|MAY 1997 Part 1|
|Now that my wife is gone, I have to restrain a particular deep compulsion until she returns: the desire to have pizza every night. Pizza, being my favorite food above all others, is usually reserved for the weekend, and I am already planning ahead to Saturday night's festival of pepperoni. But that doesn't mean I can't have some variant of pizza, the frozen discuses of lard and tomato sauce that choke the freezer at the corner store. I was close today. This close. I realized that the only reason I eat pizza without a thought of the consequences is because it doesn't come with a nutritional label - whereas the pizzas at the store have the whole gruesome story printed neatly. Fat per serving: 1,200 grams. Servings per pizza: 18. And I could eat the whole thing.
Unless I ramped down my gluttony and chose a Pizza for One, which comes in a variety of unsatisfying sizes: Totino's dreadful microwave version, where the sauce tastes like red house paint; Tombstone's version, which has a crust like fried newspapers, and a local brand called Jack's, where the Pizza for One is the size of a manhole cover and has a layer of cheese so thick you need a chain saw to cut a slice.
I looked at them all. But that's all I did. I knew I would have no midweek pizza. My wife had taught me well; I went home and had leftover turkey tacos.
And then, to my astonishment, I fell asleep. Aside from a grim walk around the lake today - cold, cold, windy and cold - I did precious little except gnaw on the splintery bone of worry. For some reason, Wednesdays I get nervous about the show. Or maybe it's Thursday. Whatever: either I was fighting off Sara's cold, or the low-level worry wore me down, like years of exposure to dental X-ray radiation. You know you're tired when you watch two entire episodes of the Simpsons - episodes you know so well you can recite them along with the characters - and you lack the oomph to stand during commercials, but just sit there and let the spots wash over you. So I napped, then played with Jasper - vigorous roughhousing - and left for the station.
On the way back from the walk today we passed Rolf, the Dog in Jail. Rolf is not allowed in the house, which seems unthinkable to me. He's about Jasper's size, and he has to wear a muzzle all day to keep him from barking. It's like having a child and then sewing their mouth shut and keeping them chained to the radiator in the basement. The poor dog barked because he wanted to be with the pack. Next door is Maggie, a golden retriever with the intellectual candlepower of a bowl of oatmeal, and she doesn't get much sport. Across the alley is Winston, a terrier the size of a gravy boat, with an explosive fury for anything that moves; like most little terriers, he is content merely to strut and to judge. None of the beats on the block get the sort of life Jasper gets - attention, companionship, long walks, skull-knocking rumbles with the boss man - and of course he's unaware of how good he has it.
Children, on the other hand, tend to figure it out eventually, or so you hope. Tonight on the air I was mentioned my dad up in Fargo, how he never, ever got colds; just a side note, but I mention him now and then, and my admiration for him. I took a call from a car phone. It's my dad.
He was coming back from a trip (to a casino, of all places; he doesn't gamble, but Auntie Bootsie had apparently dragooned him to go off and patter a few quarters down the throat of a one -armed bandit) and was picking up the station just fine. And he sounded great - if he'd known the signal was reaching from Canada to Nebraska he might have thought twice; he's not one for public speaking. More people probably heard his voice tonight than he's spoken to in his entire life. It was a wonderful moment, and it made my night. I can imagine him picking my voice out of the air out there on the prairie, listening to me play big band records of his generation, and thinking: he turned out okay.
You don't get that from dogs. This morning Jasper put his muzzle on my head and whined softly for a few hours while I dreamed. I had visions of dogs - dogs in suits, driving submarines, walking around, dogs ruling the world. I woke to see a furry face staring at me, and I nearly shrieked: another dog!
It'll be the same until Sara comes home. Until then it's me, the mutt, and the show. And one pizza. Just one.
The things you learn just by throwing your voice and listening for the echoes.
