The Biggest Headphones Ever

In the house I rented on Summit Avenue off the UW Milwaukee campus I had very little in the way of furniture. I think I had a pair of boxes that had dividers in them that I set on their side and served as my food storage shelvesand a little fridge.


I also had a dresser that was left behind by a former tenant, a small desk and a old grubby carpet on the cold wooden floor.

There was a small closet that was barely deep enough for a hanger as it was sharing plumbing space with the bathroom,  and at least half of the room was high enough to stand up in, the rest was a dangerous sloped ceiling that I often smacked my head into. Note the ceiling slope covered about half the room. I put my bed under it to maximize the useable space. You can see the ceiling monster in this shot.


I also had a bed that was an air mattress I inflated each night (often multiple times a night). I laid the mattress on top of a layer of banana boxes like this one


that I carried home from my shift at East Side Foods over several days. This got the bed off the floor. It was not great. When the air mattress lost air I ended up laying on the corners of the boxes. Many nights were spent tossing and turning, waking up and pumping more air into the mattress and waking up freezing with a broken back. I will never turn down a good soft bed after that torture device.

Prominent in this picture is the water heater that I huddled against in the cold winter months, melting on one side and freezing on the other, my tiny window, and the round wicker chair that was my alternative to the floor or the desk chair.


You can see my mac & cheese and Rasin Life cereal in the background. Staples of my existence.

The only other stuff in my room was my stereo rack and speakers, which were so big they doubled as bookshelves for my textbooks.

Sigh. It was my first place I had on my own. I hate to say it, but I loved it.

The other 2 rooms upstairs were rented to students; the owners of the house lived downstairs.

I was always reluctant to play music loud except on occasions we knew the house was empty. Those days were bass all the way up days and we were lucky not to blow our speakers. Normally though music was kept at a landlord pleasing level. When you live in your landlord’s house, you are pretty sensitive to the rules.

My sleep pattern was a mess. On nights I didn’t work I ended up staying awake and had to resort to subliminal levels of sound, or headphones. It was not a great situation. This situation was made even worse when I went to second shift. I was getting home when everyone else was crashing. I spent lots of time with my headphones on. I was out of synch with the world. Music was my solace, but I had to keep it quiet.

One day, on the way home from my shift at East Side Foods I passed a house that had a broken recliner at the curb. It hadn’t been there on my way in to work so I knew it hadn’t been in the elements too long. There were no legs, and the footrest didn’t work, but it looked clean and soft and I enlisted a friend of mine (who was almost asleep) and we carried it to the house, up the stairs, and into my room.

It was a slice of heaven. Just having a new thing to sit on was great, but this chair was soft and comfortable and I even spent a few nights sleeping in it.

The breakthrough came one night when I took my speakers and set them on either side of the chair, jacked up on banana boxes, so that they were level with my ears when I sat in the chair. It looked ridiculous, but I was into solutions not aesthetics. I put on a record and put the volume at about a 2 out of 10 (sorry, not 11) and settled into the chair. The sound, with the speakers inches from my ears sounded loud.

I got up, went into the hallway and listened. You could barely hear anything. This volume wouldn’t bother anyone. I was ecstatic. This would be better than listening on headphones.

I climbed back into my chair and marvelled at how loud it sounded between the speakers, and that I could listen this loud and no one would notice or be bothered. Success!

There were downsides. On days when I was home during the day I had to move the speakers, and if I was in the chair listening and I got up from the chair I couldn’t really hear the music anymore, just like when you take your headphones off. It served its purpose though.

I stayed on in the rented room for a while, but ultimately moved to Brown Deer into the good graces of my mother and commuted by bus for the rest of the time I attended UW Milwaukee.

I had to leave the stuffed chair behind. Goodbye old friend. You are missed.

Though now I have kick-ass headphones AND a house I can play my music in as loud as I want!

Mike circa 1985 is jealous.



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  1. It’s best for a Mom not to know all this when it was freezing, too uncomfortable to sleep. Glad the situation has improved.

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