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“Well, you can sit here all morning, reading and pondering, or you can actually write something,” say I to myself. I’d been meaning to chronicle a short period in a life of widely varying pursuits, thinking it might prove entertaining. But all the activity kept getting in the way of the writing. Finally though, after wrapping up a successful podcast with a great friend I have yet to actually meet, the moment to write is here and what do I find myself doing? What I always do — namely, to pursue widely varying topics and get lost in reading about them. But where was I? Oh yes: The day started, appropriately enough with Mass. I had contacted our parish office and advised that this would be the last Sunday in which I would serve as a lector (the lay-person who reads Sacred Scripture at Mass). Accordingly, I had spent a great deal of time preparing for this reading, ensuring that I thoroughly understood the assigned scripture so that the reading would flow easily, with the context and meaning understood by one and all.
With only 15 minutes to go before we would leave for the church, I noticed that instead of studying the May 24th reading, I had inadvertently flipped over to March 29th and had been preparing to read that one instead. Oh dear. Evidently, the mind registered an “M” and an “a” in the month and a “2” in the day and assumed I had arrived at the right reading. Bloody shame too, because that one was a real humdinger. So with only a few minutes left, I found the correct reading and began to “cram,” as I might do were I still in college. The reading prepared, my wife and mom-in-law and I departed for Mass where the reading and Mass itself, went off without any except the usual hitches, both of them quite out of anyone’s control except the unyielding stubbornness of an undaunted few.
I dearly love classical music, for example. In fact, one of the many benefits of my conversion to Catholicism has been a blessed re-emersion into the master composers whose devotion to Christianity was made beautifully manifest in works of sheer musical genius. Of course, inspirational devotion wasn’t exclusively the province of the Baroque era, as there are more contemporary works whose transcendent beauty quite literally lifts one’s spirit in ways that engage the heart as much as the mind. And yet, and yet those works will be found nowhere in our little sanctuary, as we instead weather an exclusive weekly diet of plodding, mournful music, meekly tendered through a suppressed pipe organ that sounds like it has a stopped up nose. Mass usually begins with an eccentric piece containing eerie chord progressions that sound rather like the Phantom of the Opera tuning his instrument. After which, Dr. Strange-Chord settles in to the same monotonous drudgery as the week before, and the month before that, and the year before that, ad nauseum. The only thing missing each week is the casket.
My goal had been to enliven the proceedings with a full-throated reading of Scripture. The challenge there is to be heard above the din of screaming children whose parents categorically refuse to avail themselves of the cry room or the nursery, both of which exist precisely to enable the simultaneous worship by parents and everyone else. Oh, I understand that children will, at times, make some noise and then quiet down. That’s not the problem. The problem is prolonged bouts of temper tantrums, screams, screeches and yelling that prevent the parents from devoting their attention to anything except their kids while preventing everyone else from hearing what is being said or praying for anything except divine deliverance from the mayhem while said parents simply refuse to get up and take the screaming dears out of the sanctuary, leaving the place sounding like a torture chamber. So that one emerges from Mass simultaneously dispirited by the funeral music and with nerves totally raw from the supreme exertions required to hear the proceedings over the everlasting, piercing shrieks. This week, I found myself unable to talk over the screeching and literally stopped in the middle of the reading to look up at the source, before resuming.
“Well,” you say, “the summit of the Mass is neither a misbegotten musician nor intransigent parents, but rather the Eucharist.” To which I say, yes but there are reasons we don’t celebrate Mass, say, on the set of Dr. Phil, or in the middle of a bus station. Not least because we wouldn’t be able to hear or concentrate on what is going on. But, as I say, this was my last time to deal with it for awhile.
The balance of Sunday afternoon is given to a little time at the gym and preparations for an upcoming podcast. Here, an interesting dichotomy has emerged between the difference in tone of my written work and my broadcasting. When writing, a certain voice takes over in my mind, and that voice is equal parts Mark Twain, Bill Buckley and my grandmother, Marguerite Young, who reminded me a great deal of Katherine Hepburn and whose love affair with the English language and with sharp minds was a huge influence on me. My Uncle BF (who passed away last Fall) also chimes in at various points when I write, as do assorted characters from my past. But when the microphone is on, an entirely different dynamic takes over. The same impish impulses that led to an enormously enjoyable radio show many years ago surfaces and off we go, bounding over a wide variety of terrain, with an unpredictable, roguish instinct for mischief.
