Michiana Chronicles: The Jukebox

Sep 30, 2021

The '90s-era "refurbished" jukebox that sits in Andrew Kreider's living room and entertains his cats.
Credit Andrew Kreider

For years, I have wanted to own a jukebox.  You know, one of those rounded, neon-lit rocket ships with names like Wurlitzer.  Or perhaps a glass-topped record machine like the one that the Fonz knows just how to hit on Happy Days.  Something modest, bright and cheerful. 

When I would tell my mother about this, she would laugh.  My mother loves to tell the story of how there was a jukebox in her favorite coffee shop back when she was a student.  She hated it.  Sometimes when she went in for a quiet cup of coffee, she would wander over to the jukebox, look around carefully, then pull the plug from the wall.  She said by the time anyone noticed the machine wasn’t working she had enjoyed her coffee in peace and left again.  No one ever caught her. 

I think my mother’s completely unreasonable hatred of jukeboxes is the reason I never had a jukebox growing up, and also why I so badly needed to fill this gaping void in my life in a sort of mechanical mid-life crisis.  So imagine my excitement a few months ago, when a friend of a friend said they had an old jukebox they were getting rid of.  It didn’t work anymore.  But maybe I’d be interested?  I was overjoyed, and without bothering to ask any questions, I jumped at the opportunity. 

I had no idea what I was getting myself into. 

For what showed up at my door a week later was not the 1950s jukebox from Arnold’s drive-in, or even an old table-top unit from Alley Oop’s in the Pierre Moran Mall.   What I got was a tinted glass, black and chrome 1990s Rock-Ola Mirage 3000X.   Heavier than Zeppelin.  Badder than Bad Company.  Built to handle a hundred CDs, with all the hardware to spin through the catalog, select the correct disc, and blast the chosen tracks through four seriously beefy speakers.  It was designed to sit in the corner of a bar and drown out everything around it with the sheer majesty of Meat Loaf. 

It was so big that when it arrived, it took two people to ease it down the ramp from the back of a box truck and into my garage.  Once it was in the garage, it was too big and too heavy to move into the house.  So there it stayed.  And just like that I was committed to my folly.  Because if I wanted to park my car in the garage this winter, I had to get the machine out of there. 

First of all, I had to deal with the smell.  It became clear that this machine had over the years been the home for many families of mice.  Not only that, but the heavy fiberboard of the case slapped the nose with waves of beer and mildew.   Before I could do anything else, I pulled the insulation out of the bottom, vacuumed up all the mouse pellets, and put a bottle of vinegar in there to start soaking up the odors.  Then, every single ridge and surface had to be gone over with a Q-tip and alcohol.  It was a weirdly satisfying experience to see the pile of blackened Q-tips rising next to a slowly shining cabinet. 

At this point, my children started to express a combination of wonder and concern.  I would send them photos of my progress at odd hours of the day.  The general consensus was simply that this would end up being just another place for the cats to sit, and that I needed a better hobby. 

But on I plunged.  If this baby was going to fit in the house, it needed to lose some weight, and frankly some depth.  All the moving parts had to go - especially since they weren’t moving anyway.  Bolts and screws went in a five-gallon bucket.  Everything else - CD player, miscellaneous struts and arms, cables, power supplies and lightbulbs went in a huge bin for recycling.    Then, I cut the sides down by eight inches so the thing didn’t stick out so far from the wall.  

On and on the work went.  Swapping parts in and out.  Finding things from my basement that I could substitute.  Painting and polishing.  Finally, I was left with a svelte boombox on wheels – no longer playing CDs, but rather Spotify.  It was loud, and all the lights came on; and best of all it fit through the door into the living room.  The cats were thrilled, and immediately sat on it.

When my mother came to visit, I proudly showed her the machine.  We played some Beethoven, and she oohed and aahed over it appropriately.  But secretly, I could tell that she had already spotted where the power cord led.

Next summer, I think I’ll try gardening…

Music: "Paradise by the Dashboard Light" by Meat Loaf