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The Cult of AV

by March 06, 2007

I never meant for any of this to happen... the pain, the suffering.. I thought I was doing the right thing. That I was being a good steward of my money. I had no idea the web of intrigue and lies and… worse that I was opening myself and my family up to. I just had no idea… Me, what’s left of my family, we’re all in hiding. Changed names, altered faces, the whole works. Perhaps they won’t find us this time. Perhaps their spies won’t ferret us out. Perhaps… but I’m getting ahead of myself here…

I was a man, much like any other man, that was interested in doing right by his family. Like you, I imagine, I wasn’t rich. I did alright at my chosen profession (forgive me if I don’t mention it, any clues that I let out could lead them back to me), I paid my bills, saved a little for a rainy day, could purchase a few nice things a year. Probably just like you. But also like you, I’ve learned that spending my hard earned money recklessly was as unfulfilling as it was wasteful. How many times in my youth did I find myself with “extra” cash only to blow it on some useless bauble that left my wallet as empty as my heart? With age and wisdom I learned that it was far better to take your time, decided what you really wanted or needed and then purchase. That way, you ended up spending your money in a way that not only made sense, but left you with the feeling of contentment that no impulse buy could ever do.

And then came the Internet...

Like so many others, I’ve learned that the Internet is two things – a great distraction and a great tool. How many wasted hours have I spent surfing its pages? Uncounted. But at the same time, how much money have I saved by just a few moments of research? Reviews at your fingertips, customer service complaints with a simple search, list of scams and warnings for all the world to see. It is simply the single best tool we consumers have for making our lives easier and our purchases safer. And cheaper! How many items have I found that I’d never have known about if it weren’t for the Internet? How many deals? Sales? Coupons? Alternate products of greater performance for less cost? The Internet can be a wonderful place.

But of course, it is not without its peril. One doesn’t have to wait long before you hear the horror stories, or at least the glimmer of the horror that stalks the Internet. It can be an insidious place full of lurking terrors and skulking monsters waiting for you to say the wrong thing, at the wrong time, to the wrong person. Sometimes it is just a phrase or a word. Sometimes it is simply a question. As it was for me.

“So, I’m thinking of buying a new DVD[1] player. Any suggestions?” I posted to a popular Audio/Video website forum. In come the flood of suggestions, most from a single Internet Direct (ID) manufacturer. At the time, I had no idea that there were ID stores that sold AV equipment. How do you know if you want it? How can you buy something that you need to hear in order to know that you want to buy it? Well, I was quickly informed, such companies will set you up with a local owner for an audition. Seems reasonable to me, and a few emails later and I arrived at the door of a local owner, “Mike.”

Mike seemed to be a pleasant enough guy and took the beer I brought (the suggested “payment”) with a little hesitation. At first I thought he wasn’t a drinker but he quickly cracked two open, handing me one and taking a long pull off the other. Wiping his chin, he pointed me to the living room where he had all his gear set up. Mike seemed to be a good natured guy, sort of thick in an “I spend way too much time in front of the computer” kind of way. His blonde, wavy hair was mussed and a bit straggly. His eyes were gentle but bloodshot as if he were stressed or just hadn’t had enough sleep recently. I had (again at the forum member’s suggestion) brought some of my favorite demo material (I didn’t know what that was until it was suggested that I bring some) and we spent a good hour listening to stuff. Mike’s gear was a mishmash of different stuff – beautifully finished floorstanding speakers, an oversized center channel on a sturdy stand, oddly shaped rear channels with drivers pointing in oblique angles, a stack of amps with glowing blue lights on a rack with rubber bladders between each of the shelves, and, of course, the object in question, the thin, silver, DVD player I had my eye on.

Soon I was impressed enough to be convinced of buying the unit on sound alone but I wanted some input from my host on how well the unit handled. He seemed, hesitant, reluctant to speak. He kept checking his watch and asking if I wanted to listen to anything else. Since I had already extinguished (many times over) all the stuff I had brought, he offered to play some of his stuff. I didn’t really see the point considering I was about as sold on the player as I was going to be. Mike continued playing more and more music, movie clips, and evaluation DVDs until there was a knock on the door. My host practically jumped out of his chair, fumbling his drink. Instead of immediately answering the door, Mike pressed a button on his universal remote which sent into motion a number of different clicks and flashing lights. Apparently the macros was quite complex because it didn’t end until Mike came back with his second guest.