I purposefully set up my podcast equipment to mimic the immediacy of the live radio studio I so enjoyed back in 1995 – 1997 time frame. The idea is to enable my guests, who join via Skype, to hear all of the music, the sound gags and effects — essentially everything that unfolds — in real time, rather than cut and paste the music and effects in after the conversation. Thus, the guest is in the moment with the host and (presumably) enjoying the music and gags while immersed in the whole vibe of the show. The result is a better flow of conversation and a more relaxing tone that enables guests to feel less like they are in a deposition and more like they are relaxing on our back patio at home, chatting amiably about a wide range of interests.
The whole radio experience was interesting: I was stationed in North Carolina at the time and needed a second job for child-support purposes. Several friends had suggested over the years that I give radio a try, so I called the local talk radio station and they said I should bring a resume. I wrote one emphasizing my written accomplishments and position as a military historian. No response came. So I called and they said that the program director was out. Called a few days later and got the same response. I asked for the program director’s name and then thanked them for their time.
Two weeks later I called and simply asked for the program director by name, waiting until he got on the line before telling him my name and why I was calling again. With a hint of resignation in his voice, he told me to come on down and he’d talk to me for a few minutes. I did, and he sat me down in the studio and asked a few questions after looking over my resume. My answers must have been illuminating in some fashion because he was soon asking what I would like to name my show. “You mean I’m hired?” “Yes,” he said, adding that he was looking for, “a definite personality that translates into something people will enjoy on the air, and you’ve got it.”
Thereupon launched a two year odyssey where I interviewed a variety of folks, and poked an equal amount of fun at newsmakers of every political persuasion. Remember, I was active duty at the time, and even though my show was in no way affiliated with my rank and position in the military (the audience had no clue that I was active duty), I nevertheless could not say everything I thought about hot-button issues or our Commander in Chief at the time, Bill Clinton. So it was open season on everyone, in a light hearted fashion. No one was safe…least of all your humble host.
On the air, I found myself increasingly indulging my mischievous streak, informed by the attitude of a seasoned curmudgeon whose cynicism was growing commensurate with my exposure to the power and political theater I encountered in the senior and flag-rank power circles at my duty station. In his compilation, The Portable Curmudgeon, Jon Winokur defines curmudgeons, in part, as, “Anyone who hates hypocrisy and pretense and has the temerity to say so; anyone with the habit of pointing out unpleasant facts in an engaging and humorous manner.” Welp,..that about sums up the demeanor of the show, and it was expressed — always with a twinkle in the eye — on the air at WGBR for nearly two years and we climbed to the top of the ratings, even beating out the music powerhouse stations.
So that when Rob Long suggested during a phone call that a podcast might be a useful exercise both for Ricochet and for me personally, I jumped at the opportunity and Radio Deplorable was born. Free from the restraints inherent in the active duty world, the show is unabashedly conservative, but the roguish instinct is still there, lending an air of playful unpredictability to the show. The result is worlds away from my written work, but is nevertheless as much a part of who I am as my own heartbeat and laughter.
My guest this week is my friend Dave Sussman. He’s an extraordinarily accomplished podcaster and his work has taken him to places I can only dream about at this point as I’m unable to pursue my podcasting and writing full time since it’s a great deal less lucrative for me than, say, bagging groceries. So I must devote most of my time to doing something that will pay the bills while devoting such spare time as I have to that which I truly love. Such is life.
I had been following Dave’s work and interviews, particularly his sterling interview with Professor Victor Davis Hanson, whose work I’ve followed since long before I came to know anyone who knows the good Professor. So I write out the introduction (the length of which is formulaic with the timing and tempo of the intro music), and then jot out a few questions for our chat.
Dave has invited me to be a guest on a talk radio show he is guest-hosting this week, so I spend the balance of the time reading up on some relevant material that could prove useful for our interview on Wednesday night. Mark Steyn is at his bubbly best as he describes the political fortunes of Britain’s Theresa May who, like so many others creatively attempting to thwart the popular will, find themselves unemployed:
I saw Daniel Hannan on the telly extending Mrs. May’s impressive feat back through the pre-Reform Act era and accounting it the Torie’s worst result since 1678. Which is kind of hard to spin. Her forced resignation last Friday morning (by which point her party had made it clear they wouldn’t stick with her past lunch) ensures that she and the election result will be yoked together for all time. And jolly well deserved it is.
Steyn goes on to remark that it is easier for the public to find a new elite than it is for the elite to find a new public,… a brilliant observation. But then again, brilliant observations occur to Mark Steyn at the same rate that idiotic ideas occur to Memphis drivers (which is nearly with every breath), which is but one reason why this place is a living hell. I save Steyn’s essay on an application which allows me to read it at a moments notice on three devices, whether online or off, and make a mental note to retain Steyn’s observation for Thursday’s podcast and the impending radio interview. (Interestingly, I should add, I did in fact remember the point and found occasion to use it during the interview. Why can I retain something like that for a period of days — years even — but cannot for the life of me remember someone’s name 30 seconds after they’ve told me?)
