Anyone Can Play Guitar: The Quivering Line Between Consumer and Professional
There was a girl in my circle of college acquaintances named Aubrey; she was a very talented composer and welcoming spirit that could easily fit alongside every human archetype on Earth.
Arguing with her was impossible: shoulder shrug, wide smile and heartland accent were the lethal weapons that made her extremely likable. Born and raised in Colorado, there was no way of stopping memories of home from rolling off her tongue as soon as they entered her mind: grassy hills, snowy winters and especially those majestic Thanksgiving lunches. She spoke so highly of Thanksgiving that one semester, tired of all this cozy bragging, we shamelessly invited ourselves to join the festivities back at her parents’ place. As the stereotypical European fish out of water that I was, I returned home filled with so much food and gratitude that I still call her family every year on that very special occasion. We speak about the weather, football season or whatever hits the news: nothing special, just a routine check that recolors those warm slides in my head. So, last November, much like every year before and since, I phoned in to say “Hey, happy Thanksgiving!,” and after all the usual chit-chats I heard her father saying something that will be etched forever in my brain:
“It’s a shame Marco couldn’t come over, but at least we did Zoom for a bit”.
Enter Larry, silver-haired towering man in his sixties, a beard as long as his neck and shoulders twice the width of mine. Hardened by a lifetime spent in his lumber yard, he was the last person I expected to use the company name of a soft codec as a verb. Bear in mind, my aim is not to detract from his intellectual or social abilities, rather to paint a clear picture of a man you’d more likely picture handling 60-pound logs than sending meeting requests or telling me to “unmute your mic!.” At that moment, I understood how the pandemic pushed our Western world up a hill with no return:
“I mean, there wasn’t really much of a choice,” Larry told me while sitting in his armchair, holding a light beer can in his hands in the way anyone would hold a trembling canary. “When COVID hit I had to find a way to communicate with my customers! So I went to Walmart, got one of those UFO-shaped things that you plug into your PC, and started to video call them. Regular phones are boring, my ear hurts and I’m used to looking people in the eyes when I’m doing business; one big smile often is much more reassuring than any discount I could ever give!”
For a glimpse of a second, all the pride of not-so-many years spent working as an engineer in the ProAV market takes hold of me. I ask if he ever considered reconfiguring his office specifically for these virtual meetings. I start to spout all the technical jargon I can think about: noise reduction, auto-framing, AEC, … I must look like the most boring technical card you can find at any trade show, but I can’t stop. And that’s when I hear one of the most reassuring belly laughs of my life: “What office, kid? The only cubicle I have is my truck!” All the bitter shame I’m feeling shapes my mouth as an awkward grimace:
“… But I know the girls (ns. his wife and second daughter) arranged something really nice somewhere around! With panels on the wall and invisible mics everywhere, it sounds absolutely incredible in there; you can almost hear your own thoughts leaving your brain! Sometimes I sneak in there after work to listen to Waylon Jennings. Next time you come over, definitely ask them to take you there!”
Larry smiles while uttering the last sentence, he won me over without even offering any extra discount: “I mean, it’s no big steak and shake-of-hands, but it’s surely better than nothing!”