|a short story (1987)|
“'Yes! We're just the thing you want to hear,
every morning in your ear….”
Doo-doot. Da doo-doot. He hummed his own verses along with
the theme song. “In
“And this is Bob Edwards for Morning Edition...” Big musical build. “Yes! We're just the thing you want to hear…"
David Gatchell scratched himself and stared at the microphone's windscreen. Made of gray sponge material, it had been at the station longer than Gatchell had been on the air. It was covered with verdigris and was brown where the majority of on-air people had breathed upon it over the years. Once soft and flexible, it now cracked when David prodded it with his fingers. He nearly knocked over his coffee when his hand fell back into his lap.
He turned his head slowly and stiffly to the left. In a separate motion, he lowered his head to look at the daily broadcast log. He fought to focus.
0600:00 Morning Edition (National Public Radio)(live feed) - Cathy Fredericks
0609:30 local weather (live)
Gatchell inhaled deeply, picked up the phone, started to punch in the number to his apartment. Correcting himself, he hit the button, punched in the weather service number. Bob Edwards was dwelling on the exhaustive qualities of the next announcer.
“Fahg. What?” said a decidedly annoyed male voice. Gatchell hung up, swore back, and turned to stare at the card pinned behind him on the cork board. He put the phone in his lap and punched in the right number, looking up at the board and down at the phone for each digit.
The weather service, like all government agencies, had cut back on such nonessentials as maintenance of equipment and replacement tape for their weather line. Updated several times a day, the tapes wore thin quickly. Government accountants quickly located a solution, advising the technicians to turn up the volume on the output. While this did often make the weatherman audible, it also boosted the tape noise to the threshold of pain or, in the case of those with death dealing hangovers - like Gatchell - somewhat beyond that to an area willingly left undisclosed by Dante. After about four seconds listening to an eighty knot wind blowing across a live microphone, Gatchell hung up. It was more than a hangover, he thought. It must be the flu. Holding his head, he looked out the window.
It was still snowing hard, with small epicycles of snow gusts around the building's corners. There was at least fourteen inches of snow on the ground. 'Take a wild stab, Gatchell,’ he muttered, writing down ‘Sunny and mild with highs in the mid to upper 70’s. Light snow by nightfall, followed by carcinogenic ash, gaggles of bel1igerant moths, bad vibes, and meteor showers by morning. Moderate casualties are to be expected.' He changed ‘moderate’ to 'enormous’ and then to ‘just fucking incredible’ and threw it away as the audio cue for his thirty second break started. Gatchell flicked his mike's toggle switch open, potted down the NPR feed, and potted up his own mike.
“Good Morning, Boulder,” he tried to say brightly, but since he hadn’t spoken to anyone - exclusive of grunting at the overnight DJ when he had pounded in a half hour before – the effort was all together too much. Worse, an unpleasant something was now revealed to be vibrating sympathetically against his throat while be talked. Rather than clearing his throat, Gatchell potted up his microphone and lowered his voice to decrease the air flow. He sounded increasingly less an announcer and more a poor imitation of Rod McKuen in heat.
snow today, possibly ending by nightfall,” he shrugged to the empty room, “and
extremely cold. Take care in the mountains,” he ventured uneasily. “Here in
'Lucky there,’ he said to himself. ‘Luckeeeeeee.’
David Gatchell reached over to initial the weather in the log. He stared at Cathy Fredericks’ name. He thought about crossing it out. Then he thought about Cathy Fredericks: her face, her smile, her way with clothing. Her charming laugh. The fact he had never met the woman except on the phone, but the husky voice had caught and held the attention of the more fetid portions of his mind for a period the evening before.
Like all volunteers at KSUT, she could be most ingratiating in an effort to get another volunteer to cover a slot for her. And, in fact, Gatchell had come within an inch of asking her out, her voice having sufficiently filled in all relevant parts to his imagination. But he caught himself in time, an effort concurrently dawning with the realization that he would have to set his alarm for in the morning to make it to the station.
