Prior to publication, I showed my handiwork to my wife, Janet, as per my usual practice. I expected her to laugh at the funny bits and praise my superior logic, also as per usual.
Instead, she took longer than usual to reply. And when she did reply, she asked, "Especially now . . . especially with all the people who just died, and all the hatred in the world, and all the people getting ready to go to war . . . why would you want to roll around in the mud with this one reader?"
I was caught off guard. And my initial, profound disappointment at not being patted on the head for being funny gave way to the realization that Janet was right: My response would have been the wrong thing to publish in Listener's November/December 2001 issue.
"But," I replied, "I have to publish this guy's letter. And I can't publish a letter this critical and this unpleasant without some sort of reply in the same issue."
Her response would prove prophetic: "Then think of the nicest thing you can possibly put there, instead of something angry . . . like this." She rattled the printout of my wicked reply.
I went back to my desk and thought really hard: Obviously, the nicest thing anyone could publish in a magazine of any sort would be a picture of a bunny. So I scoured all of my clip-art disks (which is how we did things in those days) and replaced the most vitriolic paragraph of my reply with a photograph of a small, black rabbit with white front paws. And when a couple of other people wrote douchey letters for the same issue, they, too, got images of bunnies. In one of those photos, a bunny lay stretched out next to a basket of colored eggs; I imagine that, when the letter-writer in question saw that picture, all the poison in his system escaped in such a hurry that his head exploded. (Recovering crank though I was, I couldn't help smiling at the thought.) Later in the same issue, I instituted a column, designated an "acid-free zone," called "That's Nice," which I wrote for laughs and credited to a nonexistent writer named Don Nice (footnote 1).
The entire episode was a valuable lesson. One that I immediately set about forgetting.
The farmers and the businessmen
As has happened so many times before, this started out to be a very different column: one that bemoaned audiophile-on-audiophile verbal violence, especially the boundless fuckery of a few sad cases who haunt Stereophile.com and our sibling forums, spending untold hours reading every word we publish, only to proclaim, with the sort of fey ferocity that made Joe Besser a comedy god, the stupidity of all the people who read every word we publishthey and the makers of the products we review, of course.
But in a sudden burst of enlightenment, I changed my mind. The triggering event was seeing a $2 sign on someone's front lawn: a yellow-and-black placard with a silhouette of a motorcycle and the words "LOOK OUT FOR US. PLEASE."
It was the Please that got to me: in my red neck of the woods, signs ordering people to watch out for cyclists, motor- and otherwise, are not uncommon. My response is usually one part empathy, one part Yeah, like you people are so conscientious about traffic laws.
But when I saw the sign that sparked my satori, I looked for the next available left turn, made a big loop, and drove past the house againthis time with my left hand on the wheel and my right hand on my iPhone, clicking away and hoping for a lucky shot. Then I imagined a yellow-and-black sign with a silhouette of a Volkswagen Tiguan and the words "PLEASE WATCH OUT FOR ME: SOMETIMES I TRY TO TAKE PICTURES WHILE I DRIVE."
When I stopped sniggering at that thought, I began to see that warning sign as . . . well, as a warning sign. I realized then that I'd fallen down: I'd begun to think of some audiophiles as nasty, narcissistic, socially inept, cowardly pugilists who detest seeing anyone enjoy the world in a manner different from the way in which they enjoy the world. Just as, on the basis of a relative handful of encounters, I had formed the unshakable opinion that some bikers are dim, inconsiderate, superannuated dirtbags with leather issues.
But now it occurred to me: Most of us just want to go on our way, in the manner that suits us. Thus it bears saying, loudly and, where required, in yellow and black: "DEAR WORLD, EXPEND THE MICROJOULE OF ENERGY REQUIRED FOR THE EFFORT TO AVOID ASSAULTING US. PLEASE."
For my own health, if not that of the industry on which I report, the time has come to ignore assholery in favor of the honorable, laudable, lovable behavior that has typified most of the audiophiles of my acquaintance. Indeed, the first self-professed audiophiles I ever met, most of whom were professors at one of the colleges in the town where I spent my teens, were friendly and knowledgeable and eager to share. I still remember the nice old guy who owned a single enormous Bozak loudspeaker, and who told me all about those speakers, and about Klipschorns and Quads and other exotica. Another guy enthused about Magneplanarsmore exoticawhich he'd seen and heard during a visit to a store in New York City. Audiophiles: tech-savvy and cosmopolitan!
From there, things got only better. I wound up in New York myself, where I met a great many companionable audiophiles. I met some good-hearted, honest, thoroughly music-obsessed retailers, as well. And, although it took a number of years to do so, I came to understand that their own bouts of bad behavior are often triggered by even worse behavior on the part of a maladjusted and typically music-indifferent customer. (A paradox: Nearly 40 years after my first visit to a New Yorkarea audio salon, I can honestly say that the one salesman I've known who has a bit of a larcenous streak was and is the most consistently easygoing person in the field.)
Footnote 1: There actually was a person named Don Nice, but he was a painter, not a writer.