An Unexpected Return to the Dungeon

An Unexpected Return to the Dungeon

Written by Tom Gibbs

When I last checked in (in Issue 170), most aspects of my upcoming move to South Carolina were still in complete flux. To say that the entire experience has been a roller-coaster ride is the understatement of the year! Our house went on the market as planned in late August, and amazingly, we received multiple offers over the asking price – everything was looking like roses again with our second home sale in five years. Then the wheels came off.

Our first offer fell through after only a couple of days; the interested party discovered that he was being transferred out-of-state by his employer. We then accepted the second offer, and they were also initially really jazzed, but they pulled out after a day – one of them was having doubts. Hopefully the third offer would be the charm, and it definitely appeared to be. The third couple was hyper-enthusiastic, and requested another walk-through of the home, where they gushed over every detail and waxed poetically over how they were going to transform it into the palace of their dreams. We had a confirmed closing date with no due diligence and $25,000 in earnest money – it seemed too good to be true!

We basically had the whole house packed, and I’d cleared and disassembled all the patio furniture and outdoor accoutrements in advance of the movers showing up, so we left for South Carolina to try and find a new home. A week later, and after having looked at countless homes, we still hadn’t made an offer on one. We went over to South Carolina with a list of about ten available homes we were interested in, but by the time we arrived, half of them were already sold, and the remainder were under contract before we could even see them. We couldn’t find anything that served any of our needs or wasn’t way out in the boonies, so we headed back to Georgia not knowing what our next move would be.

A couple of days later, our real estate agent in South Carolina called us; a new-construction home was available in our target area and in our price range. The only problem was that it wouldn’t be completed until late November. We signed a contract sight unseen, and I made arrangements for movers and storage units. Later that day, I got a phone call from a representative of the builder, Lennar, and there was even better news – it was the end of their fiscal year, and the home was eligible for a $50,000 price reduction. I couldn’t believe our luck, and we were ready to shift the move to South Carolina into high gear.

The next week, our real estate agent in Georgia called us; the deal for the sale of our home had fallen through again. Our best option was to put our house back on the market. My heart sank at the news, and at our realtor’s request, we had to unpack and set up everything indoors again for another open house the upcoming weekend. I dragged all the patio furniture around, reassembled it, and set everything up again outdoors. I had to cancel the movers, which cost us $250 in cancellation fees, and I was already paying $600/month for empty storage units in South Carolina. It was a disheartening and seriously unpleasant experience. My wife and I broke out the Jack Daniels and basically got totally sloggered – we were beyond depressed.

Fortunately that only lasted a day; interested couple number three figured out how to make the deal happen, and by October 5 we had closed on our home sale. The only negative was we had to be out in seven days, and we had nowhere to go! I was able to make new arrangements with the movers, and we spent several days trying to find temporary housing near Charleston until the completion of the new home. That was a complete bust, but in the nick of time, my brother called offering to put us up in his basement until the house was ready for move-in. All our stuff (including all my audio gear) got moved into storage in South Carolina, and we’ve been at my brother’s house for a couple of weeks now. Fortunately, there’s been incredibly good progress on the construction of the new house, and we’re scheduled to move in on Nov. 17.


Lake Arrowhead is a picturesque and idyllic destination…although a little far off the beaten path!


We return to my brother Harold’s basement

Lake Arrowhead (where my brother’s home is located) is built around the largest private freshwater lake in the state of Georgia (650 acres), and is an incredibly scenic and naturally beautiful location. The many vistas of the lake are indeed stunning, and there’s a diverse variety of architecture among the hundreds of homes in this exclusive gated community. It’s a highly desirable location to build a home, and its many available amenities only add to its appeal. That said, it’s way the freak in the middle of nowhere, and you have to drive 30 minutes or more just to get a decent cup of coffee. And god help you if you require emergency medical care – I’d worry about dying on the way to the hospital.

When we last stayed in Harold’s basement, we were there for nine long months, but I was cheered by the prospect that we would only need to crash there for six-or-so weeks this time. That would be totally doable, right? I obviously underestimated my brother’s capacity to indirectly make our lives more miserable than they already were! Harold is Harvard-educated, extremely well-traveled, and, well, has this need to constantly remind you how well-educated and well-traveled he is. He basically knows everything – or at least, thinks he knows everything. And his knack for constantly, insufferably regaling you with tales of his travels, experiences, and philosophies on life can get excessively tiresome at times.