And he’d had to leave the only woman he'd had all week. He crossed out Cathy Fredericks and wrote in his own name so she wouldn’t get volunteer time credit, scanning the log schedule for the next break. The phone rang.
David turned down the studio monitors, leaving the air signal scratching through the headphones only. "Hello, KSUT.”
Christ, not now. Not today. 'I hate this,' he thought. “Who are you calling?”
“I need to speak to the person in charge.”
“I'm in charge till the staff gets here,” said Gatchell. “Stephen Garner is the manager, and he'll be in at .” ‘You bet he will,’ David said to himself. The Titanic will dock first. Not in this weather. Then, another thought.
take that back. Mr. Garner is on vacation in
“Well, this is very important.”
doubt. What is it this morning? The Vigil for Peace on the Mall has
been moved back from to ? The Boulder Breath Holding
Society in Solidarity with the women of the
No, the caller is too serious. Ah, this will be a lulu. I hate this. "Well, golly. I'll just plum do my best to help you, sorry sort that I am.”
"The United States is going to invade Nicaragua. The Armed Forces just went on Red Alert!"
course! The Invasion.
“A friend of mine (cough) in Ann Arbor just got hold of it and called me. Now, you have to go on and announce this so the people know this is the day to take to the streets."
"So (cough-cough. Hack! Hawk!) the people can start the protest on cue and bring the fascists to heel right off the bat. COUGH! HAACK! Excuse me, there’s a frog in my throat.”
Looking for the fly in your head, lady. "Ma’am, we cannot announce that over the air.”
"And why not?"
I do not need this. "Well, aside from the unlikely possibility that this is true, we need something more than a total stranger who is asking us to risk our license and all credibility by crying wolf. I'm sure you mean well, but you understand..."
"This is why,” she said, attaining a note of long suffering, "I need to speak to the man in charge." The other line went to blinking.
"Please hold,” Gatchell said. A third line went on. He began to be troubled. "Hello, KSUT."
“I miss you."
“Hey babe, I'm on another line.”
“A caller. A woman. She's…”
“Who's calling you at 6:19?”
“You, and … oh God!” David potted up NPR, but he'd missed the break. Bob Edwards was bringing Colorado up to date on New York's weather. “Sherry, I have to go. I just missed a break.”
"Well, excuse me. Sorry for bothering you.” And she hung up.
Line one. "Thank you for holding, can you hold for just a moment more?" he asked, looking past the dark line two to where caller three was patiently listening to the unanswered phone.
“…people are dying because…”
"Thank you." Click. “Hello, KSUT."
"Hey, good morning. Is this David?"
"Yes. Who's this?"
"Bob Gorsuch, David. Listen, we always try to give the Boulder temperature when we do the early morning weather."
"Thank you for the reminder, Bob. Anything else?"
"No. You're doing great. Keep up the good work.”
“Okay. Gotta go.”
No. Please. Stay and keep me up to date on every petty-ante thing my audience of three wants at 6:20 in the morning you talentless bozo. “Bye, Bob. Yes, sorry to keep you waiting.”
“I think at this time,” said the woman, “it would be best if I could have that man you mentioned’s home phone."
“Well, we can’t do that, and in any case he's on vacation.” And even I wouldn't do this to him. “I can take your number and have him call you upon his return.” Late June sound okay? “Or you can write…”
“It will be too late, don't you see? They'll be lining Nicaraguan (she had difficulty with the term. Nicoowagwan was how she pronounced it) children up against the wall and shooting them by the end of the day. You simply must….”
“Thank you for your call, Ma'am. It will live in my memory for simply ages. Have a nice day.”
"Listen. Look, I'm sorry I called you an idiot.”
Did I miss that, too? David wondered.
"Couldn't you… please…… couldn't you announce that there’s a, ah, likelihood that America is going to invade Nicoowagwa today?”