Driving home tonight I listened to my competition: Moose Miller on WCCO, doing a show he called "Radio Hot Dish." WCCO is of course the other big dog in the market, a powerful station with deep, deep roots in Minnesota. (The call letters stand for Washburn Crosby Company, a milling concern; Mr. Washburn apparently owned the land I now own, for the legal documents for my mortgage call this part of town "the Washburn addition.") 'CCO has also squandered its good will with a selection of hacks, blowhards and boring shows. I may be a rambling amateur, but at least I'm not doing the same show as Mr. Moose. His topics: where do you put a note where you're sure your spouse will see it? And: what's your favorite Monty Python bit?
That's radio death, right there. You get people calling up and describing slapstick with bad British accents. ("Heh heh Bringoutcher dead! Remember that? Heh heh. Classic, man.") Mr. Miller declared himself a great fan of the show, yet couldn't remember half the names of the actors, and admitted he didn't know if he saw "Holy Grail" or not. It's like talking legal shows and saying "Perry Mason, eh? I'll have to check that out."
I don't have two stupid topics; I have ten. And that leads to all sorts of revelations, such as this: I was first published in a national magazine at the age of 10, in 1968. This was news to me.
It worked like this: tonight we rambled around the usual topics: the Oddfellows, the Rotarians, and the invention of the skyscraper, and the Zagnut mystery. A while ago I'd been ruminating about lost confections, the Judge Craters of the candy world; a listener later found Zagnuts on a road trip and sent us a pack. Jeremy and I tried them on the air. They were . . . they looked like petrified fish sticks, and you couldn't chew them without getting a hard pebble of ground-down pseudo Butterfinger brittle, dense as a BB, embedded in a molar like a filling. While we were sampling them, Eric from Kinko's in Dinkytown calls to ask what happened to the Marathon bar - prompting the call from a collector of old discontinued food. He filled us on on the Marathon story. (The big bars didn't fit in the vending machines.) But he also noted that he was just paging through an issue of Jack and Jill from 1968, and there in the "Our Readers Write" section was my picture, my name, and a letter. He's going to send it to me. I can't wait. I can't believe the things I learn on this show. I was first published in a national magazine in 1968. Turns out I've been at this for 29 of my 38 years. With time off, of course, for failing geometry and gym class.
Day three of wifelessness; avoided the siren call of the pizza, and instead ate a belly-rending meal at Perkins. Felt so beef-choked at the end of it I clipped the leash to Jasper and went around the lake for a second time, this time a 5:30 walk: a whole different crowd. Hordes of sanctimonious joggers, platoons of indistinguishable yuppies decompressing from a hard day of pointless lawyering. No old folks tottering around with a decrepit spaniel, and few of the lithe night-shift waitresses who rollerblade around in the afternoon. Lots of unhappy dogs who have spent the whole damn day just waiting for someone, for something to do.
Went home, played a little Marathon before I admitted that the game is lousy. Took it off the hard drive. Then the neighbor kid showed up with Poor Rolf, Jasper's doppelganger from down the street, and they had to play. The neighbor kid, always a peculiar sort, has now adopted the Marilyn Manson look. It's not to her benefit. The dogs romped until Rolf exhausted his vocabulary of submission, and they left. I sat stone-faced through a mirthless Seinfeld, then went to work. Now it's one AM and I am, as usual, starving. Time for popcorn and a few more pages of this Tom Swift book I found in Fargo, and started reading last night. Rather, rereading. The note on the flyleaf says I bought it in 1968.
A quick note before bed: I was up early, and up again a little later, and up again: Jasper Dog had a bout of the gackenblurts, and woke me three hours after I'd gone to bed, begging to be let outside. I stood out in the pinking dawn and watched him, half awake, not even certain I was wearing any clothes. We repeated this throughout the morning. Something he ate, no doubt, or a mouthful of creek water. He seems fine now.
