Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Remember the tape deck: a lesson in delayed gratification

When I was a kid, one of my favourite pastimes was browsing the Consumers Distributing catalogue. The pages of this catalogue were always teeming with unimaginable treasures, from the latest G.I. Joe action figures and assault vehicles, to sporting equipment, to keyboard synthesizers and children's drum sets. Every November, my brother and I would gather around the catalogue to put together our wishlists for Christmas, which invariably took the form "CD page 72, item Q; CD page 89, items L-P..."

Just after I turned 12 years old, I spotted an item in the electronics section of the catalogue that I just had to have: a Panasonic dual cassette deck. Feast your eyes on this list of features, and tell me you can get through another day without owning this bad boy:
  • One-touch, high-speed dubbing

  • Cushion eject

  • Auto reverse on recording deck

  • Auto stop on playback deck

  • AM/FM radio with telescoping antenna

  • Built-in condenser microphone
The tape deck had everything I could possibly want. Unfortunately, it also came with a hefty price tag: $99.99.

I asked my parents to buy the tape deck for me, but they balked at the price. They agreed to give me extra chores around the house to earn some extra money, and said that I could buy it once I had saved up the purchase price. I was a bit downcast at the monumental task put before me, but I decided to soldier on and earn my way to my all cushion ejecting, all high-speed dubbing prize.

For the next several months, I cleaned bathrooms, dusted and vacuumed the house, helped paint the garage, and babysat neighbourhood children, and little by little, my pile of savings grew. I jumped at any opportunity to earn some extra cash, and I clamped down on my spending, because every quarter that I spent on candy or arcade games was a step away from my goal of kicking back and listening to my freshly dubbed cassettes.

After months of saving, the day finally came, when I had $114 ($100 plus taxes) in cash in my hot little hands. My mother drove me to Consumers, and I excitedly filled out the catalogue slip to request the tape deck. The cashier brought the box out to the counter, and I proudly handed over five twenties, a ten, and four ones (this was in the days before the Loonie had completely replaced the dollar bill). The transaction complete, we got back in the car and headed home with my spoils.

I loved that tape deck. Over the next few years, I spent many an evening basking in the dulcet chipmunk tones of high-speed dubbing, as I put together countless mix tapes. I felt a sense of pride every time I looked at it, knowing that I had earned it through hard work and careful planning. When it finally kicked the bucket in my third year of university, it was like saying goodbye to an old friend.

These days, when I'm suffering from a bout of technolust, I think back to the day I bought that tape deck, to the intense pride I felt being able to pay in cash, and to the years of use that I got out of my purchase. If I can't pay cash, I either move on, or save up until I can. The lesson of the tape deck is a powerful one: delaying gratification can make it much sweeter, with the feeling that you've unequivocally earned your new toy.

My thousands of dollars of consumer debt are a constant reminder that I've strayed from the path of delayed gratification in the past.

I'm glad I've found it again.

2 comments:

determinedsinglemom said...

ahh...good times, good times at Consumer's Distributing :-)

I can see why you couldn't live without that tape deck (high speed dubbing was a very cool feature!) but my big purchase at CD was a brass and glass vanity with a little bench to sit on. Seems to me it was about $100 too and I had to save up my money from babysitting and after school job but it was soooo worth it when I could sit at it every morning before school and 'do' my hair and make-up. I had that well into university too but it didn't make the trip to the States with me when I moved :-( Now I have to STAND in the bathroom every morning to fix my hair. Ah...the good old days.

Big Cajun Man said...

The things we work hardest for, are the most treasured. The things we are given, we rarely give more than a fleating glance too.

I liked the order system at Consumers, where you had to fill in the form using the mini-pencil and then had to wait to see if it was "In Stock" :-)