Mission: iPossible

With a hot new 20-gig iPod in his hands, our writer goes on a quest to fill it with 6,000 of his favorite songs ... or even Jack Fascinato, Little Milton and The Velvelettes.

I've spent my entire life wondering what my calling was. Three months ago, I found it.

Forty-three and three-quarters of the way into my existence, I discovered my purpose. And while my reason for being may not appear to be as noble as solving world hunger or curing a seemingly incurable disease or being like, really good at Scattegories, my mission is nevertheless valiant and ambitious.

My direction is defined. My path is clear. I will not rest until I've filled my iPod with 6,000 songs.

My life will have no meaning until my iPod has been maximized to its full 20-gigabyte capacity.

As we speak, I'm more than halfway there, having successfully packed it with 3,078 songs. Yet, there's so much more to do.

So many songs. So little time.

I am now, after all, 44.

Trust me when I tell you: 6,000 songs is a lot of songs. If the Michael Stanley Band released a new song every time they had a reunion concert, it wouldn't come close to 6,000.

Well, it might be close. But it still wouldn't be 6,000.

My world can now be summed up in three life-defining words: Must. Fill. iPod.

My obituary will read: "Man Dead: Father. Husband. iPod-filler."

Welcome to my destiny.

This all started so innocently back in December when I was given an iPod as a holiday gift. If you don't know, MP3 players like my iPod are portable digital audio players. It's the Walkman of the 21st century. With an MP3 player, you customize your own music library by ripping particular songs off CDs or buying individual songs online.

But it's more than that. The iPod has changed the way the world listens to music. It's taken on a life of its own — a pop-culture cult, if you will. With hip ads and a sleek design, iPods rule. Really.

Despite being more expensive, 59 percent of MP3 players are iPods. And 62 percent of all music downloads are from Apple's iTunes music store, even though songs can be downloaded for less elsewhere.

Heck, people don't play full CDs anymore; life's too short to play songs you don't like. Now, it's all about listening to your favorite songs, period. And having all 6,000 of them available at the click of a little circular dial.

If you're even too impatient to find the song you want, you can randomly play a song list or all the songs on "shuffle." It's like having your own personal radio station — without Bob Serpentini telling you he's American and proud of it.

In fact, the real cultural divide in America is not Red States vs. Blue States, it's iPod people vs. everyone else.

And then, there's me.

When I got mine, I was excited about the prospect of bringing new technology into my life after having recently mastered the electric can opener, the digital thermometer and the three-way light bulb.

I envisioned myself walking through Tower City listening to Bob Dylan or sitting in Starbucks with Joni Mitchell in my ear or cranking some Dokken at the kitchen table so I wouldn't have to hear my wife ask me whether I liked the plaid curtains or the striped ones.

And so, I embraced my iPod. Little did I know this small white rectangle would take over my life.

Me filling my iPod with 6,000 songs is no different than the adventurer climbing the mountain "because it was there." Even though he really probably climbed it because his wife kept asking him whether he liked the plaid curtains or the striped ones.

I now have a fulfilling life maxing out my iPod. And trust me when I tell you: Finding 6,000 is truly a life's work.

The first week I got my iPod, I downloaded our entire home music collection. The successful transfer of "Kidz Bop 4," "Now That's What I Call Music 16" and "The Best of Raffi" meant my iPod was nearly .015 percent filled.

Being a patient man, I immediately began to map out a detailed plan for a series of random break-ins at FYE's across Northeast Ohio. Then, divine intervention walked into the room: my son.

"Hey, Dad," he said. "I need to go to the library so I can pick out an autobiography for my report."

My God, the genius we've raised. The library. Of course! The library has CDs. The library is free. I need a lot of songs. A lot of songs times zero dollars equals my price range.

"Excellent idea, young man," I said. "Let's pay a visit to our local library for a rich, fulfilling, educational experience."

"Who are you and what have you done to my father?" he asked.

When we got there, I was amazed. "Holy, cow," I said. "Will you look at all these books. Who knew?"

As he went off on his way, I approached the woman at the front desk. "So, hypothetically, how many CDs can someone take out of this fine establishment at one time?" I asked.

"There's no limit," she replied.