Here’s an example: on a recent night, Beth was cooking dinner for all of us, and I was in the kitchen acting as the sous chef and cleaning as she cooked. Harold and his wife Pam were in the adjacent living room; there’s a partial wall that separates the two spaces, and a television is mounted on that wall that faces into the living room. While I was standing at the sink washing dishes, Harold began to offer a lengthy and detailed plot summary of the show they were watching. He does this often, whether he’s asked to or not, generally while the program is running. And the vocal volume of his delivery will generally obscure any dialogue that might be ongoing on the TV screen (I’m fairly certain he’s nearly deaf). From my vantage point at the sink, I couldn’t see the television and had no idea what they were watching. But when I looked up to see what Pam’s reaction was to Harold’s unsolicited diatribe, she wasn’t even there! I then shifted my gaze to Harold, who’s looking directly at me, and I then realized, his rampant vocalization was  intended for me. And not only did I not even know what he was watching – I also couldn’t even see that he was.

It’s been almost unbearable; the most common hand gesture between my wife Beth and myself for the last couple of weeks is the one where you make your hand into a pistol and mimic capping yourself in the head. Yes, it’s drastic, and yes, I realize that Harold and his wife have essentially quarantined themselves up here at Lake Arrowhead for the duration of the pandemic. And he can’t get enough of the human interaction we’re currently providing. Five years ago during our nine-month stay, we almost lovingly referred to the basement as “The Dungeon.” Now, it’s morphed into something much more sinister; more like the caverns of Khazad-dûm within the Mines of Moria from Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. At any moment, I almost expect a Balrog of Morgoth to emerge from the darkness and engulf us both in a tempest of shadow and flame!


Wintry skies begin to close in on Lake Arrowhead, greatly increasing our urgency to get out of here!


It hasn’t been an absolute, complete, total loss during our stay; I actually have made a couple of interesting “audio ripping” discoveries concerning DVD-Audio discs and BD+ discs in my time here. My brother’s Oppo universal disc player died a while back, and I’ve been able to greatly impress him with my knowledge of ripping DVD-Audio discs, which has allowed him to enjoy the multichannel content of his collection again. And I’ve been able to adequately research and master cracking the BD+ (Blu-ray disc plus) code, which has allowed the extraction of high-resolution music files from that nearly impenetrable technology (very exciting!). More on that in an upcoming installment in a couple of weeks.

But for the most part, Beth and I are constantly searching for excuses to get in the car and be gone from here for hours at a time. “We’re going to look for window treatments for the new house,” or “we need to go Target and look for bedding and linens.” Any excuse to get out of the house! We’re leaving in a few days to check on the progress of the new home, which is blessedly far ahead of schedule. And to also help my daughter for a few days with my grandkids while my son-in-law is away on one of his acting gigs – he has a recurring role in an upcoming series that’s filming for Apple TV in Savannah. We’ll be gone for five days, then back here for another five days, then off to Charleston for good!

The new home has brought some interesting changes to my future audio plans

While my initial decision was to try and incorporate the audio setup at the new home into more of a shared, communal environment, that has now significantly changed. The new house has an expansive bonus room suite on the second level, which my wife has graciously given to me exclusively for audio purposes. It has two rooms that I’ll use to set up two distinct systems; the larger one will focus on my digitally-based audio setup, with the Magneplanars, PS Audio gear, and Gustard and Euphony Audio digital front-end. The second, smaller room will focus on an all-analog setup, with the KLH Model Five loudspeakers, my PrimaLuna EVO 300 tube integrated amplifier, and my Pro-Ject turntable with Hana cartridge and Musical Surroundings phono preamp and linear power supply. It’s gonna be pretty elegant, to say the least!


The new home near Charleston is rapidly progressing.


The new audio suite also features two generously-proportioned storage rooms, which will provide easy accessibility for all digital discs and LPs as well as plenty of room for audio equipment boxes. It’s a move in a totally different direction from what I had been imagining for the last year or so, but I’ve decided to roll with it, so it doesn’t appear that I’ll be downsizing my audio system anytime soon. When I eventually keel over, my kids will have to sort through all the discs and gear and decide whether they’re just tossing it all in a dumpster, or whatever!