“ . . and that if, you know, people want to stop it they could take to the streets. And protest. There's nothing illegal about that, is there?”
Oh, Lord. She's been to a political training seminar. How to Ingratiate Yourself to the Lackey Media. He weighed the options of hanging up. She'd only call again. And again. “Ma'am, there's a foot and a half of ….”
“KSUT has always been most helpful to us...” Who was ‘us?' “…and we have always supported KSUT on its pledge drives. I mean, ask anyone.”
“Ma'am, just let me have your name and number and someone will get back to you. I just do not have the authority….”
"We are going to war against a helpless nation and you and you alone won't help stop it?”
Now? Sure, why not. “Thank you. Goodbye. If you want to leave your name, I'd be happy to take it.”
“Oh sure. You'd love to have my name so you can send the brown shirts around.”
Gatchell rested his hand on the receiver and stifled a sneeze.
NPR was now spending a visit with one of its correspondents at a school for speech defects in Detroit. Ironic, thought David. Here was a network that sought out and put on the air every lisp in the nation, hailing the drying up of their potential stars' pool. At least, he thought, they'll still have their moronic-sounding southern ladies with their weird childhood stories. Women both dotty and doting on obscure events. Gatchell could recall one in particular, a woman so halt in speech he had at first thought it was a parody by Duck's Breath Mystery Theatre. “Well...in my mother's……kitchen there was a sort of…….. crumpled up bag.” All done in the gulping mouthful delivery beloved by NPR.
Gatchell reached absently for his coffee, now cold, and spilled it across the console into his lap. Swearing, he reached for his sweater to mop it up, but half way to picking it up, the phone light went on again, and in turning his head towards the phone he noticed someone's sweat pants hanging from the lamp. He used that instead, patting the fabric around the knobs and switches. He got to the phone by the fifth ring.
“I was just listening to that report about the man going to die in the gas chamber…."
No. Nononono. Not two of them.
“…and I thought that if we all got together and called the Florida governor, we could get a reprieve for this guy.”
“It was just on. Maybe it was yesterday. They’re going to electrocute this guy.”
“I'm here,” said David Gatchell. “I haven’t been following this morning.”
“Well, why don’t you get on the air and tell people to save a life and call the Florida Governor and … save a life.”
“Are we talking about Ted Bundy?”
“Black guy. Yeah.”
“White guy. No.”
“They don’t kill white guys.”
Oh, this was too much. “They don't?”
“...they only kill black guys. Bundy's accused of killing some white girls years ago.”
“Bundy is convicted of killing several white girls in one state. And he is white. And they're lined around the block to try him in other states for up to forty-odd murders. The man is scum. I hope they turn up the chair a watt at a time as they show him slides of what he'll look like in about two days.”
“We don’t have the right to take a life.”
“Sure we do.” Gatchell was enjoying this.
The caller hung up. Line two was blinking.
“I’m sorry I was cranky. I wish you were here. It's cold and snowy out.”
“I know. It was no fun walking here. Should be a doozy all day. Say, Cheryl, are you coming in today? Because…,” Gatchell was looking at a pile of albums on the chair, “…there's a pile of records here, with a note, and that note says…”
“I know. I'll be in as soon as I can.”
“It says ‘Sorry! I'll be in Thursday morning to clean this up and put things away!! Thanx!!, CC.’ Then it has this cute little face….”
“Look.” She was cold. “I'11 be in today.”
“Today is Friday.”
“If I had taken the time to put those away the other night, I wouldn't have been too energetic for you when I got back, now, would I?”
“So, what happened to you yesterday?”
“As you know, I was here all day sick.”
Gatchell sighed. “Well, you shouldn't leave stuff like this around. Someone else will do it and I'll get blamed.”
She was getting huffy. “Be home for breakfast?"
“Yeah, if everybody gets here on time.” Line one lit up. “Gotta call. See you in a bit.”
David looked at the clock and realized, to his horror, that it was time for the 6:29 break. He ignored the phone.
