[SoundStage!]Paradise with James Saxon
Back Issue Article
April 1997


My high school physics textbook defined "work" as the movement of weight through a distance. Next to the definition was a drawing of a Clydesdale horse lifting a block of steel. I got the point. Not being a Clydesdale, I decided then and there to avoid work whenever possible. In order to ensure a workless existence, I devoted a decade to higher education. For twenty years afterwards, I succeeded in lifting nothing heavier than a telephone. Then I moved to Paradise and became an audio dealer. Now, at an age when other men are playing golf or clipping coupons, I sweat for my daily bread, lifting, tugging, pushing, and wrestling with components and loudspeakers that often outweigh me. I have become a Clydesdale.

The irony of my transformation hit home a few weeks ago, when I had to lift over the lip of a car trunk and then carry into the store a Mark Levinson No. 331 amplifier. The amp weighs 120 pounds. I weigh one-eighty. The amp has no handles. I do. Before bending and reaching for the amplifier, I tried to envision myself as young and energetic and capable of a feat of strength. My mind drifted back to summers in the hometown steelmill where the union had a rule: anything over forty pounds required two men to lift. At the time I had thought it a silly rule. Now, I realized how damn smart those steelworkers were. Lifting a 120-pound amp solo was insane. I called for the maid.

[COOL PICTURE YOU ARE MISSING]Somehow I convinced Monika, who weighs less than the No.331, to help me "balance" the amp so that I could get it out of the trunk. She joined me in a ritual of murmurs. After we levitated the amplifier into my arms, I manfully asked her to step aside. Amp cradled against stomach, I tried to walk. I couldn't move. From a lifetime of sitting behind a desk, my legs have atrophied into dried wishbones that were about to snap. Giggling nervously, I appealed again to Monika, who responded with a "now what" look on her face. In a gesture resembling steering, she helped me walk the amplifier down the hall. I was grateful nothing popped when we gingerly lowered the amp to the floor. The nearby amp-stand was too much to contemplate.

Later on, I learned how lucky I was to have done the job almost alone. The No. 331 is very compact and when two men, one at each end, bend over to lift it, they crack their heads together. This happened to my maid's two sons. I enjoyed it immensely. There, but for the grace of God, went I.

The Mark Levinson No. 331 is one example among many new products that are heavy and difficult to maneuver. The future of hi-fi seems to portend the advent of more such terrors. The recent WCES revealed the availability of WHAM- and Utopia-sized speakers from different makers. Announcement that a major manufacturer is designing an amplifier that will weigh 700 pounds per side sent me over the top. I joined a gymnasium.

Not wanting to embarrass myself before a bunch of Schwarzenegger wannabes, I enrolled at a health spa that caters to the weaker of each sex. You know-- aerobics, weight machines, beauty care, leotards, that sort of thing. During the first week of training, I was rudely awakened to the measure of the man I'd become. The numbers on the plates attached to the machines were meaningless, but by a system of side-long glances I was able to gauge my comparative fitness. For those audiophiles who are desk-bound, the physical condition of your scribe might prove instructive.

As of 21 January 1997, the strength of various parts of me were as follows:

  • Chest (strength) = 16 year-old boy
  • Arms = 20 year-old girl
  • Legs = 15 year-old girl
  • Shoulders = 30 year-old mother of three
  • Aerobic capacity = too low to measure

As you can see, I am in a life-threatening occupation. The good news—I'm now in training. The bad news--the equipment doesn't care. It just gets bigger.

Alone in the store, nicknamed Valley of the Giants, I have adopted a shaky strategy. I try to get free labor out of my customers. That is, I wait for someone who isn't wearing a suit to come in and then I ask him to hold one end of an amplifier or whatever while I move it. This has worked great, except fewer customers have come around lately. The few who do are always wearing suits. Thinking back to the drawing of the Clydesdale lifting a ton of weight, I recall a difference between the horse and me. The Clydesdale was using a pulley, which gave it a mechanical advantage. Here in Paradise, we ain't got no stinkin' pulleys. We got Jim. I wonder whether in ten years I'll be able to retire to a job in the building trades.

...James Saxon


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