Author: Jeremy Nathan Marks

Now it’s up to me, ooh, what will be
-Hall & Oates

Jakob’s favorite record was damaged. Every time Daryl Hall would sing about “one less toothbrush hanging in the stand,” the lyric repeated on an endless loop. This was terribly disappointing since Jakob’s life had been shaped by that record. He met his ex-wife at a concert where Daryl Hall stood on stage singing that song mere feet from the two of them. Jakob was on the way to the hospital for the delivery of his first child listening to the single playing on the weekly Top 40. When he left the courthouse after losing custody of that child, Jakob listened to the song on his long drive home. In fact, every time Jakob bought a toothbrush, “She’s Gone” danced across his mind.

And now that record, his personal soundtrack, was stuck on repeat. It was a bad omen.

One Saturday afternoon, lulled by nicotine and Stroh’s beer, Jakob had a daydream where people carried tiny record players in their pockets. They walked, strolled, jogged to the sound of their favourite songs. Everyone had a tiny phonograph in their pocket, a turntable connected by string to a pair of cans attached to their ears. Jakob knew that it would be infinitely better to hear your favourite song rather than trying to recall it. Memory was no one’s friend.

For example, on a national gameshow and with a chance to win big money, Jakob, a contestant, had insisted that Daryl Hall’s given name was John, while John Oates’ was Daryl. This had cost him a small fortune. It was terribly disappointing to forget the name of his favourite singer, the front man of his favourite band. His ex-wife had chided him about this for months, her bitterness accelerating the dissolution of their union.

A robin crashing into his apartment window roused Jakob from his reverie. He quickly grabbed a pencil and paper and set to sketching his pocket phonograph. It was such a simple concept, why hadn’t someone thought of this before? If men in horn rimmed glasses and pocket protectors could invent microchips, why couldn’t he, Jakob, invent a portable, microscopic HiFi system? He had taken a computing class in college and was the first among his friends to use a computer at work, so he was set to become an inventor.

For weeks, Jakob laboured over his sketch. He diagrammed a tiny turntable with a needle whose eye not even a camel could pass through. The machine’s rubber mat sat on a petite platter, and beneath the platter was a driver belt made from a tiny hair elastic positioned atop a petite base plate. The entire apparatus would be powered by a single coin cell battery. Jakob reasoned that he did not need to develop a head set, since he had seen some of those on the market (though it did not occur to him why). All he needed was to partner with an inventor who could make the head set plug small enough to connect to his platform, then he would be off to the races.

Jakob’s pocket phonograph was a godsend for him. In recent weeks, he had been without love or companionship of any kind. His house plants had died from neglect, and his beloved hermit crab of four and a half years expired. Jakob had gone to a few discos, but could not bag a broad. A terrific loneliness entered his dreams, where he ended up in bed with his ex-wife who lay there like a dead fish.

But more concerning to Jakob was his toothbrush. One morning, after a night of fitful sleep and sour dreams about conjugal coupling, the toothbrush started speaking to him. Initially, it kept repeating “In the morning there’s one less toothbrush hanging in the stand,” which concerned him less than the fact that he still could not replace his favourite record. Steep child support payments kept Jakob perennially short on cash. To fend off a mounting despair, he interpreted his toothbrush’s words as support for his pocket phonograph project.

But Jakob would never find a buyer for his design and his toothbrush would not stop talking. His pocket phonograph sketches made little sense to the companies that received his letters of inquiry. In laboratories all over the country, designers were already working on a similar project that involved the use of cassettes. One morning, Jakob’s toothbrush tried telling him this. It stopped singing its Hall and Oates lyric and said

Jakob, your wife is with a man who bought her a pony with
money he made from selling something called a TPS-L2 to
a company called Sony. That model is already on the
market. It uses cassette technology. You can buy another
copy of the Hall & Oates single you love so dearly for a
mere fraction of the price you will pay to purchase a 45’.
And for the record, your wife no longer needs your child
support. Get a better lawyer.

But Jakob no longer trusted his toothbrush. During a recent visit to the dentist he had been told that he had better start brushing his teeth. When he insisted that he had a toothbrush and that he brushed every morning and night, the dentist and hygienist did not believe him. His teeth told a different tale. And then it occurred to Jakob that actually he had stopped brushing. All he did was listen to his toothbrush and what good had that done him? His new divorce lawyer cost him more than double the fee of the old one and he was still paying support to his wife.

Could this mean his pocket phonograph project was similarly doomed?