by Hugh Gilmore

I went to a house sale in 2006 and found a bunch of blues CDs. A wall in the den held about 200 of them, all very good stuff – Broonzy, Lead Belly, nearly all the “Blinds,” Lightnin’ Hopkins, Mississippi John Hurt – a real all-star team of the blues.

The guy selling them was the son of a DJ, recently deceased. He asked, I think, about five bucks apiece for them. Picking out what I wanted would take too long, since lots of people wandering around the house looking for bargains might jump in on my first-pick situation.

On impulse, I said, “How much if I take them all?”

“Buck a piece.”

That’s a great price for one, but in the aggregate I hesitated to spend $200 at a house sale I’d gone to just for amusement. Time to jump, though.

“I’ll take them.”

I still have them. They’re racked in a small room just to the right of my desk, labels showing, waiting to be played and enjoyed. As I write this, they’re three steps away. I’ve probably listened to only about ten of them, though. I just never seemed to find the right situation. Or the means. It’s a shame. I love music. I really do.

I work as a reader and writer and bookseller. All require quiet so I can concentrate. I’ve tried playing music when I write. Classical music is very pleasant when I write non-fiction, but “pleasant” doesn’t seem like a justification. When I write fiction, music throws my head-rhythm off. For me, it’s either “all in” or “all out” with music. It seems insulting to a musician to turn his art into wallpaper. It’s fun in a car sometimes, but mostly not. Don’t bother to write and tell me I’m not normal. I’m keenly aware of that already. If I trusted other people’s opinions, I’d seek counseling.

I mentioned my problem when dining with friends one night. One of them said (this was 2006, remember), “You should get one of those new iPods.”

“How do they work?” I said.

“You put a CD in your computer, then download the music file to your computer.”


“Then you transfer the music to the iPod. It’s smaller than a cigarette pack. You can take it everywhere with you. Dial up a tune you want to hear and listen. You need ear buds, or headphones, but you can get thousands of songs on an iPod.”

That sounded easy enough, maybe I’d buy one. But then I had another thought, “When would I listen to the iPod?”

“Why not do it when you’re walking? You walk nearly every day, don’t you?”

Well, that was true. I did. And thus an idea was born and a purchase made. I drove out 309 to CompUSA (remember them?) and bought a sleek, shiny, slim, black iPod Nano. It came with tiny ear phones. I’d walk to the blues now. Step back, all you other walkers, Blues Man is comin’ through, struttin’ his brand! Never you mind. Jes don’ mess wid him.

Back home, I put the iPod package on my desk. I’d learn how to use it later. It was a sweet 60 degrees outside and I wanted to take a walk. I went out to one of my favorite walking places. At this spot there’s a large tree that I’ve designated to act as the magic curtain. I spot it from a distance that lets me take in the entire tree at a look and as I walk toward it I keep its crown in my vision while I tap my heart. With each tap I picture someone I cared for who is now gone. I see his, or her, face, say his name, and tell that person I remember him or her. I say thanks to many of them. My list has grown longer since I started doing this in the year 2000. I can handle it. Someday maybe I’ll be on someone else’s list. Thanks, if it’s yours.

When I finish my ritual, I walk. Such a busy agenda. There is air to breathe, leaves to watch grow, birds to hear singing. Insects are out again. I see crocuses pushing out of the ground and think of the powerful magic of nature – Dylan Thomas: “The force that through the green fuse drives the flower.” Just amazing. There is no “interface” out here, no computer, Internet, Facebook, Twitter, no “cloud” as a metaphor, no third-party reinterpretation of the breeze that brushes me, of the sun that touches my cheek. Me and the world. The world and me. I feel like an escapee. It’s a delicious feeling.

I go home refreshed. I move the iPod box aside. A little further aside each week, until I put it out of sight. Each year on the anniversary of its purchase I take it down and look at it and wonder. Then I go out to take a walk, intending to consider what I might like to download to my sleek little machine. But I see my sacred tree, I tap my heart, I walk through the curtain, and forget what it was I was supposed to think about.