Tall and fair skinned, the stranger shot me a winning smile with his abnormally white teeth. His thick hair was jet black and perfectly groomed with that wet look that only a prodigious amount of gel can provide. He shook my hand as I stood half way out of the recliner that Mike had set up in the sweet spot of his room. As we exchanged pleasantries, I noticed a sort of rhythmic rumble that I felt more than heard. At first I ignored it (or maybe just didn’t notice it) as I told the stranger a bit about my background. But my mind kept wandering, and I had a hard time concentrating. All the while, I was fixated on the stranger’s smile – white, sparkling… his teeth were so perfect… they almost overlapped… intertwined… I was bobbing to the rhythm, now undeniable. Realizing what it was I said, “Mike, I didn’t notice a sub in here before…” The stranger responded, “What do you think that coffee table is?” The last thought that went through my mind was, “Damn, that’s big!”

 

* * * * *

I can’t say I “woke up” because I don’t think I ever slept. But time did pass, quite a bit of time. I’ve tried to recreate it as best as I can from the court documents and testimony of friends. Apparently, when I left Mike’s house, I was a man possessed. I told my wife and child that the demo was “eye-opening” and “inspiring”. I told them that I had a bunch of research to do and that I’d be spending the next few days on the Internet. Those “days” quickly turned into “weeks” and my wife’s deposition says that during that time I barely slept – and then normally at my keyboard. My termination papers from work state that I was dismissed for “dereliction of duties” and “insubordination.” A couple of phone calls to co-workers confirmed that I was spending all my time on AV websites and refused all attempts by friends and superiors to do at the very least a modicum of my assigned duties.

My wife hung in there as long as she could… she didn’t even leave after I got fired. Apparently, when I cashed in all our IRAs, RothIRAs, 401k savings, and the college fund, she reached her breaking point. Every dollar was being spent on AV and she couldn’t stay for that. Retaining a lawyer, she put a freeze on all our accounts and transferred the remaining money to secret accounts. My child, no longer allowed to see me un-chaperoned, is the only one that will speak with me. It was during one of our visitations that I “woke up” unaware of my surroundings or the happenings in the intervening months since my visit with Mike and the mysterious stranger.

Understandably, I was indignant about the current situation with my child and ended up in jail. I called a family friend that reluctantly came to see me only after I assured them that I wasn’t after a loan or for them to visit my new setup (whatever that meant). Hesitantly at first and then with more vigor the story, as they knew it, poured forth. All I had done, all that I had tried to do… the late night calls to police for noise pollution because of my subs (yes, plural), the insistent invitations for demos, the nonstop recommendations for gear… I had made myself a social pariah. No one wanted anything to do with me.

When I served my time (I had no money to pay my bail) I was amazed at what I found. My car was full to the brim with speakers, AV equipment, and subwoofers. Huge glowing capacitors, amps, and other devices of unknown use lined the walls, floors, seats, and trunk of my car. On the new custom carbon fiber dash sat four different remotes. A quick test quickly revealed that I had no hope of ever figuring out the intricacies of the system. It took me a good 10 minutes just to start the car! It was with a sense of dread that I pulled into the driveway of my home, the garage door and house lights automatically activating as I approached.

Inside, I could barely recognize what was once a space devoted to maintaining the lives of three people. Speakers lined every wall, cables littered the corners and crevices of every room. The ceilings were dotted with recessed speakers. The living room/kitchen/greatroom had been completely sealed off. Inside, there were literally thousands of speakers, a projector on each wall, components on individual racks, and the shared wall with the master bedroom was filled with nearly two dozen 15” subwoofers. The master bedroom had been sealed up to be used as the enclosure for the Infinite Baffle sub. In the center of the room was a single chair with a small wooden stand. On that stand was the largest remote that I had ever seen. Every free wall space that wasn’t taken up by speakers, components, amps, screens, and racks was filled with room treatments. Flopping down in the chair I accidentally hit the remote and the same rhythmic pulsing started filling the room. Again my eyelids started to droop and my mind wandered to scenes of hours long listening sessions…

