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Nothing notes time passages like a clock radio

Staff "Round Table"

I have been proceeding through the painful stages of grief these past few days. Shock. Denial. Anger. Now I am slowly moving into acceptance.

My clock radio died a few days ago. Actually, the clock still works but the radio is gone -- and what good is a clock radio without the radio?

This wasn't just any clock radio. It was the clock radio I bought at K-mart when I was in third grade -- the very first thing I ever bought with my own money. I remember going to K-mart in my hometown of Boulder the day I bought it with my mom and dad. It was back in the days when K-mart was a great place to shop and the term "big box" hadn't yet entered the lexicon, much less become fighting words. My mom went off to explore the blue-light specials and I went hand-in-hand with my dad straight to the electronics department.

I'd saved my allowance for weeks for a clock radio, which I wanted for the pure ingeniousness of it: a clock and a radio all in one. Who knew life could be so grand? The digital numbers I was looking for would put me technologically ahead of my older brother, whose clock radio had those pre-digital numbers on square blocks that would flip down on one another with a soft click that you could hear if you were near enough.

And -- this part I kept to myself -- the digital display would also solidify my time-telling capabilities. I knew how to tell time, sure I did, but having those numbers right there in all their digital glory -- 3:47 -- would boost my time-telling confidence. "Hey mom, it's 3:47," I would yell down the hallway unsolicited and with not a doubt in my mind.

And the radio! Well, at 8, I certainly was ready to play my own music in my bedroom. It was time for me to be able to get away from it all, tune in to Denver's top-40 KIMN and listen to pop-n-roll while I played with my paper dolls.

After studying the pros and cons of all the clock radios in stock and listening to my dad's advice, I narrowed it down to two. One of the major decisions I had to make that day at K-mart was the color of the digital display: red, or blue. There may have been other options, but those are the only two I remember. After agonizing over a faux-wood paneled model -- Panasonic or something -- with bright blue numbers and a sleek black K-mart brand model with a red display that could be made brighter or dimmer with the flick of a switch on the side, I picked the latter. That dimmer switch was neat and the other one didn't have that option. Plus I liked that it said "K-mart" right in the middle, in between the clock on the left and the radio tuner on the right. K-mart -- we shopped there once a week or so. It was familiar, trusted. A good solid name on a good, solid clock radio. I recall paying $23 for it, but I don't know if my memory serves me right on that or not.

We went home and I cleared off a section of shelf for my new clock radio. I set it there and alternated the brightness of the numbers a few times. I found that I couldn't read the display during the day if I had it on the dim setting due to the glare from my bedroom window. So I set it on bright and left it. And then I grew up.

I was glad I had it on many occasions. Once not long after I got it, our babysitter threatened to call President Nixon if I didn't eat my peas. In tears and fearing the wrath of the President of the United States, I retreated to my room, locked the door and turned my radio on loud.

A couple of years later when I had a bad cold, I was awakened one night by my own cough. I looked across to my clock radio and there was nothing there -- no red numbers staring back at me through the night. I'd gone blind! I was terrified. I groped around my bed and was just beginning to hyperventilate when suddenly the numbers appeared out of nowhere. My eyes had been stuck shut with mucus and had suddenly popped open. I was never so happy to see those red numbers glowing reassuringly from across my room.

In high school, I became much cooler in my musical taste and listened only to KBCO Boulder. I set the "sleep" function on my clock radio each night for 59 minutes and drifted off to Men at Work singing about vegemite sandwiches, A Flock of Seagulls crooning in monotone about running so far away and Prince singing about partying in 1999 -- which was so far away. I awoke each morning to the Eurythmics and Eddy Grant and the Romantics. My adolescence was marked by these quintessential '80s bands speaking to me and my generation through the speaker on my clock radio.

When I went away to college in far-away Portland I packed my clock radio into my boxes and it came, too. I slept in the top bunk of a bunk bed my freshman year, and I nailed a plastic milk crate to the wall so I'd have something to set my clock radio on. Amid all the unfamiliarity surrounding me, my K-mart clock radio was a link to the past, a grip on reality in a new world where everything was strange and a little scary.

My clock radio followed me through six dorm rooms in three years and finally to a house off-campus my senior year. Through it all it was (usually solely) responsible for getting me to class on time after late-night parties, all-night term paper writing sessions and nights when my friends and I stayed up too late discussing everything from Reagan's policies to the cute sophomore from philosophy class.

After college, the alarm on my clock radio woke me each day for my first Real Job.

Four years later, my clock radio traveled across the country with me when I went to graduate school in New York. For three straight weeks in January of that year -- the coldest and snowiest in Syracuse's history -- I awoke to the DJ on the local radio station announcing yet another record-breaking cold day; for 22 days the temperature never rose above 20-below-zero. I had to re-set my alarm for a half-hour earlier than usual because my car was buried under six feet of snow and I had to walk the mile-and-a-half to campus.

After grad school, I ended up back home in Boulder again. I moved in with my parents in the house I grew up in while I did an internship to complete my master's degree. I set up my clock radio on its old shelf in my room where it remained for almost a year.

Soon after, my clock radio came with me when I moved in with my then-boyfriend (now husband) Pete. He had a clock radio, too, and we had a brief argument about whose clock radio to put on our sole bedside table. I won.

My clock radio then became this: the vessel of late-night talk radio. Pete liked to listen to newsy talk programs, claiming that even if he fell asleep during them he absorbed their contents and thus remained up on current events. I scoffed at this notion but he's startled me countless mornings with some prescient comment about the day's news before we even open the newspaper.

And so my clock radio has adorned the bedside table in a series of apartments and rental houses over the past few years, finally coming to rest in the first home we bought here in Hood River. Along the way, its alarm has woken me for memorable occasions and mundane routines. To make it to the airport for exotic trips around the world, and to make it to work six blocks away. It woke me on my wedding day! And on the day I rose early to take my dog to the vet for routine surgery which she never woke up from.

On my birthday each May, I glance at my clock radio when I wake up to check the time; more than once, the red numbers staring back at me have read 7:19, the exact time that I was born.

Over the years Pete has teased me about replacing the clock radio. "Let's get rid of that ancient thing," he says frequently. I adamantly defy him, saying there's no reason to get a new one when this one works just fine. But he and I both know there's more to it than that.

Well, my K-mart clock radio hasn't been working fine lately. The radio started functioning only sporadically a few months back, and quit entirely a few weeks ago. Last week, I awoke one morning to the alarm and went to press the snooze button. The clock read a half-hour later than when the alarm was set for.

Odd, I thought. Maybe I'd pressed snooze a couple of times and didn't realize it. But then it happened the next morning, and the next. Finally last Thursday the alarm never went off at all. The dog woke us up.

With the death of my clock radio, I mourn the passing of many things. My childhood. Walking hand-in-hand with my mom and dad. All the stages of my youth and young adulthood. A time when electronics were built to last for 28 years. K-mart, now fighting for its life in bankruptcy court but a staple of my youth, an institution from what seems now like a far more innocent time.

My K-mart clock radio has been with me longer than most things in my life, its red digital numbers that I picked out so carefully so long ago steadily ticking off the minutes, hours, days and years of my life -- 28 of them out of my nearly 36.

A clock and a radio all in one. Who knew it would be so much more than that?

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