A number of my fans have written to ask what its like to be a high end audio dealer in Paradise. In a word, its unusual, but for the incautious who have gone so far as to offer to buy the business, I thought Id describe a day in the life of a third world audio dealer. Full disclosure, shall we say?
Like many hi-fi purveyors in faraway lands, I work out of my home. This not only saves rent, but also shields me from eyes of the have-nots who would like to steal and fence what I have. Burglary in Paradise is a Big Problem. So is kidnapping of foreigners (which I am) and armed robbery, but I worry more about break-ins. No home is burglar-proof, but an unguarded store front would be even worse. I never entertain walk-ins. Auditions are by appointment only, unless I have known you for awhile. Anyone new who telephones has to explain how he heard of my company. Although Parlatek S.A., is listed as a magazine distributor in Stereophile, I have received exactly one call as a result of that listing, a rather unpleasant chat with a visiting Frenchman who insulted me because I didnt stock YBA components, thereby assuring that I would never stock YBA components.
My paranoia began about three years ago when I awoke at 3 A.M. to the sound of gunfire, followed by shouting and the crunch of footsteps on the rooftop tiles. My neighborhood is upscale, and one of the numerous Paradise government ministers used to live a few doors down, where he had a 24-hour armed guard. That night the guard happened to see dark shirts on my roof and instead of averting his eyes actually ordered the would-be burglars to surrender. When they did not respond he pegged a shot at them from an AK-47, which is an extremely loud weapon. That brought them down in a hurry. By the time it took to throw on trousers and unlock the iron-clad front door, the pair were in custody.
Since that night, I have slept like a wolf, waking every few hours to sniff the air. Sometimes, I hear strange nearby sounds and, .22 pistol in hand, get up to patrol the inside perimeter of the house, including the garage, where loudspeakers are stored. It feels weird to throw open doors and switch on lights while fingering a pistol and wearing nothing more than shower shoes. I hope my appearance will frighten away intruders. I have no desire to confront anyone who might confront me back.
From 4 until 7, I slumber until the fax machine starts whirring away in the adjoining office. Unfortunately, the fax sounds reminiscent of men on the roof, and Ive come close to shooting it several times. I try never to read fax messages before morning coffee. They affect unpressurized blood too much. But the sun shines most mornings, and the brewing of coffee is a ritual that reminds me I am still alive.
Casa Saxon in the days of the
legendary Von Schweikert Vortex Loudspeakers
After a few cups of high-test, I am ready for the first phone calls. Since all equipment is imported, I deal with couriers and customs agents on an almost daily basis. These people start work early. They love chatting up the old gringo at 7:30 a.m. Invariably, its a request for payment of some sort.
From 8 until 9 I surf the Internet, including stops at Dilbert, USA Today, and The New York Times, where I download the crossword puzzle, which is easy to complete on Monday progressing to diabolical by Saturday morning. I am not current on American. trivia.
At 9 the maid lets herself in, and mercifully, she leaves me alone until 9:15, at which time I get to commiserate with her about the unfairness of being poor. Monika is the highest paid, most under-worked maid in Paradise (my parents were Democrats), but I still get a morning earful, which I deserve because I AM an employer.
To mollify her, I usually crank up some salsa or meringue music which motivates her nicely and is also useful for breaking in loudspeakers. Sometimes, to get even, Ill play Show tunes or opera, which Monika hates as much as I do. Its a kamikaze thing to do, but she likes all the other music I play, including country western.
My assistant comes in at ten oclock. Richard is a shaved-headed Canadian lad of 24, penniless but optimistic, who washed up on our shores several months ago. He is a jack of several trades, including cooking and singing death-metal music. His skills as a singer are wasted on me, but he often prepares a toothsome tropical lunch which we scarf down around 1 p.m, unless the mornings crises have left me too bummed out to eat.
By now, the astute reader will have noted that my dealer-morning is half over and I have yet to meet with a living customer. But I have been working, answering fax mail, shouldering complaints about failed equipment, pleading with customs agents to ransom our new components, shoving and lifting hernia-threatening amps and speakers (amps are worse), carting bruised and damaged gear to our outside repair shop, and fielding calls from young women I have never met.
Let me explain the latter. A few years ago, I used an escort service from time to time. Recently, I have had a steady squeeze and been out of the market, but the escorts keep wanting to serve and the calls keep coming. In Paradise there must be a clearing house for girls seeking guys with a few bucks. My number seems to float around like an unchecked rumor. The callers are usually young models who have a few minutes to spare between modeling jobs or college classes. They promise the privilege of their charms if Im able to see them right now, or at least this very afternoon. I protest that I run a business from my home and can only see escorts at night or on weekends. I dont know what the girls do at those abnormal times, but they never call my bluff.