Fighting the hypnotic music, I hit the remote randomly until it shut off. Over the next several hours I unhooked every amp, every component until I felt sure that I would no longer be assaulted with the dreaded sound. In the course of my endeavors, I discovered that my child’s bedroom was packed with a slew of monoblock and multichannel amps running to the speakers in the main room as well and the other speakers in the house. My office had been turned into a storage area for component boxes as had the attic, basement, and a rental unit I discovered later. Searching through my office I learned that I had purchased not some, not most, but ALL of this gear through ID companies. Most of them had fairly liberal return policies but many had expired. I identified the gear that could be returned for a full refund and quickly packed it up and sent it off. Remembering a few of the online auction sites, I quickly started lining up the remaining gear, taking pictures, and placing them in boxes. Many, many sleepless nights later, and I was all done with fully two thirds of my house dedicated to the storage of AV equipment.

It didn’t take me long to realize the extent of my “illness.” As I logged on to different AV sites to list my gear, I found that I was already a member. A member in good standing no less. My posting ratio was incredible. As I looked through my history of posting on each of these sites, I saw a common theme, first I was a new user with a lot of question, next I purported to buy some gear, then I presented a “review”, finally I would start making recommendations to new users. On each site it was the same. Each recommendation was also chillingly similar – Internet Direct only companies. What had come over me? Why was I pretending to be all these different people on these different sites? What was my motive?

I called my wife to inform her that I had changed, that whatever had come over me was gone, and that I wanted to make amends. I told her that I had returned some and listed the rest of my gear to be sold and that I wanted us to work things out. She listened quietly, so quietly that by the end of my tearful plea, I had to ask if she was still on the line. Finally, through a hoarse voice, she told me something that made my legs go weak. My child, my only child, was missing. Apparently, he had been spending more and more time online. She had been getting worried as that was similar behavior that I had exhibited, but then he suddenly gave up the computer and started hanging out with a new friend. She hadn’t met him yet but knew that his name was Mike.

Mike.

Not exactly an uncommon name but something inside of me told me it was the same guy. My wife was still speaking when I hung up the phone. My car was the only thing that still had all the purchases from my months of madness. I just didn’t know enough about car audio to get it out. Plus, from the receipts, it looked like I had it all professionally installed so I guessed my best bet was to sell the car as a whole. Speeding to Mike’s house, all I could think about was my child in the thrall of that devil beat. It wasn’t until I was standing at the door that I realized that my “plan” ended at that moment. I had no weapon, no plan of what to say or do, and most importantly, no real evidence that this Mike was the Mike my son had been seeing. Or even that the Mike he was seeing had anything to do with his disappearance.

I stood there on his stoop for a long time, unsure of what to do. Something told me that my son was in there, that he was in trouble, but with my current status with the law… it was pretty risky for me to be throwing around accusations. Suddenly, the door opened. In front of me loomed the dark stranger, his teeth glowing faintly under his tight-lipped smiled.

“I’ve been expecting you,” his voice was rich and deep, confident and powerful, “please,” he motioned me in, “we’ve much to discuss.” My body felt itchy, cold perspiration seemed to leak from every pore. Every fiber of my being wanted to run, to get away, but I couldn’t. Only this time it wasn’t the mind-bending control of this stranger and his lackey but my love for my child that held sway over me. I stepped into the cool house, unsure of what would happen next.

“So, you’ve decided to sell your system have you?” he queried with a laugh. He didn’t need to see the shock on my face to know it was there. “Oh, we have ways, we have ways. You can’t do anything without us knowing about it!” The door shut and locked with a kind of finality that made me swallow hard and step away from the stranger. The home was different than before, empty. Where once a fairly normal living space had been was now completely devoid. An empty home – with little in it but a couple of chairs, an MP3 player, a headphone amp, and a pair of really nice headphones (I knew because I had just listed a pair for more money than I thought anyone in their right mind should pay for new headphones much less used). The stranger motioned me to one of the chairs. “Let me say, I think it would be a mistake to sell all that gear…” The stranger sat across from me, “You see, having that much gear up for sale at the same times looks… bad. A piece here, a piece there… well that’s just fine. That’s someone upgrading. But a market full of Internet Direct gear makes people wonder about the quality of the gear. Wonder if there are issues. If people aren’t satisfied.” His tone of voice was completely friendly and relaxed but his eyes burned with an intensity that made my mouth go dry.

“Where’s Mike?” I croaked.

