In a Groove

Though I was a restless kid, I could spend hours watching records spin. By placing a record on the turntable and dropping the stylus into a groove, I could hear the Obernkirchen Children’s choir sing “The Happy Wanderer” or Horowitz play Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” or my Miller family harmonize “Night on the Hills” in four parts on one of the long-play records they made.

How could these sounds that belonged in Germany and Carnegie Hall and the mountains of Western Maryland come out of the grooves and through the speaker to fill our living room in Flint, Michigan?

As the music played, I’d watched the stylus follow its intricate path, moving back and forth, back and forth, as the record rotated, but always—well, almost always—staying in the groove.

The habits of the stylus were in contrast to my helter-skelter life. I left books at school when I needed them for homework and at home when I needed them for class. Books and magazines littered my bedroom floor. I stayed up late reading and slept past my alarm. For these transgressions, I received detentions and demerits and extra work at home.

In contrast to my haphazard ways, I admired how the stylus found the groove and made music by steadfastly following it. When I heard the idiom in the groove, I knew exactly what it meant. And I began to see that for something to be groovy—as we, in that day, called anything marvelous or excellent—someone had likely followed a purposeful path.

I remember my conscious decision in seventh grade to get into groove. That’s when I began devising systems to tame my scattered life. I stuffed reminder notes into my shoes and kept homework lists. I put my books in my school satchel every night before I went to bed. And when I got out of groove, I looked for ways to get back in.

Ever since seventh grade, I’ve kept adapting my systems. I no longer stuff notes into my shoes. But I snooze emails to remind me of deadlines and set my cell phone clock and keep lists and follow daily routines.

It’s easier, these days, to play Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata.” All I have to do is ask Alexa. But I miss placing a record on a turntable and watching the stylus run through the grooves.

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