NPR was going into its closing theme and credits. “…the Ted and Stella Nordell Foundation for Meaningful Relationships, and the member stations of National Public Radio. This is NPR. National Public Radio.”
this,” said Gatchell, “is KSUT, Boulder. Boulder’s Public Radio Station.
Time is now 6:29. Heavy snow warnings today.
Cold with blizzard conditions. Don’t venture out
unless you have to. This portion of Morning Edition is brought to you by
an in-kind grant from Shelby Wallace, Certified Public Accountant,
The air went dead, and then the fanfare and music started again.
'Yes! We're just the thing you want to hear! Every morning in your ear!”
David swore, as much at his mistake as for his lack of real concern. 'Hell,' he thought. 'Everybody else does it.' But not everyone was David Gatchell. Who hated errors, and had trained so many at KSUT. Gatchell should know better. Shouldn’t be so sloppy. So unprofessional. So uncaring.
There was a second line blinking on the phone. He picked up line one. “KSUT. Please hold." He picked up line two. "Hello, KSUT.”
"David, this is Bob Gorsuch." ‘How did I know?’ thought Gatchell.
"David, listen, we all get a little rusty...." Oh God. A pep talk. “But you really should pay more attention… "
“I know, Bob, I am sorry about that."
“…KSUT is all volunteer, except for the people who get paid, and we really appreciate having volunteers we can count on. . . " Bob was getting cheerful as he got his Stultifying Inspirational Prologue out of the way. Bob had never actually been on the air, himself. He fancied himself a producer, by which was meant he placed two calls to do a show: one to a guest to be interviewed and one to a "volunteer” to do the actual work for him, not excluding topic research. He was on the Board of Directors. David would have ignored him except for his habit of inflicting his opinions and ethics upon the station by less than subtle means, although Bob Gorsuch thought his own political skills awesome. Awesome was a favorite word with Bob, an affectation he got from one of his daughters and thought made him seem hip.
Bob also would put words and phrases he considered recondite vernacular in quotation marks in his periods of frenzied memo writing. He was a social climbing jerk, off-set only by his ignorance and stupidity, and his devious, condescending manner further annoyed David. Perhaps because Bob was so ‘with it.’
“...but David, you really shouldn't do things like that.” This struck a wrong note.
“Things like what, Bob?”
“Well, Shelby’s been dead for three months, David. A lot of people liked him, he did a lot for the station, David, and they hear you making fun of him by pretending it did not happen. You were at the funeral, and ….”
“I was not at the funeral, Bob. Do you think I'd have done that if I knew, eh, Shelby was dead? I never knew the man, and I'm sorry, but I was on the phone and didn't have time to look at the log. I mean…” David calmed down. “I had time before and could have, Bob. But I didn't. It was a mistake, not a bad joke or anything like that. I am sorry. I did this show for a year and that was the underwriting … I really am sorry, Bob.”
“Um, you really weren't at the funeral?”
“No, Bob, I don’t go to funerals of people I never met.”
“Then it was at our memorial service, eh?”
“No, Bob. What memorial service?” The other line was now blank.
“The one hosted by your girl Sharon.”
“She’s not my girl, Bob, and no, I didn't know about it.”
“Everybody was there. The mayor came, and your friend Scioto from the Council, oh, it was a humdinger of a party. You should attend some of these functions, David.”
I'll clear my calendar to attend your funeral, Bob. “Yes, well, thanks for calling.” It was 6:33.
Line one lit up again. “KSUT, good morning.”
“May I have the name of the station manager'?”
“Certainly. Stephen Garner.”
“David Gatchell. Two l' s, one tch.” The woman repeated this for effect.
“I'm going to write a letter about you to the manager.”
Silence. “It won't be a nice letter, since you're not willing to alert the world about the Nazi policies of the United States.” David could hear the smirk. “So are you still pleased?”
“Anytime I can be responsible for anybody’s first something, like a letter or a thought, I'm pleased.”