It's tempting to anthropomorphize your little earnest friend, particularly when he acts in a way that reminds me of myself. And that's the worst sort of conceit: displaced solipsism, in a way. But on a walk tonight we came across a pack of retrievers and labs, big robust water dogs who were amusing themselves by jumping into the creek to get sticks or balls. Jasper begged to be let off the leash and play, so I let him go. But he doesn't like the water, so he just stayed on the bank, barking, then running furiously up to the dogs when they emerged, trying to get them to play stick or chase. They would have nothing to do with him. They would go back in the water and tussle. Finally, he sat down, dejected, and gave a little howl. I know the feeling. You want to belong. Except when I was a kid watching the other kids play a game, I didn't even try. I'll hand that to Jasper.
Four weeks of radio under my belt now, and it feels just fine. Did a show tonight on pinball, a topic I've been saving for a night when I was tapped and wanted lots of calls. And I got 'em.
Drove home down empty streets, lights shining on wet pavement; very Miami Vice, or would have been, if I hadn't been listening to Mozart.
Rain all day. Rain on the walk, rain on the errands run. Rain. Cold rain, April rain, rain that hasn't heard of May, doesn't know it and can't tell you anything about it. Went to the garden store for decorative rock, some pond stone; stood in the drizzle and thought: this looks right, but it feels wrong. All these flowers, these displays for planting and weeding and decorating your garden, and that all seems far away, some theoretical notion of what life might be like if the scientists' theory about the existence of "Spring" is indeed correct.
There wasn't any pond stone. There were sacks of River Rock. A guy driving a forklift asked if I needed help; he had long stringy hair tucked in a greasy cap, and the sort of moustache you find on guys who still listen to classic rock and make their dog wear a red bandana. I said I wanted pond stone. "It's like river rock, but it's worn smooth."
He frowned. "Never heard of it."
"I bought it here last year. Big bags that said pond stone."
"I've worked her for years, and I've never heard of it."
I thought a moment. "It's probably river rock I want." I paused. "I probably don't know what I'm talking about."
He smiled - a broken grin, as though he chewed on river rock as a pastime. "That's possible," he said, gently.
I bought six bags, and he said he'd forklift them to the gate. Which he did. They're still in my trunk. Tomorrow I do some yard work; tomorrow it's supposed to be sunny and 60. "Spring-like," said the forecast. But not spring.
What an annoying day. Started out bright and kind and sunny, and then around eleven a bullying wind moved in. A big wind, moving like a linebacker through a crowd, shouldering aside the sun. The tulips nearly bent over, bulbs touching the ground; they looked as though they all had food poisoning. With the wind came a surly mob of dark clouds, low-browed, sullen, dirty. If it would rain, fine: I put down ten tons of grass seed yesterday, and a little rain might hold it in place. Otherwise, I just paid to reseed Iowa.
Going around the lake today was a chore - the wind was so strong it felt like running underwater. It made for a dramatic sight, with the lake sploshing up over the shore in great foamy buckets, the waves dark and thick. At one point I found a squashed turtle on the jogging path. Someone had been running along with a piledriver gait and put a boot right dead-center on the poor turtle. Six jets of liquified turtle pooled from the holes in its shell. A little farther down the path there was another shell, but this one was alive. Jasper sniffed it, examined it closely, and- surprise! - the turtle stuck his head out and looked around. Jasper leaped back on spring heels. The turtle decided to return to the lake, with Jasper warily sniffing it all the way; if I hadn't had him on a leash he would have followed the turtle to the bottom of the lake, nose down. He didn't want to leave the spot where the turtle vanished - this was a great mystery of the day, a curiosity unlike any other. Life is fun when you're small and not too bright. One day you think you have it all figured out, and then the next day you meet a horse, and your nightmares are never the same again.
