Answering Machine

Food for Thought

My answering machine was a constant presence from the sophomore year of college (1988) to the emergence of mobile phones. I never reused tapes. I had always imagined myself listening to them in the distant future.

Last week, while at my wife’s old apartment where her father now lives, I came across the box that contained all 27 tapes. It’s a mystery how they ended up there, but I’m glad I found them.

I dug out the old Walkman I bought when I arrived in New York City 33 years ago. Recording Walkmans were more expensive, but I somehow felt I should keep records of what I was about to experience. I recorded many conversations with it.

Sadly, the rubber belt inside had completely disintegrated. I bought a cheap cassette player online that converts to MP3. For several days, I kept it on my desk and digitized all the tapes as I worked.

I noticed how quickly and dramatically my life changed in my 20′s. The first three years were recorded in the 3-bedroom apartment I rented with my friends, Jimmy and Mike. Since it was right across the street from my school on East 23rd Street, it was party central. People constantly dropped by between and after classes. I can feel that energy from the tapes.

After college, my life went through many different phases. Many friends came and went. Throughout it all, my answering machine kept recording. Although it’s an old technology, there is something magical and mesmerizing about watching the little reels spin.

A picture might be worth a thousand words, but something about audio that fools your mind and body into thinking that you traveled back in time. I found myself wanting to grab a pencil and write down the numbers that my friends left on the tape.

There are people with a rare disorder who cannot forget anything. That may sound like a good thing, but apparently, it’s painful for them because past traumatic experiences would remain vivid forever as if they just happened. Time heals only because we have the ability to forget.

Listening to these messages from three decades ago brought back all the joy and suffering of being young, like I was suddenly afflicted with that disorder.