APRIL 1997 Part 4
I'm working on a piece for AOL about Ellen's coming-out episode. I'm not exactly stunned to learn that she's gay. It's about as surprising as Mike Wallace admitting he's old. "Yes, people have wondered - my face looks like a poorly folded road map, and my earlobes hang down like an old Ferengi's - Yep, I'm old!"

Damn car. Got it back from the garage today, with an apology: they could not recreate the ignition problem. Took it out with a small renewed spirit of confidence - perhaps it was my imagination, after all. Half an hour later, I'm in a parking lot with the hood up, swearing. No go. It's like having a horse that's prone to narcolepsy. It's fine most of the time, but then one day you come out and find it sprawled on the ground, glassy eyes staring sightlessly at the sky, feet rigid like a toy toppled over. As much as you loved your horse, you'd want a more dependable mode of transportation.

Another show about little tonight - a bit of Shakespeare, a little literature, some talk of meat and syrup. Just the show I expected to have after a good show, but better than I expected. It's all settling down nicely. The initial twitch is wearing off, and I'm spending a week just yammering instead of pimping for calls. I probably don't have strep- of course I had a sore throat all day, but that was from swallowing to see if I had a sore throat.

Still cool - low scudding clouds today, with a few in the distance trailing those wispy curtains of rain, a dingy fringe drifting over the land. The sun felt like a 40-watt bulb in a 100-watt socket. I'm anxious to sweat. The lawns, however, are waking up; the park where I take Jasper to play - Dog Heaven, we call it - is now a timid green instead of a dead defeated brown. One or two days of rain to turn up the treble and the bass, and it will be alive again. All the trees in the back yard have small buds, commas in 10 point type, except for one: it's the last to sprout and the last to die. In the fall it turns a mad red, a bright torch that shames the other trees - but in the spring and summer its leaves are dim and ordinary. Maybe that's why it's waiting. It knows it will have the last word; why try to upstage the first act?

It has been an interesting month. I realize that I have spent the entire month of April in a state of preoccupation - March I spun and fretted over the job situation, and April has been a blur: The Show looms over every moment. It's as if I have a cord that goes from my spine to the radio station, and no matter where I go I feel it tug. A few times I've felt it detach, but even then the sense of freedom reminds me of the time when the cord is plugged in. I am certain that the sense of absolute freedom I had is gone, and gone for good. This is not bad. The feeling of having nothing to do and all day in which to do it is better recollected than experienced. I used to ask myself, what next? And now I know.

 

Duty compels me to eke out a Bleat, even though I am exhausted and feel as though my eyes have been covered with dusty gauze. For some unaccountable reason I spent the day in a state of performance anxiety - to my horror I discover I am now a perfectionist, and hence am terrified of doing a lousy job on the air. Specifically, I fear what the theater people call "going up" - losing your lines, breaking your concentration, and stammering nonsense while the audience out there in the dark waits for you to assemble yourself.Tonight on the way to the station I had the classic sense of an impending Up-Going - a general state of unreality, of disconnectedness that used to accompany a panic attack in the good old agoraphobic days of the mid-80s. (Some people glibly toss off the phrase "panic attack" to indicate overwhelming twitchyness, but anyone who's had the real thing knows it's a corker. A real four-alarm delight, with all sorts of peculiar chemicals firing down your brain stem like a roman candle held in a bucket of gasoline) I'm driving along, a passenger in my own head, thinking: this is ridiculous. Everything is going to be fine.

And everything was. Everything always is. But this odd hyper-self-consciousness floats around my head for the first half-hour of the show, and I feel disconnected from my performance at the same time I am doing it. This will pass. Every day when I listen to the radio I change stations or switch off favorite programs without ever toting up a black mark against the host - but for some reason I feel as if one superfluous word or rambling commentary will damn me for good, and in the end I will have an audience that consists only of people too sick to get up and change the station. It's one thing to sit in as a guest host, and another entirely to do it daily.

A median standard will emerge, eventually - the first two weeks I was borne along on sheer adrenalin, and this week I'm learning to pace myself and see this as an ongoing project. Mostly, I need to relax, and I've never been good at that. As tired as I am now, I'll need to whap myself in the skull with a ball-peen hammer to sleep tonight.

And you know, after a day like today, I'm looking at that hammer with something like love.

 

A long walk around the lake at five, nasty hot Vietnamese food, 127 letters in the e-mail box, Photoshop work when the sun clouded over. Sunday.