Also, every morning I call or meet with my two used-equipment dealers, who are among my favorite people. They help with the knotty problem of unloading trade-ins in a tiny marketplace, and have earned my gratitude and respect. They are also good company. Luis Carlos is a former banker who has been selling stereo equipment as a sideline for 25 years. Marco is a music history professor with a clientele of classical music buffs. Both men are sophisticated, witty and astute. Whenever I am in a blue funk, talking to Marco or Luis Carlos cheers me up.
Incidentally, Luis Carlos and I are literally brothers-in-arms. One afternoon at dusk, LC left my store and traveled by car exactly one block to a sidewalk store window where papusas, an Ecuadorian tortilla, are sold (no zoning in Paradise). While standing on the sidewalk waiting for his order, LC kept an eye on his car parked across the street. Two young men sauntered into his line of vision, made eye contact, crossed the street, and asked him what he was looking at. He said politely he was just watching his car. One of the youths took exception to that statement and pulled a revolver from his trousers. He pressed the pistol to Luis Carlos temple. LC knocked the guys arm away, the gun discharged into the air, and LC hied out of there as fast as he could on foot. He ran around the block and showed up at my door on the verge of a heart attack. He asked me if I had a gun so he could go armed to get his car, which was still parked a block away. Without gallantry, I loaned him the .22. When he drove back minutes later, and could barely breathe, I took the pistol and went looking for the guys who assaulted him, but in light of the generic description he gave me and my own shaky hands, I realized the safest thing for all concerned was for me to get off the streets. From that day forward, LC and I have been war buddies.
If this sounds melodramatic, welcome to the tropics, where life IS melodramatic. This past July a telephone argument with a customer almost cost me my life. The customer, a husky young man who has 26 years and 40 pounds on me, took offense when I suggested that he had a hearing impairment and that his beloved electrostatic loudspeakers sucked. This is not how I usually win friends and influence people, but I had heard too many excuses why he was unable to keep up payments on an amplifier he had purchased from me. My frustration led me to insult him. He became enraged and began screaming over the phone about "balas en la calle" (bullets in the street). Ten minutes later he showed up outside my carport foaming at the mouth. Stupidly, I opened the gate and he slugged me in the chest and started screaming that he was going to kill me. I was taken aback more than hurt and tried to talk in a normal voice. He slapped me upside the head. Now, I realized this could turn ugly. When I started advancing (very slowly) he backed toward his car, and opened the door. A Colt .45 auto dropped out of his belt onto the driveway. As he scooped it up and tucked it back in his belt, I realized the significance of "balas en la calle." If I had decided to duke it out, he would have shot me. Mortal wounds are easy to obtain in Paradise.
Forgive the lengthy detour. Before I so rudely interrupted myself, we had just done lunch, and were about to enter the afternoon lull, which gives me a lot of free time to fret about the lack of customers. By resorting to various mind-altering drugs I am able to escape into a fantasy world for several hours. Unfortunately, not. The fragility of home stereo keeps me anchored in reality. The failure rate of equipment manufactured in the US of A has reached new highs. I dread hooking up new components and save doing so until after lunch so I wont ruin my appetite. From experience, I know that any component that uses a Philips-supplied part will probably not work right out of the box. Amplifiers made in California can also be troublesome. Bargain DACS are scary, as are really expensive pre-amplifiers, which have been known to catch fire. Loudspeakers have arrived with bad tweeters and faulty mid-ranges. Sometimes, I feel like a beta-tester, rather than a distributor. I usually call factories during the afternoon lull, asking for troubleshooting information which is seldom supplied in writing, and never until long after you need it.
By 5:00 p.m. I am ready for Happy Hour. Invariably, this convivial moment is postponed by the appearance of the first customer of the day, who by now, I dont want to see. Id prefer a beer. So I do the next best thing: I invite the customer to join me for a beer. This creates goodwill and forces the ear to seek higher sound levels (scientific fact), which is good for demoing bass response of loudspeakers. By six oclock we are refreshed and ready to boogie.
From six until eight several nights a week, I entertain friends, customers and audiophiles in my home. This is usually fun. But no matter how many beers or shots of tequila go down, I never lose sight of the job at hand, which includes selecting music that will enthrall, commenting on the sound without gushing, and avoiding personal comments that might get me shot.
This ritual doesnt produce many sales, but it beats working for a living.
There you have it, an expurgated version of a day in the life of a third-world audio dealer. For the real skinny, please call me toll-free at 1-800-PARADISE.