Fortunately, I am now retired, and recently got my first Social Security and pension checks, so the day job will no longer be a source of constant interference with my audio pursuits. I’ll be checking back in from time to time; in a couple of weeks when we actually start moving in, it’ll be pretty hectic at the new place until we get reasonably settled, hopefully by about mid-December. Then I’ll have a monstrous backlog of overdue reviews to focus on.


Last night was one of our last here in the Dungeon, and most likely for forever. I was awakened at 3 a.m. from a very realistic dream; the remnants of Hurricane Nicole were passing through north Georgia, and it was windy and raining outside. The realism of the dream startled me, and as I lay awake in bed, I reflected on it at length. My brain was awash in a myriad of thoughts, and I then did something I’ve never, ever done before: I actually got out of bed, went to my computer, and wrote them down.

This sort of thing has been a regular occurrence with me: I’ll awake in the middle of the night, and have a really profound thought, or will find myself musing about something that I feel ought to be written down for posterity. I’ve never previously gotten out of bed to do this – and whatever thought process was working in my 3 a.m. brain that I felt so urgently needed to be recorded ended up getting buried in my subconscious. But this time was different, and somehow, I dragged myself out of bed and stumbled into the adjacent room to my laptop. I’ve often reflected that this inaction is probably what separates me from joining the ranks of the better writers of the world and will forever doom me to being a second-rate hack: I never seem to stop at the moment and write down the thoughts that desperately need to be preserved. And they’re forever lost into the ether.

I’m no longer a young man; I think most of us at this point in life have fairly frequent thoughts regarding our impending mortality. A few months ago, while I was still employed at RR Donnelley, a lively conversation was going on between my then-coworkers. The topic of the conversation was: “if you could be 17 again, would you?” My immediate response was, “yes, absolutely!” “Why would you want to be 17 again?” one guy asked. “Why would you want to go through all that again?” My response was again immediate: “Because I wouldn’t be 64 anymore!” 

In last night’s very realistic dream, I was at some kind of outdoor event; there were seemingly thousands of people present. I was in my early 20s, as I frequently seem to be in many of my dreams (I’m sure Freud would have something to say about that). At some point, I realized I was in the presence of a young woman who has made regular appearances in my dreams; she’s about my same age in the dream, and is a petite woman of relatively slim build with shoulder-length brunette hair. She has a certain “girl-next-door” wholesome beauty and convivial charm. And I am always very attracted to her, but my dreams that revolve around her are never sexual or erotic in nature. I don’t even know her name; I have never known her name, but I’ve realized that she has made a legion of appearances in my dreams. Usually, as just a peripheral figure in whatever proceedings are going on within my subconscious, but I’ve always found her to be very pleasant company. And she frequently shares insightful thoughts with me about whatever my current condition happens to be.

As the dream proceeded, I walked away from the crowd and entered a room where there was a full-length mirror on one wall. As I stared alone at my younger visage in the mirror, I realized that the door had opened, and the woman had entered the room behind me. I could see her reflection in the mirror. “I’ve been looking for you,” she said. “Yes, I know,” I responded, then turned towards her and said, “I’m really sorry to see you go.” I then reached out with my hand, placed it behind her head, and pulled her close to me for a very brief, but intensely passionate kiss. The shocking realism of the moment greatly startled me, and I quite nearly jumped out of bed!

As I lay awake, my thoughts rambled on about this woman; I can’t even really see her face in my mind at this point, but I realize she’s been a constant presence in many of my dreams over the years. And I don’t even know who she is – and worse, based on my last comment to her, I may never see her again. I found that prospect disappointingly troubling at 3 a.m., but then, my brain started shifting in other directions, and I began to think of her as more of an allegory than anything else in my subconscious. “I’m really sorry to see you go…” perhaps, that’s my brain subconsciously trying to wrap itself around the new chapter of my life that’s currently unfolding, while simultaneously saying goodbye to my old reality. Who knows, I guess time will eventually tell.

Maybe it’s that “Wheel of Life” kind of thing – we’ve all seen the famous illustration where you start out as a baby, then slowly proceed to adulthood, to only just as slowly regress back to being a baby at life’s end. Maybe I’m at that point in life where for whatever reason and despite my old-guy reality, my brain is thinking like a twenty-something again. I probably desperately need to get involved in some kind of therapy!

Until next time, happy listening.


All images courtesy of the author.

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