I spent the morning slapping together the Diner web site. The new graphics for this page were thrown together as an afterthought - first I came up with an odd synthetic extruded version of the page that looks too much like the art on Deep-Trance Ambient Throb Club Mix CDs. Not that this is a bad thing. But most of the graphic styles of the 90s bore me, or leave me feeling old and marginalized - typography in this decade borrows from weird ugly 70s sources, filters it through a wow-gee Japanese sensibility, and comes up with hideously mod fonts. There was an ad for Bally fitness -

Well, that's a whole different story. The ads for Bally fitness generally make the place look like Plato's Retreat as filmed by Lili Reisenthal - hot dripping physiques either thrashing in grim sync, or working alone on solitary instruments of Torquemadaesque ingenuity. It's like watching a bunch of people willingly attach themselves to the rack. Everyone looks as though the point of their entire existence is to look great naked - not to do anything about it, or necessarily ever be naked, just to look good naked. The leader of the bunch has no body fat and an abdomen that looks like a xylophone; bullets would bounce off her stomach. I cannot see the point. I just can't.

But I do, really. I'm in the middle of the annual spring diet - tuna, no beer, little red meat, fat-free everything, with the necessary ingestion of pizza once a week. My goal, long stated on these pages, is to have those xylophonic stomach muscles. I should know better. The moment you attain such an objective, you begin to worry about losing it. I look at the woman on the Bally's commercial, and I pity her: no pizza, no ice cream, and for what? So she can look like a transparency in the World Book section on human musculature? Sorry. If I get the abs, fine. If not, I have pepperoni to blame. And to thank.

And that's why I didn't use the bevel-edge banners for this page, and went with the old familiar drop shadows.

 

Last night my wife went driving around town with a Highway Patrolman, part of her training for this summer's round of prosecuting drunk drivers. I had the house to myself - Jasper avoided me most of the night after I barked at him. He wanted to play, came running into my room, leaped up and nearly shoved me off my chair: unacceptable behavior from a Beta dog, so I firmly pinned him on the ground, flipped him on his back, stared him in the eyes until he looked away. Settled that. All the way around the lakes today, he trotted at my side in the heel position: a first. You're the boss you're the boss you're the boss. Anyway: I spent the evening in wild bachelor style: did laundry, learned a little Java programming, listened to some records at high volume, watched a "Voyager" episode that actually eked out a few tears (probably because I'm still prone to dissolve at anything that involves the death of a family member, even if it was directed by Potsie from "Happy Days") and then, just to top off my wild bacchanalia, I folded some laundry. She came home at three, a wild night of 100 MPH chases behind her. Fun stories over pancakes this morning.

Just finished watching this week's X-Files, which was absolutely perfect: had it all. Long ago I told myself not to worry about the answers to the Big Mystery - some day in the future I may see Mulder wave a gun in the mug of a Syndicate oligarch while the True Horror of the Devious Plan is described, and it may be a TV (or movie) moment to rival No-Luke-I-Am-Your-Pappy. Maybe not. It's the relationships in the muck that draw me to this show, not the muck itself. How anyone could pull it all together - bees, cloned sisters, oily alien spoor, Teutonic pithers, alien corpses, captured ships, et al - is beyond me, and I suspect the whole thing has gotten out of Chris Carter's hands as well. That's fine. I'd rather have a mystery next week than an explanation tomorrow.

 

Writing by the light of the moon now - actually, the string of Xmas lights in the back porch. It's warm enough to sit outside and type at 12:40 AM. The entire day was a trailer for summer - I walked around the lake in shorts and a tank top, aware that I was blindingly pale, and probably reflecting back sufficient light to be seen from Mir. When I got home I dragged out a rickety lawn chair and sat out under the sun, feeling like those Russians who strip to their underwear and slump against a wall at the first appearance of 45 degree weather. I read magazines and listened to the radio while the dog dozed in the dirt. That's heaven.

The only disagreeable part came when a gust of wind blew some dead tree-bits on me - this happens every year, when showers of tree-effluvia patter down from the cranky elm that towers over the house. Except when I opened my eyes I noted that several of the bark fragments were, in fact, alive, and moving around. Bugs.

You can move with surprising speed when coated with bugs. That's probably how Roger Bannister broke the four minute mile: a centipede down the pants.

