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Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Radioshack Post-Mortem

It was the most magical part of my childhood. I was constantly buying parts and equipment there from the time I was 6 years old until almost up to the day I emigrated out of America.

The only thing that made me happier than buying stuff at RadioShack was buying books.

That was a different America with a vastly different future than the one you see now. It was a country full of engineers building things and Americans included children from a young age in the cycle of learning by doing. RadioShack was all about selling them the tools they needed to get stuck into the thick of it long before they graduated high school.

I loved crystal radios so much I built dozens of them, including ones that worked off a razor blade and a piece of pencil lead in place of the diode. It was a blast and I listened every single night after I was supposed to be in bed. It felt like I was connected to a much larger world after sundown with my eyes closed in the darkness of my room. I would walk through signals on shortwave from all over the planet until CBS RADIO MYSTERY THEATRE came on. It was absolute magic. I enjoyed those radio shows more than anything I ever saw on television or at the movies.

Every time I bought a handful of parts I would leave it up in the air what to build with them. It might be a rain detector or a burglar alarm, a radio controlled robot that could turn left or right, a candy dispenser or a Simon matching game with LEDs. I can remember how much patience I learned when it didn't necessarily work correctly the first time. I would painstakingly review the circuit diagram I had used until I uncovered my error. When you hit the power after finding and fixing that bug there is a surge of reward in your veins when it begins functioning.

I didn't know as a child that the declining value of the dollar, runaway inflation and going off the gold standard was draining the country dry. I didn't know that when I grew up, America would no longer be a meritocracy or a society that rewarded discipline and mastery of these subjects. All the industries were being forced overseas and the tax system was killing the middle class. By the time I was full grown the rot and decay had been endemic a long, long time. Kids like me were an amusing novelty. Kids who could think and solve problems, fix stuff and make things better were rapidly becoming less desirable than criminals, thieves and embezzlers. They had slowly been made obsolete. Virtuous people in general, people with self-control, were increasingly viewed as troublemaking nerds and weirdos who could not be counted upon to do what was expected. Integrity and quality was on its way out. The dollar was hollow and false, pretend money for a pretend country.

I remember getting to my first duty assignment in the Army over in Germany and having trouble understanding how the soldiers and non-commissioned officers could openly deal and use drugs right in plain sight, the hard stuff, without anyone arresting them. It seemed like a topsy-turvy world where right was wrong, wrong was right and sanity was considered a character defect. I also began to realise shortly after going into the military that these people were the norm now and I was the defective cog in the machine. The U.S. Army is the pulse of the latest generation and I could see at once that these other kids had childhoods that were nothing like my own. Most of them were methamphetamine-fueled vulgar and destructive people who cursed God as naturally as yawning.

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