So, how did it go? you wonder. The “it” being the National Radio Debut, co-hosting for the Hugh Hewitt show. “It” went better than expected, but my expectations were subterranean. I had one goal: don’t heave in the wastebasket. I don’t know why I thought I might; never done that before. On the air, anyway. But this was a perfect confluence of knicker-twisters - live radio, first time national venue, in public. I never enjoyed broadcasting from the Fair. There’s something about people drifting past, not listening, that makes you feel a little silly - and of course some will stop, peer through the glass, wonder who the hell that is, and move along. Many times at the Fair I was subbing for someone else, so when people figure out that their favorite host wasn’t there, you could sense their disappointment. Oh. It’s you. And this was such a case - the advertised host wasn’t here. While I know there’s a miniscule subset who’ve enjoyed hearing me on this particular show before, it would be folly to assume that the audience gets a big silly grin because I’m doing the entire three hours. At best you hope for genial indifference. Then you work to earn it.

The day began poorly. I went to bed around 2 AM - wife and child being out of town, I stayed up and did some stuff. Figured I’d get 8 hours, go to the fair, no problem. I woke at 5:50 AM. And I could not get back to sleep. Went to the other bedroom, which is much darker. Could not sleep. It got light out, which meant I had to close the door - but the alarm was down the hall. Relocated the clock. But it ticked. Who knew? TICK. TICK. TICK. AAAH. Got up, put the clock in the hall. It’s now 6:25. Dog will come up soon looking for breakfast. Went downstairs. Totally bright now. Open shelf where the dog-food is kept. No dog food. Unwrap a granola bar that Gnat has for breakfast; Jasper always eyes those keenly. Put in dog food bowl. This wakes up Jasper, who clicks into the kitchen for his meal. Go back upstairs. Can’t sleep. Ah: white noise. Get fan from Gnat’s room. Try to sleep. Can’t. Dog scratches at door. Damn. Let dog into room. He hops on the bed and starts his morning grooming routine, which consists of biting himself in various places, rattling his chain. Kick dog out. Dog sits down outside door, whines. Go back downstairs. Give dog three strips bacon. Go back upstairs, thinking: I am so screwed. I am just sooo screwed.

Alarm goes off -

I’d fallen alseep after all. I got my eight hours!

And now I’m going to be late! Downstairs - the coffee should be ready, since I set the timer. And I had - PM, not AM. Damn. Read paper, shower, bolt coffee, soldier up & go.

I drove to the remote lot to get the free shuttle to the Fair, only to find lines stretching many blocks to get into the lot. The last guy in line could have parked and walked to the Fair. Well. Who could have predicted this? ME, who had the same thing happen two years ago. So I did what I did then: sped into Dinkytown to park in a ramp, then hoof it to the lot. Time is getting short; I’m slated to start my Personal Appearance at the Star-Tribune booth at one PM. Run to bus, ride to fair, run to stand. Five minutes late. Hellos all around, then I’m out front meeting the people.

Or, as Bugs would say: Me Public. And they came two by two, alone, in throngs and knots and small congregations, trailing kids and balloons, clutching buckets of fries and Sweet Martha Cookies, and they had so many questions of Me, the Columnist:

Where were the deep fried pickles? Where were the Blooming Onions? Where was the Mummy? Where was the information booth? Where was Channel 4, 5, 11, KSTP AM, AM 1280? Who the hell are you? Now and again I got a reader, and this was nice. Every few minutes someone would come up to say sweet things - you can’t beat that, in this business. Only one sour geezer sidled up to tell me he never read me after the column I wrote about Hillary Clinton. “Too one-sided,” he said. “What didn’t you agree with?” I said. “I wrote that she was perfectly capable of being President. What’s one sided about that?” “Too unfair. I don’t read you anymore.” Okay, thanks for brightening my day, you ritzenfrickin racksenheimer etc. I signed card after card, and did so only after asking people whether this was, perhaps, the worst photo I’d ever taken. They agreed: it was.

Did the promotions department use the new column photo? The recent picture whose photoshopped versiosn filled up a Variety front cover? No. Did they use the bug for my Backfence column? Oh, no. They used some stupid picture I don’t even remember taking, a photo that had this huge blooming shine on my forehead. Which came out grey when printed. It looked like I had mild leprosy, or I’d had a depression in my skull filled in with modelling clay.

Hideous. But it was fun. Then I had two hours to kill, and I don’t remember what I did; walked around, took pictures, ate hot dogs, feeling very much like a man who will soon slump into the tumbrel and clatter his way down the street to the glinting blade in the public square. Entered the booth at five; did a final gut check with the producer, Generalissimo; he had that perfect producer presence. Calm, confident, ready to go where you wanted to go. No prob. I got the same vibe I got from Jeremy the first night of the Diner.

Theme music, wait, wait, wait, go:

And to my astonishment there wasn’t a nervous filament in my body. The next three hours galloped by. Deathless, great radio destined for the Museum of Broadcasting? Uh . . . no. But I didn’t blow it, and I didn’t heave in the corner.

I helped that some listeners - the Sign Guy and his confederates - showed up with a sign cheering me on; it was keen, if I can use the word, to meet the bloggers from Fraterslibertas and see Mitch Berg again after all these years; it was spiffy to get a call from Infinite Monkeys guy, and it was fun to eat Spam on the air, despite the fact that it wasn’t the sort of indepth, detailed political discourse the listeners might have expected. The third hour was a kick - did the sci-fi movie Top Ten list, carefully calibrated to get calls telling me I was a knave for leaving off this movie or that, and we rolled coast to coast with the calls and riffed off the audience suggestions. That sort of radio just does itself, really. You almost feel guilty taking money for doing it. Good thing I didn’t take money! I worked for a baseball cap. And of course the chance to show I could do this sort of thing. What comes of it - well, stay tuned.

I caught the bus back to the lot, walked to the parking ramp, got in my car, and yelled WHOOOO! at the top of my lungs.

Drove home to a grateful dog. Wife and child are out of town, and the house was dark; he had every reason to assume we were all dead. He nearly wept when he saw me - haven’t had that sort of greeting in a long while. Off on a walk. Supper. Two hours later it’s all done and gone and forgotten, and I’m watching “Soylent Green,” thinking: hey, this is better than I remember. If nothing else, it’s worth it to see Charlton Heston beat the living crap out of the Rifleman. Kicks him right in the oysters, at one point. Back up, frame by frame: oy. That’s gotta hurt.

Saturday I went back for a two-hour local gig with Hugh, which was a kick. He interviewed me, much to my mortification - people want him, not me for heaven’s sake, but he knew what he was doing. The questions led off into a variety of directions, and it beat talking about Arnold again, I suppose. All in all I felt incredibly grateful that I should have such attention paid; what’d I do?

The story continues, tomorrow.

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