“Oh, him? He’s been released. His duty is done.”

“Where’s my child?”

The stranger’s smile grew wide, “Now that… that is a very good question. Do you know what audiophile-nervosa is?” He didn’t wait for a response, “It is a propensity to spend prodigious amounts of money on the pursuit of the “ultimate” sound. I’ve rarely seen a case as acute as yours which made me wonder if it was genetic. Well, there was only one way to find out…” From behind a wall walked my child, earbuds firmly in place and connected to an MP3 player of some kind. Even from this distance I could recognize the same rhythm emanating from my child. Glazed eyes met mine with no real recognition. Lips parted to reveal whiter teeth than I remembered anyone in my family ever having.

“What have you done? My child has no money, you’ll get nothing from him!” I cried.

“Oh, don’t misunderstand me. I have no intentions of monetary gain from your child,” the stranger replied. “You seem to underestimate your genealogical advantages. You were extremely underutilized,” the stranger explained, his dark eyes piercing into mine, “which is why you went so “over the top.” We’ll make no such mistake with your child.”

As if on cue, my child’s eyes lit up, “Dad, hey Dad! You’re here! I’ve got great news. I’ve got a job. I’m going to be working for this Internet Direct company as a beta tester. They send me gear, listen to my feedback… it’ll be great. Isn’t that wonderful news?! They even gave me a great laptop with all these AV sites already bookmarked so I can…”

The look on the stranger’s face confirmed the sinking feeling in my heart. My child was lost to me… for now. As the joy and excitement of the future gushed out of my child, I leaned forward and whispered into the stranger’s ear, “This isn’t over… not by a long shot…

His breath hot on my cheek the stranger retorted airily, “That’s what they all say.”

 

* * * * *

 

My wife didn’t understand… at first. And then people would approach her, knowing things they should never know. We changed our names, our identities. We dyed our hair, wore disguises. Changed everything about ourselves. We travel from town to town, living off the sales of a stash of gear we have stored under a false name. We call our child on occasion. Do our best to convince him that he is under a spell, that he is brainwashed. But it never works. All our child wants to know is where we are, when we can meet. And it is all we can do not to tell. We want to see him so badly. To hold our child again. But we know the truth. Until our child can escape of his own free will there is nothing we can do. I’ve tried over and over to recreate in my mind what brought me out of my own reverie. What broke the spell. But I haven’t figured it out… yet…

 

 


 

[1] Of course, this and other facts have been changed from the original incident to help hide my identity.

 

 

davo posts on March 13, 2007 02:36
Seth=L, post: 255071
I was just having first timers cold feet…, with Ebay. I got a little impatient with the Paypal thing as well, they don't give you any direction, they just assume you will know how to use their stuff.

If I ever get around to using e-bay and I have trouble I know who to pm
Seth=L posts on March 12, 2007 15:22
davo, post: 255024
Read that you had some trouble using E-bay recently, Seth=L?
Ha, just kidding o.k.? Just jokes, man, just jokes. No need to get mad (oops, now I've done it!!)

I was just having first timers cold feet…, with Ebay. I got a little impatient with the Paypal thing as well, they don't give you any direction, they just assume you will know how to use their stuff.
mikeyj92 posts on March 12, 2007 13:08
I enjoyed the tale. Very good. Thanks for sharing.
davo posts on March 12, 2007 10:35
Seth=L, post: 254282
The internet is one of the most advanced tools and the most useful, but one must know how to use it. I have learned from experiances dealing with others and their lack of resourcefullness when it comes to using the internet, it is almost as if they can't use it.

Read that you had some trouble using E-bay recently, Seth=L?
Ha, just kidding o.k.? Just jokes, man, just jokes. No need to get mad (oops, now I've done it!!)

Good story Tom, I always enjoy your little literary excursions. Some times it's quite startling where your imagination takes us. It was your imagination, right?…
Tom Andry posts on March 08, 2007 23:43
Thanks guys, I'm glad you liked it.
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As Associate Editor at Audioholics, Tom promises to the best of his ability to give each review the same amount of attention, consideration, and thoughtfulness as possible and keep his writings free from undue bias and preconceptions. Any indication, either internally or from another, that bias has entered into his review will be immediately investigated. Substantiation of mistakes or bias will be immediately corrected regardless of personal stake, feelings, or ego.

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