I had the first cassette recorder when I was around 4. It was called Jola 2, a Polish make. I know, I know, Poland and cassette recorders. But hey, it was the peak of the communist era in the Eastern Europe, in very early seventies. We were all actually eating our own dog food.
I still have a very clear recollection of both the actual device and the context which lead to its acquisition. It was a black box with the cassette tray on the left side, with the speaker on the right side (it was an ellipse shaped speaker, I remember how I peaked through the small holes of the black plastic mask and realize the form which has letting the sound out). It also had a transparent radio scale with all the frequencies painted on it. A round knob on the right was moving (by the means of some complicated plastic wheels and thin strings) a small red line on top of that scale, so you know which frequency you were listening to. It was mono, of course, in 1974 having a stereo device would have been extremely difficult. The cassette was manipulated with a line of silver buttons, on top of the tray. One of them would open the tray, while the others were helping you play, record and rewind the tape.
We bought it, (actually, my dad bought it) one summer when we were on vacation at the Black Sea. At that time, Black Sea was a popular destination among other countries in the communist block. Many people from Czechoslovakia, Poland and Yugoslavia were coming along. The political police wasn’t so obvious and many small things were still tolerated. Like a nudist beach in each resort, which, usually, was also the place where a little bit of black market could be seen. I don’t know why the black market was always around the nudist beaches, but this is how it was.
One day we went on a walk, me and my father, to see what was going on at one of these “bissie-nissie” (a covert term for “business” of course) places. I remember that I got chewing gum and I was making bubbles. My father was looking very carefully at all the stuff lined up on black teeshirts on one side of the beach. At some point, he saw a small black box and he asked for the price. He didn’t know any English, and, apparently, the seller didn’t know any English too. But they were waving around hands and fingers and they were also drawing numbers in the sand, erasing them quickly with their feet, once they were sure the other part got it right. My father asked for a short demonstration and the seller put a small thing into the black box, pushed some buttons and, miracle, the black box started to sing. I was amazed.
We went back to our place on the beach and my dad started to talk with my mom. He took a small purse (which was holding the money, I was going to find out soon) and we went back to the bissie-nissie place. This time we went straight to the seller place, which was a small room in one of the hotels lined up on the beach. They started to talk. Again, they didn’t speak any English and the seller native language was very strange (it was Polish). But they were talking like 15 minutes and apparently they were thoroughly enjoying it. They were both smiling and laughing. Twenty years later I learned that what was going on in that room was called negotiation. At some point, my dad took out the money from the purse and put it down. The color of the bills, wrapped up in a moderately big package, was blue. I remember that very clear. The seller wasn’t smiling anymore and he didn’t look quite happy. But as my father was still talking, smiling and waving his hands, the grumpiness on the face of the seller started to fade. The money package was still on the floor. After a few minutes, the seller made a funny face, something that was clearly saying “well, what the heck”, took the money and gave the black box to my father. We walked out of the room with my very first music device. The silver top of it had a strange word, with red letters: Jola 2.
For the next few years, that music device took a very prominent place in my day to day life. Names like ABBA, Boney M and others became common in my vocabulary. I soon learned how to play a cassette, how to record music from the radio, or even from the device’s microphone, starting my own proto-podcast. I was about 5 years old. The audio cassettes were still fragile at that time and the technology of that Jola 2 wasn’t very advanced, so, every once in a while, the tape was stuck inside. I learned how to take out the tape and use a crayon to rewind the tape again inside the cassette. Of course, once the tape was wrinkled, the sound wasn’t that good anymore.
As years went by, the Jola 2 approached its end. At some point, it just stopped working. I had no idea why. But my father took a screwdriver, took out the back side and started to look inside, with just a soldering gun and a lot of patience.
I remember my first encounter with the inside of the cassette recorder. It was so colorful inside, so full of wires and strange shapes that I just couldn’t take my eyes out of it. I stayed near my father and watched how he slowly started to dismantle it, piece by piece, wire by wire. It was obvious he didn’t have any idea about how it’s working. Other than: “this might be the power wires, they must be the power wires. Now, where do they have to go?”. He really had no idea how the whole device was working, but he had an incredible stubborness and patience. After the first few evenings (he was still working all day and he had time for the “cassette repairing” only late in the evening) I just gave up and went away, finding other ways to fill my time. But my father stood there and he even started to look at the electrical scheme (a huge piece of paper filled with strange symbols).
After a few weeks, in one of those long evenings in which my father was completely immersed inside the cassette recorder (sometimes Â felt like he was literally inside that box, eaten up by those colored wires and shapes, melting inside the delicate electrical engines) well, one of these nights, I heard music again. I was so surprised that I was looking outside the room. Nope, it wasn’t coming from the inside. My father actually repaired the cassette recorder. It was working again.
I was so shocked that I couldn’t ask my dad how he did it. He just did, and that was all that counted for me. Before he put on the black panel I took a final look at the inside of Jola 2. It was as colorful as I remembered it, but now there were some new things popping up. In some places there were some new wires added, while in others there was something resembling to metal stitches. It was changed, that’s for sure. But it worked again.
After Jola 2 I also had a Kashtan, a Russian magnetophone on which I listened to rock music for the first time, but that’s another story.
The Business Approach
Around the age of 30, after I was rambling around, doing pretty much nothing with my life, I decided to become a business man. I started from scratch an online publishing company, which at its peak was the third player in the market. After 10 years, I sold it for a profit.
Starting it, making it work and then growing it wasn’t easy at all. But as I grew, both in terms of experience and lucidity, I started to realize something. It was related to my first cassette recorder, of course.
First: the negotiation in that room was something extremely important. If you go out and ask every business man which is the most powerful tool in a negotiation, they will always tell you: “cash”. Cash is king. As a four year old kid I had absolutely no idea about it, of course. But I did recall the strange discussion between my dad and the Polish seller. As I was going to find out soon, in my own business, each negotiation is the same: both parties are just talking in their own language. There is seldom a real communication between them (that’s why my father and that guy were able to understand each other, although they didn’t speak each other language). But the moment my dad put the money package on the floor, everything changed. In a few minutes, the other guy made that funny face, like “well, what the heck”, took the money and gave us the device. In other terms, we closed the deal.
I used this, unconsciously, in many deals as a business man. To this very moment, for me, cash is the most powerful tool in a negotiation.
Second, it was the “breaking up” moment. The moment the cassette recorder stopped to work. As a business man, I experienced a lot of crisis. Sometimes it was a cash crisis, sometimes it was a market crisis, sometimes it was all of that and even more. And each time I had a crisis, I also applied unconsciously the same approach as my father. Took up the back panel, dive into it without any knowledge of the problem, but with an iron like desire to make it work again. Studied the causes, did a lot of trial and error, sometimes drastically modifying the inside of the music box, but, after a certain period of time, the music was on again. I think you may call this discipline and stubborness. Without it, I highly doubt that any business can advance.
The Selective Recollection
We tend to select from our past the supporting memories. I’m sure there were a lot of details to be remembered from both the negotiation part and the breaking up of the device. I’m sure I could’ve remember the hotel room paintings or the color of the carpet (since I did remember the color of money package) or even the face of the Polish seller. I’m also sure that I could remember the shape of the table at which my father sat while he tried to fix the Jola 2.
But nope. I did remember what I needed to. Which is another way of saying that we have all the resources we need. We literally have access to an endless reservoir of inspiring and supporting examples in our own lives.
Each and every situation in our lives carries the seeds of something important. Just be aware and look carefully.
I guarantee that if you do it, the music will never stop.