.
I think about what AJ must look like, sitting in the basement, watching the radio as it plays a song he’s never heard before. I remember sitting in my room staring at my boom box, twirling the knob to find WLIR so I could hear New Order and Depeche Mode. I am picturing him playing air guitar, pulling back the curtains I have hanging on the wall to hide the full-wall mirror, so he can see himself. He’s singing into an invisible microphone, trying out his moves. He’s getting that song in his head, in his ears, under his skin.
I hear Mr. Spy call his name. He hits pause. I hear his feet pounding up the basement stairs. They are going to look for a new baseball bat to replace the one he cracked last week. Game over, for now. Only one more task remains: to set up a Pandora station that will maximally annoy an 11-year-old boy. Any suggestions? Is it possible to top Perry Como singing Christmas songs in July?