Virtue & Mischief: To each his own


Yesterday I couldn’t get warm, no matter how many stupid layers of clothing I put on or what part of the house I ventured to. I suppose sub-freezing temperatures and a strong wind will test the insulation of even the finest homes and the blood of even the warmest animals. So I drove over to the YMCA in order to stretch my legs a bit and work up a sweat.

Typically I exercise there with the assistance of my trusted iPod touch, a device upon which I’ve stored hundreds of songs and dozens of music “playlists” that I use to get my body moving in the first instance and to inspire me to keep going throughout my humble workouts. Whatever physical health and stamina I’ve attained at this stage of my life I owe in large measure to great artists like Tom Petty, Van Morrison, Mozart, Grieg, Jackson Browne, Bruce Springsteen, Neil Young and Steven Jobs.

On this particular day, however, I didn’t have my iPod. No, “my” iPod had been commandeered by Abby, the teenaged amigo with the rapidly moving opposable thumbs, the glistening white earbuds, and a thousand friends—some of them in faraway locales like Singapore and Australia. Naturally, she must stay in contact with these friends—they need her!—and “my” iPod is the only thing keeping her from staying in constant contact with them and assisting them with all manner of crises and important decisions. In other words, her access to “my” iPod is all that’s keeping the fabric of the universe from tearing asunder.

Whatever else I may or may not be, I am a dude who doesn’t relish causing the end of the world as we know it. So I relinquished “my” rights to the device and retrieved Abby’s little blue iPod shuffle as I put my coat on and headed out the door. (Let the record reflect, incidentally, that the little blue iPod shuffle was once “mine” as well, but I handed it down once I purchased—with “my” money—the fancier, more expensive and useful iPod touch). This will do in a pinch, I reasoned. Who knows what music she’s downloaded onto it, but surely it’ll be tolerable as I struggle through 30 minutes on an elliptical trainer and a few sit-ups.

I arrived, made a minute’s worth of small-talk with the receptionist, stripped off my winter coat, sweatshirt and sweatpants, climbed aboard the machine, inserted the earbuds, and hit “play.”


I’ve thought and thought about this. I’ve consulted and scoured through my dog-eared copy of Roget’s. But in the end, that’s the only word I could come up with by way of describing my response to Abby’s selection of techno-bass-on-steroids-futuristic-soaked-in-synthesizer-and-I-honestly-don’t-know-what-other-musical-instruments-thumping-garbage-that-she-apparently-believes-constitutes-music: Wow.

It was like something out of “A Clockwork Orange,” but worse. Discordant, cacophonic, throbbing, robotic, even dystopian. And LOUD. If you needed to extract state secrets from me and had only thirty seconds to accomplish the goal, I’d advise you to torture me by strapping me up and forcing me to listen to Abby’s iPod shuffle. I’d tell you anything you wanted to know in the proverbial blink of an eye.

Within a few minutes I had a headache the likes of which I hope to never experience again. Still, I couldn’t turn it off. I was in psychic and physical pain, yes, but was morbidly fascinated at the same time. This is what my daughter and her friends listen to??! So I persisted, and my headache worsened. It leapt from my temples to the back of my head and then spread gradually back toward the front, eventually meeting somewhere in the middle of my cerebrum. When I did muster the ability to formulate a coherent thought (in between songs, probably) I wondered if constant exposure to this gunk explained her recent mood swings.

I finally finished my exercise routine and turned off the device. I donned my heavy layers, walked to my car, and drove home. As I coursed through the Greenville Park I wondered, “how on earth does she listen to that dreck?!” and countered that thought with “I suppose I should be grateful she’s not full-blown antisocial.”

I walked in the house and placed my wallet, keys, and phone in the cubby hole in the breakfast nook area designated for that purpose. Abby arrived seconds later, armed with the facial expression of a young lady who’s just sucked on a lemon for ten seconds. For the first time ever, she was actually listening to my music instead of skyping or playing a game with one of her friends across the globe!

She pulled the earbuds out of her ears and, frowning severely, asked “Dad, what IS this crap you listen to on your iPod?!? Doesn’t it give you a headache?! Ewwwww!”

By Tim Swensen

Timothy Swensen is the author of the weekly column series Virtue and Mischief that is published every Tuesday in The Daily Advocate. He can be reached at [email protected]. Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author. The Daily Advocate does not endorse these viewpoints or the independent activities of the author.

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