"Excuse me?"

"You can take out as many CDs as you'd like."

"So by 'no limit,' do you mean 'no limit?' " I asked, just to be sure.

"What I mean is, you can borrow as many as you want."

"That's CD-lightful," I said.

"Next in line," she said.

I took out 41 CDs that day.

I only took 41 because I didn't want to draw attention to the fact I might be taking their CDs and putting them on my iPod. I stopped at 41 because I thought 42 would be obvious.

I was very discriminating in my choices, too: Springsteen, Elvis Costello, Neil Young. Only my favorites.

I took my 41 CDs home and, soon, I had 688 songs on my iPod.

Grueling? Maybe not. But you try opening 41 CD cases, freeing the disc from its plastic thingy, popping open the CD drive, inserting the disc, clicking-clicking-clicking with the mouse, popping open the CD drive, replacing the CD. Open. Free. Pop. Insert. Click. Pop. Replace. Forty-one times.

The lengths a cheapskate will go to steal nearly 700 songs. With more than 5,300 songs to go, I decided I'd be a bit more open-minded in my selections when I went back to the library the next day.

And while it's true that the Little River Band, the Commodores and Dwight Yoakam aren't at the top of my favorite-artists list, hey, you never know.

Open. Free. Pop. Insert. Click. Pop. Replace. By the end of Day 2, I had 1,147 songs.

I could even name 11 or 12 of them. Not that it mattered. Because this had nothing to do with the music anymore. This was about volume.

At the conclusion of Librarygate Day 3, I was familiar with the musical stylings of Jack Fascinato, Irma Thomas, Jay Wiggins, the Joe Bucci Trio, Little Milton and The Velvelettes.

Jack Fascinato could be standing 2 feet in front of me and I wouldn't know it. But he's on my iPod.

By Day 4, my music criteria had been reduced to this: If it was round and shiny and it came in a thin square plastic box, I took it.

As I brought my two baskets full of CDs to the checkout desk, I saw the same woman who had been there for the last two days. She didn't make eye contact with me.

"Will that be all today?" she asked.

"Um, I think so," I said.

The way she was taking the CDs out of their giant plastic security sleeves and slamming them down on the desk had me thinking she was either going to turn me in to the library police or she was going to do something extremely violent to me with a bookmark.

I felt I had to say something to ease the tension.

"Hey, I like your glasses," I said. "And in case you're wondering, I'm not taking out all these CDs and putting them on my iPod."

Oddly, she gave me the exact same look my wife gives me when I say something that irritates her. Usually something like, "Hi honey, I'm home."

"Sir, if you could bring these back on Saturday, I'd appreciate it," said the librarian.

"Actually, I can bring them back tomorrow, not a problem."

"Actually, I work tomorrow, sir," she replied. "But I don't work on Saturday. Like I said, if you could bring these back on Saturday so I don't have to check that all the CDs are in the right case and then put them all back in their giant plastic security sleeves and then stock them back in their proper categories on the shelves like I've done for the last two days, I'd appreciate it."

"I understand," I said. "Now just put down the paperclip. Everything's going to be fine."

"Have a nice evening sir," she said. "And enjoy not putting these CDs on your iPod."

On Day 5, I returned my CDs to the library and quickly left, partly because I was afraid. But mostly because I had taken out virtually every CD except "28 Irish Pub Songs," "The Two Sides of Leonard Nimoy" and "28 More Irish Pub Songs," which I think were the same 28 songs that were on the other one, but everyone was too drunk to notice.

According to my iPod, I've now imported 8.1 continuous days of music.

Which means if I ever get stuck on a deserted island, I'll only have to listen to "Delta Dawn" three times a month. Maybe four.

So now, here I sit, three months later, wondering how and when I'll complete my destiny. Where will the remaining 2,922 songs come from? Will I ever complete my task?

Must. Fill. iPod. But how?

Hmm, my son was a genius. Maybe my wife will have an idea, too.

"Hey honey," I said. "I've got a question for you."

"Me first," she said. "So do you like the green rug for the dining room or the navy blue?"

Amazingly, it was at that exact moment I realized that along with filling my iPod, I was also put on this earth to go climb a mountain. Immediately.

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