- or -
turn on the fan
Ten years ago Viv gave me a radio. It's a small AM/FM monaural portable GE model no. 7-2665D, black in color, with analog tuning, and it now sits on a shelf in the bathroom. I have listened to it every day for years.
It has been the emergency radio of the house, serving us during power outages, and during the Northridge earthquake it was our only line on what was going on.
When the Gulf War first broke out and the skies lit up over Baghdad it was that radio that I ran to for the latest. I didn't have cable back then, so when the initial bulletin came over the TV, hungry for live coverage, I literally dove for the radio. In doing so, I broke off the antenna.
I'm not a talk radio fan, and for just plain non-emergency listening the musical options of AM radio really stink. My little radio brings in only one music station now. KLAC.
This station has a clear target audience, with the slogan "The Music Of Your Life." Sure, if your life started in 1902. Do you like to sing along to Pat Boone? Does Englebert Humperdinck do it for ya? Well then come on into my bathroom and croon along with me. I'll be Louis Prima and you be Keely Smith and we'll sing "That Old Black Magic" like there's no tomorrow.
See, the thing is, I can't listen to nothing. I need music while I'm shaving or showering or whatever, otherwise I just think waaaay too much. If all I hear while looking in the mirror is the sound of the razor swishing in the sink water, I doomed. My brain will lock onto how I've got far too much hair coming out of my ears now, or how, if I just move some forehead muscles and tense up my mouth a bit I'll look three times smarter and four times more confident and just plain irresistible to the laaaydehz. That's what you end up calling women if you spend too much undistracted time in the mirror -- your voice gets real low and you say "laaaydehz." Of course, there's no way I could get my face to stay in that position, and if I tried, well, it would start to spasm so much all I'd get is pity for my "condition".
So the other day I come out of the bathroom after a nice shower and a chorus of "Begin The Beguine" and Viv, having heard my little concert, is snickering at me from the kitchen. She points out that this is just one in a series of "old man" behaviors that have crept into my lifestyle lately.
Okay. Fine. I'll give her those. But I'm showing restraint.
* * * * * * *
I discovered radio in the late sixties when I was around ten or eleven years old but, as I mentioned before, my tastes at the time weren't what you'd expect from a kid living in the heyday of L.A. Boss Radio. My station back then was KFI. Fifty-thousand watts of clear channel, it was pure MOR with personality-driven blocks 'round the clock. My afternoons and evenings were spent glued to Jay Lawrence and Dave Hull.
Jay Lawrence had a feature called Uncle Jaybird's Fabulous Fables where listeners submitted humorous stories and if he read yours on the air you'd receive "Uncle Jaybird's Cheap Little Gift". So I wrote one and sent it in and whaddya know, he read it. To sit there in my room and hear my own writing coming out of the radio was trippy. Ever since then I've always enjoyed the thrill of hearing or seeing something I wrote come out of the radio or TV while I'm actually occupying the space in which it was created. It's a uniquely solitary experience.
With my little radio story having aired, it was all I could do to keep from bursting with anticipation about getting "Uncle Jaybird's Cheap Little Gift." It was a treasure shrouded in mystery. There had never been any mention of its nature. I considered what the range of possibilities might be, anything from an autographed 8x10 of Uncle Jaybird Himself, to free tickets to a Dodger game (KFI was doing Dodger baseball back then), to a weekend trip, to fistfuls of cold hard cash. I thought, if I were a dj and had something called a "cheap little gift" it would be my cool little secret to surprise my lucky listeners with something fabulous, that's just the kind of cool radio guy I'd be. And since I thought Uncle Jaybird was pretty cool...
Several days later a small package arrived in the mail. KFI stationery! Was I impressing the mailman, or what! I tore it open.
One inch across, white with pink lettering, it was a button, the kind you pin on, and it read, "Uncle Jaybird's Cheap Little Gift - KFI".
Believe it or not, I was proud. It was, after all, my first payment as a professional writer.
A few months later, I actually got to meet him. See, dj's have to mingle with the Great Unwashed every once in a while to keep that patina of celebrity all shiny, and it so happened that on this one particular Saturday he was going to do his mingling at a local bowling alley. It was a challenge-some-local-bowling-league-yokels kinda publicity thing. And it was about five miles from my house.
I begged my dad to drive me there.
We got to the Wonder Bowl early. I lingered near the entrance hoping to stake out a good spot for viewing his arrival. I was just a kid, after all, and in a crowd my lack of height could be a disadvantage.
"Do you know what he looks like?" my dad asked.
"I'll know him." I offered confidently.
Five minutes later, in he came. I knew it was him. His hair was longish, this was when hair that touched a man's collar was longish. He walked... like a famous person. It was just something about him. Or maybe it was his red pants.
As it turned out, I was the entire welcoming committee. I went up and introduced myself, my words unmemorable compared to my obvious body language of a fawning listener. He was walking fast through the bowling alley now, looking for fans, bowlers, anybody other than this kid nipping at his heels. We got to the other end of the lanes where he finally spotted a handful of his devoted throng all gussied up in their bowling shirts.
And then he did a wonderful thing. He reached into his pocket, pulled out his car keys, and handed them to me.
"Here. Could you go get my bowling ball for me?" he asked.
"Thanks. It's in the trunk. The black Lincoln."
I walked through that bowling alley and into the parking lot on a cloud pinker than the lettering on Uncle Jaybird's Cheap Little Gift. I had the man's car keys, fer cryin'-out-loud. I could steal his car. What trust this man had in me.
I pushed in the key. Turned the lock. Popped the lid open and there it was. Uncle Jaybird's Bowling Ball. I took it out and, pocketing his keys first to make sure I didn't lock them in the trunk thereby causing him to miss his show thereby causing him to get fired thereby changing the very face of L.A Radio, I secured the vehicle and returned to the lanes to complete my mission.
Gliding through the center of the bowling alley, I'm thinking "Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I have his bowling ball, yes, these are his keys, he gave them to me, yes he trusts me, that's right, me..." That was the day I found out I was meant for showbiz. That's also the day I found out that bowling balls are powerfully heavy.
I found him in the middle of a tiny crowd of what appeared to be giggling housewives, no doubt the other 99.9% of his share of drive-time demography, and handed him his ball and keys.
"Thanks." he said.
My work here was done. I'd seen the man, earned his trust, and now it was time for me to move on. There was, after all, material to write for "The Hullaballooer" in the 7-10pm slot.
Sometimes now, when I'm in the bathroom, I'll flip on the radio and hear a song that was played during Uncle Jaybird's reign, and zoom -- I'm back at the Wonder Bowl.
It's a ten-dollar time machine.
"There's No Business Like Show Business" -- The Kirby Stone Four -- THINGS ARE SWINGIN'
Wisdom of the Day:
"When they Begin the Beguine/ It brings back the sound of music so tender/ It brings back a night of tropical splendor/ It brings back a memory ever green."
- Cole Porter