Past Blast: Zen and the Art of the CD Shelf

Mushroom CloudEditor’s note: This is the first in a series of posts from my old web sites and blogs brought back to life for your reading enjoyment.  I call the series “Past Blast.”
Post originally published on probably sometime in 2000.

I am a married male working at a government job from 7:30 until 4:15 Monday through Friday. I realize that may not be the hippest music connoisseur profile on the web, but I could care less. I do what I do here because I enjoy it and even tend to think that I am somewhat good at it. Sometimes, just to get out of my element I even get the hell off of the Internet and work on projects that are actually good for my soul. On a recent September weekend, I produced enough good karma for myself, my grandchildren, and probably yours.

As one can tell by spending any time on this site, I am an enthusiastic collector of compact discs. If I am not buying them, I am making my own from the nemesis of Metallica, Napster. I have yet to copy a commercially available album of songs from any artist, although I have managed to come up with some fantastic “best of” compilations of my own. I make the compilations myself because the record companies fail to get with the program and realize that the choice is important in a capitalistic society. (I might as well add to my unhipness and state that I am also a strong capitalist who pays off my credit cards each month.) In fact, realize that harvesting this music for free has big consequences in several different areas. Will Bruce Springsteen and Van Halen (David Lee Roth years only, Hagar ruined them) survive the loss of the $1 royalty check they may have received from buying their scattershot and incomplete “best of’s?” Probably. On the other hand, my two bedroom rental townhouse is truly suffering.

My entire CD collection is contained in one corner of my living room. It resembles some sort of a cubist version of media storage. It is made up of three separate “modules” composed of particle board, plywood and dowels. No, it is not that aesthetically pleasing — cubist fan or not. It is actually more appropriate to call it a “junky hodgepodge” than cubist. It is also terribly difficult to find CD’s in the dimly lit corner. Since part of the enjoyment of having a large CD collection is scanning the collection and congratulating oneself on having such fantastic taste, there is a definite need to have a good view of its contents.

Over an entire summer, I would stare at that corner of my living room and wonder what I could do with that mass of shiny plastic in need of a good home. Sick of wondering, I employed the use of my tape measure and my imagination to come up with several ideas. I bounced each one off of my wife and she seemed quite unimpressed with all of them. (OK, maybe she was impressed, just too busy partaking in here terribly unhip hobby of sewing to show it. “Birds of a feather” you know…) Finally, I began putting my ideas down on paper. I made a reconnaissance trip to the Home Depot to check on lumber prices and get my bearings.

I am not a stranger to working with wood. As a kid, I built houses — ahem, FORTS — for my gun toting, grenade tossing, G.I. Joe battle force. In my college years, I worked for the government monster “the Department of Housing and Urban Development.” The summers at HUD found me shoveling sand (I still talk about the biceps I had back then), hanging sheet rock, and framing houses. Granted, those projects were all supervised by somewhat experienced carpenters and on a much larger scale than the project I was looking to tackle. However, I suppose that experience and an overall can-do attitude made me think I could make a CD shelf worthy of significant praise, including that of my wife.

Then, the perfect opportunity arose. My wife would be spending two consecutive weekends away from home and I would be able to drink lots of expensive beer, eat all sorts of extravagant meats like sausage, lamb and pork, and turn the downstairs into a makeshift woodshop. I had the timeline and now the only thing I needed was a blueprint. Calling on my 9th grade shop class experience, I put the teachings of our one-week chapter on architectural drawing to good use.

First came the rough sketch of the ideas that had been bouncing around in my head all summer long. I settled on the most basic yet modifiable design. It would be a tall and wide 10-12 shelf affair, made of a pleasing light colored wood to match our Mexican-made pine furniture. It was simple and just what I needed, with a little room to grow. Calculating the lengths and widths of CD’s, I came up with the exact dimensions that I would need for the shelves. Over a particularly good couple of bottles of Virginia’s own Dominion Lager, I produced the scale blueprint of the shelf the night before my wife left. Amidst a couple of bulging suitcases she commented on the blueprints and said something about it being too tall. I tried in vain to make her believe the comment was completely unfounded. I went back and measured again, and the shelf indeed would have been an inch taller than the arced corner of the entertainment center. Damned arcs. I modified my design by removing a couple of shelves and widened the entire structure to account for the storage loss. Finally, my plan was ready and all there was to do was dream of the weekend.

My wife left on Friday and I spent most of Friday night compiling a shopping list, burning CD’s and entertaining the idea of buying a new circular saw. I just could not see the fun in sawing each shelf by hand. I killed a few beers, listened to a couple of my U2 B-sides compilations and readied myself for a Saturday morning buying adventure at the Home Depot. That night, I dreamed of lumber.

My Saturday morning trip was really uneventful. My cost calculations were correct on the lumber within $0.50 of the actual price. I threw in a $60 circular saw and a $5 square to aid in the construction. The rest of Saturday was spent watching the Nebraska Cornhuskers defend their #1 status against an under ranked Notre Dame football team and eating delivery pizza. Saturday also saw quite possibly the most important turn of events in building the shelf come into play. My older brother, [Scampwalker], was lucky enough to come into town for business and have the entire weekend free. In return for a nice, rare ribeye, he agreed to assist me in the construction of the shelf.

Extra set of eyes and hands on board, we began the shelf on Sunday morning and worked for a couple of hours measuring and pre-cutting some of the wood. By the time lunchtime came around, we had the outer frame complete. After lunch, we added the shelves and finished off the back. After about four solid hours of work, we were staring rather dumbfounded at a nicely constructed, 720 capacity, poplar, CD shelf. Best thing was, there is not another one like it in the world. The angles were straight, and the design was completely original. To top it all off, it cost less than a smaller capacity, particle board shelf from Ikea and I had a shiny new power saw to boot. The feelings of pride and accomplishment were inexplicable.

For dinner, we grilled steaks and positioned ourselves in front of the entertainment center to watch that Sunday’s last football game. Right beside the TV stood my new CD shelf — my pride and joy. During the football game, I’ll admit that most of my attention was directed at the shelf. Well, maybe the shelf and the beef shared the limelight. My storage problem was solved. If only Metallica could have their problems vanquished so easily…

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