Still reading the Tom Swift book at night, just a few pages to decompress after the show. "The Caves of Nuclear Fire" takes place in Zaire, which is described as a model of African-Belgian cooperation. Modern buildings, broad paved boulevards, an efficient constabulary, air-conditioned hotels. Now, of course, it's hell. But the book was written in 1955, when a number of assumptions were common, such as African progress and continuous exploration of space through whiz-bang technology. Tom Swift, who's about 18, has invented nearly everything by book 25 - hell, he put up a space station in book 6. If they hadn't killed the series he would have been golfing on Pluto by now. The books are plainly written, with a few broad characters (Chow, the Texas-talkin' cook, who says things like Well, Brand My Rockets!) and no mushy girl stuff, but I can understand the appeal to a kid like me: half the story concerned technology, and the other half was a lugubrious mystery where Shadowy Foreign Forces attempted to confound Tom, usually by striking him on the head with a crowbar. (By the end of the series, he had sustained more concussions than an average prizefighter, but he just got smarter and smarter.) This was the world I expected to be there when I got up: a world completely civilized, with rocket ships, moon trips, new elements that provided for personal levitating aircraft, and great respect for people who made a pile of money inventing things.
I feel cheated.
I should also note that Tom not only had his own closed-circuit TV network to communicate with his enterprises, and an apparently limitless amount of money, but he had his own police force to maintain security at his plants. Rocket ships and your own loyal goons: I hope the little nerd knew how lucky he was.
The stout pinkish matron in line at the check out had 28 items. I counted them, because it was a 20-items-or-less lane, and she was taking about an hour to unload her cart. It was an odd assembly of items - baking soda, yogurt, celery. Beets. Manroot; milk. Four gallons. Nothing that could be combined into a recognizable foodstuff. She took them out slowly, regarding each item with a vague half-smile of unexpected irony, as though each were a Proustian cookie that shot her off on some misty reverie of happier days. When the clerk was done toting it up, he looked straight at his computer screen, and surely he saw the line that read 28 ITEMS. Yet he said nothing. Any kind rebuke, he may have feared, would earn a haughty well-I-never from the woman. He said not a word when she handed over a sheaf of coupons, forcing him to retabulate. When the new total appeared, she began to mine in her purse for her checkbook. If they'd sold baseball bats at the checkout line, I would have taken her head clean off her shoulders. Which is why they don't sell baseball bats at the checkout line.
She couldn't have missed the sign that confined this line to 20 or fewer purchases. She had just decided that as long as she was in the 20s, in the general ballpark of a score, it would be fine, and hang the bother to others. It would be nice if there was also a sign informing people that bringing more than 21 items would result in a small, non-lethal yet unpleasant electrical shock, and that loss of bladder control was a possibility.
I was in a hurry. Was she a Confounder - one of the vast network of people whose mission in life, carefully plotted and painstakingly executed, was to get in my way and impede my daily errands? A member of the Confounder's Auxiliary, made up of the wives of high-ranking male Confounders? Or perhaps just a dizzy biddy. I was going to mention this on the air tonight, and I wish I had.
A general air of lassitude held the show down tonight, as it did last night, and I feel bad about this; it's my fault, and I know what the problem is. It's the hours. I miss my wife. I don't like seeing her for a quick gulp at the matrimonial cistern before I fly out the door. As much as I like doing the show - hell, as much as I love it - I miss my wife, and I'm sad when I leave the house. I don't know if this is a temporary thing, or whether we'll get used to it; I almost hope not. I'd kill for 9-11, but that's not going to happen, in either AM or PM.
One guy called off the air tonight and said the show was "weak," and declined to give reasons. You always get those. On the way home, listening to the competition, I was grateful that I do not try to fill the time by doing a British accent for no particular reason. His producer told him that two people had called and requested that he drop the accent. You can't please everyone, but I always have that nagging feeling that the carpers are correct, they're on to something. Of course I instantly got a call from someone who was huge in his praise, but it takes ten of those to offset the phantom carper. Tonight's topics: Heinz 57, Samuel Coleridge, Citizen Kane, the unionization of Oz, the secret pro-silver message of same, KC and the Sunshine Band, and how the International Sauce Competitions won by A-1 may have been an attempt by the inbred monarchies to diffuse military tensions in the Concert of Europe. I'll take that any night.
Beautiful day: sun, warm breezes. The lawn is green and lush. If only it were grass instead of weeds. There's grass, and plenty of it, but I'm in a mood to look for weeds.