“We'll see how much you like it when we don't contribute to your next fund drive.”
“Break my heart, lady. We’ll just have to scrimp on number 2 pencils for a while till we can make up that $5 loss.”
The coffee was now decidedly cold on his thigh. He stood up, removed his jeans, and placed them on the lamp, with the wet spot directly over the bulb. He used the sweat pants to wipe his leg and part of the chair in which he sat behind the console. Someone was coming in the front door, clanking the keys and piling things – probably records taken without signing them out – on the receptionist’s desk. The phone rang.
“Are the schools open today?”
Good question. David suddenly vectored in on the fact that he hadn’t been doing his job. Normally the school system called with a code word when the schools were closed; the code to prevent anxious youngsters from taking the bull by the horns and phoning in a false report. David wondered if the call he hadn’t picked up might not have been the school system. It was quite likely.
“I don’t know, Ma’am, but I would imagine they are. They haven’t called us. In any case, there must be a foot and one half of snow out there. It certainly isn’t safe to drive, or for small children to be out.”
“And what about us teachers. Safe for us?”
David smiled. “Not since 1957 has it been safe for a teacher. Try plumbing, they take women now.”
The woman laughed. “Thanks, it does look horrible out there, doesn’t it? By the way, I enjoyed your show the other night on the early San Francisco bands. That was really good.”
“Glad you enjoyed it,” David said. But it wasn’t me. “I normally do jazz programs.”
“Uh-huh,” she said. “Well, thanks.”
“Bye.” Line two lit up as her call ended. This time, Gatchell looked at the clock. It was 6:45. Fourteen minutes.
It was the capital punishment enthusiast. “You know, mister, I’m gonna come down there and knock your block off. Who the hell do you think you are to say we have the right to murder people?”
“Never said that, but we do have the right to kill mass murderers.”
“Only God has the right to kill.”
“Wrong, there is no God. Only idiots believe in a god.”
your lights out. You know there was a public station in
“Fine. Unfortunately, you haven't the slightest idea what you're talking about. If you want to write a letter to the manager…”
“I'm gonna come down and…”
“Fine,” said David Gatchell, looking out the window at the swirling snow. “Do that. Now, good-bye.”
Gatchell stared at the albums piled up beside him, the ripped paper with the note on top. He peered around to make sure he had, indeed, made enough coffee, but the Mr. Coffee was a distant four feet away and, after a prolonged squint, revealed to only have one more sulfurous cup remaining. In a burst of energy, he started up to remake a pot when he came face to face with the young woman who had just appeared around the door from the manager's office. David flinched. “Hello, Rachel. You're in early.”
“I'm always in on time, David,” huffed the woman as she padded by him on her way to the record library. "Nice outfit. Screams for accessories, though, like pants."
“I'm drying them on the lamp."
“I thought something smelled funny."
“Oh?” David peered at his jeans. "I think I'm coming down with a cold. I don't smell anything.”
“What's the weather report?" asked Rachel as she reached up for some albums on the third shelf. David, stopped halfway between the shelf of coffee and the console, turned and stared at her. “Snow,” he said.
“Those reports must be getting shorter all the time," she said with no change in her expression.
"Right. Well, you know, I've never understood the point in giving Boulder’s temperature beyond cold or warm. The temperature can vary a great deal around the city, and no weather report gibes with Little America's weather center.” Bob Gorsuch was in the habit of calling and asking why his thermometer never reflected the official temperature KSUT announced. Weather was one of his hobbies, like KSUT. David had started referring to Gorsuch’s house as Little America years ago on another issue. No one else used the term, but they all knew what David meant when he used it.
"The usual idiots. I wonder if it’s true that most of them are outpatients at the mental health center?"
"Many in the community," said Rachel, looking at David, "wonder the same thing about KSUT." She held his gaze until he went for the coffee. "Put your pants on. You have ugly legs."
David padded back behind the console, took a gulp of coffee and sat down. It was time for the break.