 

At the lake today I encountered some truant youths. One was shuffling along with the everything-sux sullen gait of someone for whom stupidity is a self-inflicted wound; there was a swaggering kid, and a brassy little proto-doxy. I instantly thought of them as Flunky, Thug and Moll. Thug was throwing something in the lake, which is not unusual - I frequently see bands of high schoolers tossing cans and cups into the lake, just for the pleasure of farting in the Church of Ecology, probably. But this guy was aiming for something. He was trying to hit the geese. Little junior sociopath - start with torturing animals, end up with humans. The moron probably thought "Reservoir Dogs" was an instructional video. When I saw what he was doing I glared hard at the trio with a combination sneer-snarl; Flunky looked down, abashed, Moll laughed and Thug picked up a bigger rock. Their entire lives were clear to me: Flunky was desperate for anyone who would have him around, so he would find a steady series of Thug-buddies until he ended up arrested for accessory to murder, and confessed with a mumbled series of nossirs and yessirs. Moll would have many kids by many Thugs. And Thug would pump and preen his way though life until someone shivved him in the exercise yard. Here they were, walking through paradise, and all they can think to do is throw rocks at the birds.

If it makes it sound as if I walk around the lake judging people, well, no. Only because most are boringly solid citizens. When you get a brace of hooligans, though, I turn into the Alarmed Defender of Goodness. My weapon: the glare. Endorsed by angry old ladies everywhere.

 

Really starting to get a groove going at the Diner, I think - tonight was just all over the road, but it all tracked in a strange way. We went from wet loose-meat sandwiches to lithium and every step of the way made sense. My favorite moment - and I should have noted it at the time - was when a caller said that he'd stopped at an old cafe, a place that made him "think of the Diner." At the time I said nothing, but I recall looking up at Jeremy behind the board - three weeks into this imaginary locale, and people are beginning to draw their own pictures. That's the beauty of radio. The budget for sets is nonexistent. So you can do anything you want.

 

Another harrowing race to the airport. I was tempted to phone ahead and have the airplane drag a hook, and my wife could catch it as the plane flew over our house. That seemed to be the only way to guarantee that she'd make it. When I have to take a plane, I pack the day the ticket shows up in the mail. I put the bag in the car the night before and sew the ticket to my leg. My wife leaves everything to the last minute, and to my continued despair, she makes the plane every time.

Today cut it close, though. She showed up an hour before her flight had to leave, and then she started to finish packing and ironing. I'm walking around spewing a fine mist of aggravation, helping whenever possible ("Can I brush your teeth?") and doing everything but driving her out the door with a bullwhip. On the way to the airport, I inflamed the driver in front of me - he cut in front of me and drove slow, so I hugged his bumper for a few blocks. He responded by driving five miles below the limit for 20 blocks. At stop signs we locked eyes in the mirror and glared. Sara waved her ticket - which was actually a receipt for an electronic ticket, not too impressive - and even she was starting to worry by the time we hit the freeway. Another six minutes on the metered ramp, and then we blasted off to the airport. I wanted to tie a fiver to the bag and fling it to the skycap as we drove past, but she got out and checked in while I parked. Off to the gate.

Plenty of time, of course. 14 minutes to spare. Time enough to grab a bite and decompress, and then she was off to Atlanta and I was here. Six days of bachelorhood. The main difference: at night I can turn the TV up without waking anyone.

Jasper Dog saw the suitcases come out, and feared the worst - he slunk into a room and gave us baleful looks, expecting the kennel to come up from the basement, thereby signaling a trip to some strange den. Now I'm back, but he doesn't trust things. He's sticking close by. Right now he is sitting on his haunches, staring at me intently, as though I too may dematerialize like Sara.

Average show tonight. I wasn't as engaged as I could be - it was like there was a thin mylar layer between myself and the show, and I could shout through it but not poke through. I almost worked myself into an apoplectic state over the thought of a greeting card writer named Susan Polis Schultz; I figured out the definition of rip-rap and added an item to the Diner: a large chrome floor-stand fan, by Zero King.

Can't wait for the days when we need to turn it on. Seventies today, but a cool bank of serious clouds rolled in after supper and shoved the temperature down a dozen degrees. Rain now, a good steady spring soak. I think I'll fire up the big Mac, file the Bleat, play some Star Trek: Borg (with the stereo speakers cranked up!), play some synthesizer (I figured out an arrangement of the Oceania Anthem from the movie 1984; it's straight out of Holst, and better than my Kon-Tiki lounge version of "You Only Live Twice") and then spend ten minutes in the rain pleading with Jasper to empty himself so he doesn't nudge me awake too early. He gets to sleep in the bed, as usual, but he will probably assume pride of place and slip into my wife's spot. If I wake at five AM I will find a wolf muzzle in my face, his eyes open, watching me. I wonder what he thinks. Probably good things. To a dog, morning breath is just another of life's infinite perfumes.

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