Was zum Teufel
There is an old disused Crate amp up in the box where the window would be if it weren’t boarded up. It is flanked by a decorative Halloween Mason jar candle holder, a novelty bottle of tequila with a silver punk mohawked skull stopper, and my voice-activated digital assistant.
There is an old disused Crate amp up in the box where the window should be, and it is buzzing for no reason.
I decide I want to leave the room for a minute and use the app on my phone to pause the music playing on the digital assistant. I am immediately greeted by a scritching, a buzzing hum. I know it is the amp. I also know it cannot be the amp.
“Mukita,” I say, “stop,” thinking maybe the device is trapped in some kind of in-between state. Because thinking you’re somehow wrong is sometimes very comforting.
The voice command changes nothing. The buzzing persists.
I come out from behind my workbench and approach the amp. Maybe it is the Christmas lights, I think. The whole room is edged in Christmas lights, which really keeps it from being too grim. I pull the strand of lights closer to my ear, and the whole strand starts shaking loose off the nails and tacks it’s stuck up on. Anyway, it’s not making a sound.
I also pull the Mukita to my ear. Nothing. It’s modulating. The frequency is modulating. There’s some kind of fast wub in the noise. There is an ambient deep bass rumble and some modulating wub in the noise. The noise from the disused, definitely not plugged-in amp.
I unplug the assistant. Nothing. I unplug the Christmas lights. Nothing. I pace around the room, looking faintly down, feeling queer and a little keyed-up. Nervous? I cut the switch that powers everything in the whole studio. No change.
The wub is inconsistent. Sometimes it is strong and rapid, and other times thready and inapparent. I fiddle with the dials on the amp, but they of course have nothing to do with the wub. I leave the room. I have to leave the room.
I go upstairs to make a cuppa. Irish breakfast, two artificial sweeteners and more than a splash of milk. I have to use artificial sweetener because I drink so much tea.
What in the hell could make an amp do that?
Lots of things, probably. Science!, one might say to oneself, making calm and even appeals to the ready answers of reason. There’s, oh gosh, vibrating, and… you haven’t any idea what you’re talking about. You haven’t any idea what you’re talking about, but talking about it helps.
I put the kettle on and decide to get high. To calm my nerves. There’s still tree from the night before ground up and waiting by the gravity bong. I pinch, pinch more into the handmade tinfoil bowl that kind of looks like one of those leftover swans (or Salvador Dali’s mustache) and place it on the old sawed-off soda bottle. I take the first hit and my palms start sweating. It must be the sativa. The trick, I am just now discovering, is just to keep smoking when that happens. You have to really punch through the first minute of head-high thought-racing fast-pulse stuff, but there’s a real good focusable energy on the other end.
You’re probably thinking this is all about drugs, but only if you don’t do drugs. And I didn’t get high ‘til after the amp freaked me out, but I guess that makes me an unreliable narrator or whatever. But you oughtta know smoking a little or even a lot of weed can’t make you hallucinate a persistent humming noise coming from an amp you don’t use. You just oughtta know that if you want to be credible in life.
I put the artificial sweetener in the mug, then took the mug to the stove to add the hot water. I swung around to be over the sink, because the kettle’s always leaking. Then I walked back to the table to put in the bag, but I was stopped by the cat, whose meow I could just distinguish from the bottom of the basement stairs. As I changed the angle of my path the better to see her, a horrible metallic stabbing noise came from just out of sight.
The dryer. SSCREE-EE-EE-EE-EEEEA, goes the dryer. Never quite landing on the M.
But the dryer wasn’t going. This I knew for a fact.
“Was zum Teufel?” I asked the cat in my native German. She didn’t look phased at all. The sick winding belt noise of the dryer rent the air a moment more and then stopped all at once, leaving empty silence.
“Was zum Teufel?” I realized I was asking a question, and not making a statement.
Someone…could be…wrenching something. Unseen horror movie sound effect? You start making explanations. You start cutting bullshit out of whole cloth just so you don’t have to wonder anymore.
The cat looks up at me. Are you coming down, daddy?
I approach the table finally and put the tea bag in the mug. The cat didn’t seem to notice the metallic noise, not even one little bit. Head cocked. Are you coming down, daddy?
I was glad it was going to take a minute for the tea to brew before I could add the milk. “Ich komme, Liebling,” I said to the cat, crossing to the living room to do more bong rips. “Bald ich komme.” If the cat can do it…
The dryer wasn’t on. Of course. It was lifeless and still when I finally made it down, tea in hand. Gone too was the noise from the amp, the studio quiet except from some street sounds.
It was nothing, you think. It was a non-event! You read this all wrong and you’re being silly, and you really have done a lot of drugs in your life.
Wub. Wub wub wubwubwubwubwub.
The amp cuts back on as I settle into my self-comforting delusion. This time there is more of a hiss, a kind of thick drawing of air like an Icelandic r. “Nun, ich werde gefickt,” I say to the cat, whom I sense a few paces behind me. She seems to agree.
Then nothing. Then it starts back up.
It is unaffected by anything I do. I might as well not be there, and I kind of wish I weren’t. I can’t turn on the music. Not knowing what I’m covering up.
So I retreat. I cut the lights, and I retreat. Was I really going to take the amp to a music store? Rehearse a summary of my little ghost story to tell the aggressively heterosexual American behind the counter?
I retreat. The noise is gone by the next day, and it stays gone for all the next days. All the next days until now, anyway. The amp stays silent, and the dryer only makes that horrible stabbing sound when it is going. But one never knows with these things.
I never know with these things.