All but the last couple of questions complete, I review the sound files I have in mind for the podcast and, on the spot, remember an idea that had dogged the night before. Finding the humorous sound byte I had remembered, I incorporate it into a “Program ID,” add some special sound effects, paste in the sonorous voice of James Lileks’ kind introduction bits, and place under it all a “sound bed” of synthesizer tones, and presto, I have a new program ID in less than 20 minutes. The work used to take two or three times that amount of time in the radio studio, but thanks to digital resources and the magic of the GarageBand program for Mac, everything appears on a graph that looks not unlike an EKG readout. Volume levels can be changed in a fraction of a second by merely placing the cursor on the volume line and dragging it up at just the right point.
It’s all mad fun and the final product is then sent as an MP3 file to my iPad, where I keep an app called “Boss Jock.” On the iPad Mini, the display is a collection of 35 little squares, and each square respects a sound file. I have another 15 little squares on my iPhone. Whereas we had “carts”, or cartridges with various commercials and songs and such on them when I was on radio, where one had to insert the cart in the machine and push a button on the sound board to play the song or commercial; now it’s all digital. My music beds, the intro, the sound effects ranging from bombs to breaking glass to bleeps and a jet fighter, etc., the program IDs, are all located on each of these squares. The squares are labeled appropriately on the display, and color coded so at a glance I can tell IDs from the intro, or full songs, or sound effects, music beds, etc., so that I need merely to tap the little square and that particular audio file instantly plays.
The iPad has its own channel on the mixer, as does the iPhone (which allows me to run telephone interviews through the sound board and record them along with Skype calls), as do both microphones (an extra kept on-hand for in-studio interviews), and a separate channel is also dedicated to the Mac computer itself. This allows separate volume and equalizers for each channel, along with mute buttons (which I use for a “cough button”) and other doo-dads. The mic itself is an MXL-BCD 1, which I purchased a few short weeks ago, along with a very sturdy boom arm that allows me to position the mic in the optimum place without it getting in the way papers or soundboard controls, etc.
But enough mischief and fun behind the keyboard and soundboard. The evening sun is sinking and the gazebo, my wife, my mom-in-law await along with our precious little rescue dog we adopted three years ago. We had a sizable gazebo installed a couple of years ago and it was built to last, even to the point of cementing the legs into the ground and through the brick patio tiles themselves. There’s a brisk breeze tonight and we decide it’s a great night to relax outside.
Both Shelley and my co-worker, Joel, had teased me about the outdoor speakers I purchased. They look like pretty good sized black rocks,..but they house speakers, see? And they are bluetooth, so we can listen to music directly from our phones. No wires, no fuss, just good music. “Nice rocks,” Shelley rather dryly observed when I brought them home. Well, yes, they are. So I turned on the magic rocks, dialed in Sirius/XM’s smooth jazz channel and we were instantly transported as the gazebo was filled with soothing music. Then someone thought to tell Alexa to turn on the gazebo lights, and two strands of LED lights crisscrossing the support beams across the ceiling of the gazebo illuminated. Well, the only thing needed after that was to light the ceremonial tiki torches with their citronella fuel to keep the skeeters away, and then fire up the propane fire pit on the lowest setting, and enjoy the evening.
The next day, Memorial Day, would presumably bring some business to the department store where I work selling fine watches. It can be dispiriting, desiring nothing more than to explain to a customer the finer points of Swiss-made Tissots or Movados, only to hear the customer blurt out, “Do ya’ll got nose rings?” Such is life in Memphis, at a store whose sales goals are unachievable in this life and unnecessary in the next. But the job has its good points, not least of which are the amazing sales people with whom I work each day.
Enough of that, for now. Taking a moment to remember those who never came home from war, and their families who try to get on in life with a hole in their heart that never heals, I remember General Patton’s words that it is folly to mourn their loss. Better, he suggested, to thank God above that such men ever existed. We sit in this patio, in relative comfort and security because of their exertions, and their sacrifices.
After a time, Shelley paired her phone to the magic rocks, and began playing songs from our youth. We sang Hotel California, some Elton John, and many others. Ten o’clock came and went, and still we sat out under the gazebo, enjoying the night, the music, and our love for each other, bringing this wonderful day to a grateful close.