When I was a kid, my father used to love to order things through the mail. All kinds of things. Shoes. Radios. Cheese. I don't think he wanted the stuff so much, it was just fun to get home from work and find a box waiting at the door.
As a young lad, I followed in my father's footsteps and ordered everything I could from the back of 'Boys Life' magazine. I got a real Flying UFO for $2.99. It was a balloon with a plastic base. It didn't look exactly like the picture in the magazine and broke after 15 minutes, but it was still cool. Getting things in the mail was fun.
One day when I got home from school, there was an enormous box by the front door. It was addressed to my father. When my mother called him at work to tell him about the package, he forbid any of us from opening it until he got home. See, opening the box is half the fun.
We waited for hours for him to come home. When he finally arrived, we all brought the box into the family room. My father poured himself his nightly Scotch, got on the floor with a knife and carefully opened the box. He took his time. It was excruciating.
What came out of the box confused everyone but my father. It was a Quadraphonic Stereo System.
We all looked at him. "A what?"
We were confused for very good reason. My father was strictly a transistor radio guy. We had a 13 inch black and white television with a broken antenna. My father had stuck a wire coat hanger in the antenna opening so we could get 3, fuzzy channels. It had been that way for years. The word stereo had never been uttered in our decidedly low-tech household.
In a stunning move, my father had jumped entire over the stereo and into the newest, high-tech wonder of the age - Quadraphonics.
Inside the box was a Teledyne Packard Bell Quadraphonic Music System. It had an 8 track and a turntable. It had four speakers. That's the quadraphonic part.
It took a couple of hours to set it up and we all ate a very rushed dinner in order to finish the job. But at last, it was done.
My father had precisely followed the very specific instructions on speaker placement. Now, it was time to try it out. He read the pamphlet that came with the system to us out loud. Seems the Ruggs were about to be amazed. We were (so the pamphlet boasted) about to experience the greatest achievement in stereo technology. The Quadraphonic system would "put us in the middle of the music!" With the speakers positioned in the four corners of the room, we were about to experience...double stereo. Or something. But whatever it was, we were about to be blown away.
My father quickly grabbed one of our old records and put it on. It was a Johnny Mathis album. It was in mono.
We all stood in the center of the room. Chances Are began playing. We looked at one another. We didn't know what to expect but we all agreed we could hear Johnny singing from every corner of the room. I remember my Mother saying something like, "My goodness. I can hear Johnny over there and there and there and....and there!"
We all tried to convince ourselves that this was amazing. As a child, I was always prone to make things out to be better than they were. I said something like, "It's like Johnny Mathis is all around us!"
My father looked at me. "Yes! No matter where I turn, I can hear him!"
And then, almost immediately, my father scrunched his face. "Maybe I didn't hook it up right."
It was close to midnight. My mother marched us off to bed as my father spent the next 4 hours redoing the wires. All that night I could hear Johnny Mathis singing while my father grunted angrily.
The next morning, my exhausted father said he had figured out the problem. All the records we had were in mono. We needed the new quadraphonic albums. He told my mother to go to the store to get some of those.
After school my mother drove us to JC PENNEY to buy quadraphonic albums. My mother tried to explain to the clerk that we needed one of those new albums for four speakers. He stared at her like she was insane. When she finally said, "Quadra....something or other," he smiled.
He took us to their new Quadraphonic area. It had one album. The album was synthesized snake sounds. We didn't know what that meant, but we bought it and took it home.
When my father got home from work we all ran into the family room, stood in the middle of the room and listened as my father put the album on. Johnny Mathis in mono is far better than quadraphonic snake sounds. But we all tried to pretend we were impressed.
My mother looked at my father and said, "Well...I hear a rattle over there. And...a...some sort of slithering over there. And...there's a hiss behind me. Oh, that's amazing."
For the next few months we would drop by JC Penney to see what new Quadraphonic albums they had. Whatever it was, we bought it. We'd all stand in the middle of the room and listen.
And while we never blew our minds, we blew a lot of my dad's money.
He would have loved the iPhone.