“To Be Played in Ten Years.”
The loaded title stared back at me with such taunting words.
“Play me,” it goaded.
I turned the cassette tape over in my hands. The same title was printed in red pen on the other side.
I may as well have found the Treasure of the Sierra Madre in my parents’ garage. I mean, this was jackpot.
Two weekends ago, Larry and I had a whirlwind weekend driving down to NJ and back in just over 24 hours. He had to pick up his new car since he sold his Scion the week before. He bought a 2002 BMW station wagon from a family friend, so naturally, when my parents found out we were driving something home with a decently-sized trunk, they strongly encouraged us to take home some of the dozen-plus boxes of my childhood.
While I didn’t grab them all, we brought home some fun gems: a bag full of McDonald’s toys from the late 80s and early 90s, for example. I also brought home some of the finest mid-90s young adult literature you could ever want: R.L. Stine, Natalie Babbitt, and others.
My parents’ garage truly is the Fertile Crescent of my childhood.
. . .
One of those gems was a basket of cassette tapes; well, what I thought were cassette tapes: most were empty cases with covers like Michael Jackson’s Thriller or Elton John’s Greatest Hits (what can I say… I had a wide taste in music as a child).
I found this lone tape sitting in the bottom of the basket, with no cover or case and only these words printed in red ink: “To Be Played in Ten Years.”
Of course, there was no date.
“Larry, you’ll never believe what I just found,” I said, poking my head up from the ruins of my childhood. “I’m pretty sure I made a cassette tape time capsule. Do we have a tape deck in the house?”
And of course, because we live in the 21st century, not a single tape-playing device was to be found in our home. So this past Saturday afternoon, I was on a mission: to find a reasonably-priced tape deck.
I started at Walmart. They had a CD/casette/radio boombox for $45. A bit pricier than what I thought antiquated technology of the 90s should have cost, so I headed to BJ’s Wholesale, because I’ve seen plenty of vestiges of the past sold in bulk there. Get to BJ’s and their Sony boombox with a tape deck cost $50. Surely Best Buy must still sell tape decks, I think. And they do. For $70, in fact – and it was the same Sony model I saw at BJ’s. Finally, in resignation, I headed to Target, as a last ditch act of desperation. Lo and behold, I found some crappy no-name brand boombox, with CD and tape deck for $30.
I’ll take it. $30 for a glimpse into my childhood is a price well paid.
. . .
I gingerly placed the old cassette tape into the boombox. Larry wanted to listen with me and after some arm-twisting, I agreed. I’d just have to grit my teeth and bear the second-hand embarrassment for my younger self.
I was terrified to hit play. I thought for sure this was something I had recorded right after Larry and I had started dating, so I figured it would start with a pining soliloquy about my high school sweetheart at the time.
I hit the play button, the tape winding to life and that familiar recorded ambient noise hiss filling the room.
As I heard the first words: “Hello. This is Christina Keiko Suwa…” I was shocked at how young I sounded. I realized in just the first few seconds that this was something I had recorded long before I even met Larry.
He sat there in astonishment to hear my voice sound so tinny and petite. Frankly, I did too.
“Hello. This is Christina Keiko Suwa, twenty years, no ten- ten years before you open this letter, or pop this tape into a cassette machine, if you happen to have one at the present time.”
Even as a young person, I had a sense that the cassette tape was a dying technology
Most of the A side was me singing songs from musicals in which I had performed. I was singing along, banging away at my little Casio keyboard, like a nightingale from my youth. It was surreal. I spent much of the A side fast-forwarding because I was just so embarrassed to hear myself sing.
When we flipped over to the B side, I only had a couple of songs left in me, apparently. One of them was a particularly lovely rendition of a duet that I sang where I actually sang both parts at the same time. I recorded the other voice part and played it from another radio while I sang along and recorded on the master tape. I’m not going to lie: pretty damn clever for a 13-year-old, if I do say so myself.
I then spent 5 minutes talking about my crush of the moment, who I’ll name only by initials here: MB. He was “soooo gorgeous” according to 13-year-old Keiko. I mused about “maybe I’ll ask him out on the last day of school.” (I never did.) What’s particularly hysterical is that dear MB came out of the closet his freshmen year of college. Gaydar was a concept lost upon my 13-year-old self.
And then I started talking about all the things I was into at the moment. It was so strange to hear me talk about my favorite TV shows and movies at the time. It was also pretty embarrassing to hear just how much of a nerd I was… I mean, like whoa. I may as well have walked off the set of Revenge of the Nerds. It didn’t help that I got a wicked case of the hiccups while recording the last half of the tape.
What was fun was trying to figure out when I actually recorded this tape, as I made no mention of the current date during my ramblings. I talked about shows on TV I was watching at the time, including VR.5, an extremely short-lived sci-fi drama on FOX. After a little Google-fu, I learned that VR.5 only aired from March to May 1995, so it was a good bet that I had recorded this tape sometime during that span of time.
Before I signed off, I briefly waxed prophetic, wishing my 10+ years older self a nice life. It was truly endearing to listen to this younger, idyllic version of myself call through all these years to my present self. Larry and I laughed.
“Man, you were pretty nerdy back then,” Larry chuckled.
I softly punched him in the arm. “Aw, shut up. I bet you were just as nerdy, if not more so.”
He smiled, “It was cool to hear you so young. Thanks for letting me listen.”
I smiled back. “Sure thing. And you’re right. I totally was a nerd.”
. . .
I certainly can’t write this whole time about a 17-year-old audio recording of myself and not let you have a listen. I digitized it this weekend and set it to video to include some visual references to the things I mention throughout the recording.
So, in all my second-hand embarrassed for my younger self glory, here is 13-year-old Keiko, fresh from her audio time capsule.