Thursday, June 23, 2016

Chapter Thirty.

Where were the women, Bill? Where were the goddam Winnebagos?

     This week's chapter is a period of which I am proud and not proud. You'll understand in a minute. I have nothing genuinely negative to say about my brief time in the military, but you must understand that the Army I came from is almost unrecognizable today. That's good and bad, but mostly bad, I think. I'm not climbing up on my soapbox today, though. I've had a rough week and I just want to keep on keeping on with the book. If you're still hanging in after thirty chapters, you have my undying gratitude. (You may also need to see a therapist...)

Chapter Thirty
Being (Mostly) All I Can Be

 And then I went completely out of my mind and joined the army.
     I wish I could tell you it was because of my deep love for country; my sense of patriotism and pride at membership in the greatest nation on Earth. The truth is, I knew that if I didn’t get out of that fucking house – by any means necessary – I was probably going to kill my stepfather, and I didn’t think I was capable enough to live life on the run. Without telling my mother or anyone else, I went down to the recruiter’s office. He interviewed me for half an hour, I took the ASVAB (Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery), and a week later I was being sworn in to the U.S. Army. I vaguely remember my friends throwing me a going-away party, but since at the time I didn’t drink, it was probably more depressing than festive.
     The next morning somebody – it might actually have been my stepfather – drove me into Houston, to the recruiter depot where I and a bunch of other newly minted government employees took an oath to defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign or domestic. And I discovered that I actually meant it. That was kind of surprising. We boarded a bus for Hobby Airport, there to board a flight for Atlanta, Georgia, there to board another bus for a long, overnight drive to Columbus, home of the Fort Benning Military Reservation.
     We arrived at the Reception Battalion in the middle of the night. Maybe a few guys had slept on the bus, but I didn’t. I was beginning to wonder just what the fuck I had gotten myself into. As we rolled up, I could see several men in BDUs (battle dress uniform, or camos), wearing those Smokey The Bear hats with the flat brim, that made them somehow look more menacing than amusing. We all scrambled off the bus without being told, and tried to line ourselves up like the clumsy civilians we were, and it took a minute to realize that nobody was yelling at us. The drill sergeants quietly (and almost politely) asked us to secure our bags from under the bus, which we then placed at our feet and had to open for inspection. That was when the dogs were brought out, and that was when I realized that some guys might try to sneak stuff into the army that the army kind of frowned on. The drill sergeants went through every bag. One guy lost a stack of Playboys; another had his Walkman confiscated. At least nobody on my bus was dumb enough to try and smuggle in drugs.
     We were ushered into Reception Battalion, a brand new building with gleaming bays of bunk beds for new arrivals. Old-timers on base called these new buildings “starships,” and I was to learn just how new they were when I got down range to my training battalion, and essentially stepped backward in time to the 1940s. But for now I was assigned a bunk, I placed my bag underneath it, and crawled in. The time was 3am (0300), and we had to be up at 6am (0600) to begin In-Processing. The bay was already half full of recently arrived recruits, who’d gotten there maybe a day ahead of us. But they were already talking shit and acting tough. I did what I usually do in new situations, which was to keep my mouth shut and observe.
     In-Processing consisted of haircuts (shave it down to the nub), fitting and acquisition of uniforms (BDUs and Dress, summer and winter gear, standard infantry boots, socks, underwear, etc.), vaccinations (I actually saw a couple of guys faint during this process), more tests (to determine pre-disposition or education for things like how to drive tanks, make quick decisions under stress, eye-hand coordination, cognitive reasoning, etc.), and an endless number of poorly produced welcome and informational videos, during which we had to sit on benches designed to promote numbness in the legs and feet, followed by severe back ache. These videos consisted of everything from how to address a passing officer (salute and say “Good Morning/Afternoon/Evening, Sir or Ma’am), to how to pick the right running shoe. Because, as it turns out, we’d be doing a lot of fucking running.
     All told we spent about five days in Reception Battalion – long enough, I think, to give us all a false sense that this was what Army life was going to be like. And it wasn’t that bad. I was actually optimistic the day we boarded the buses to go down range and begin Basic Training. I firmly believe this false sense of reality was very carefully devised by the men in charge. We rolled into an area of whitewashed clapboard buildings straight out of a WWII film, and there were several more drill sergeants. As the bus rolled to a stop, one of them stepped aboard and said, evenly, “Gentlemen, welcome to Fort Benning, home of the Infantry. NOW GOT YOUR FUCKING ASSES OFF OF THIS BUS!!”
     We collectively shit our pants, and tumbled off the buses as fast as we could push each other out. Drill sergeants were on every side, screaming orders we couldn’t understand, ripping our duffel bags out of our hands and strewing their contents all over the blacktop. One kid passed right out from sheer terror (he wound up in my platoon). Once they had thoroughly shaken us down and lined us up, they started walking down the ranks, asking each recruit the same question: “What the fuck did YOU do in the outside world, asshole?” Some guys answered they were right out of high school, some had been in the trades (plumbing, woodwork,), some had been unemployed. When they got to me, I answered the only honest thing I could think of. I was NOT trying to sound tough; these people scared the shit out of me.
     “I was a martial arts instructor, Drill Sergeant!” (No fucking way was I going to answer, “I used to do standup comedy, Drill Sergeant!”)
     I got a double take from the guy who asked me the question, and he stared me down like he thought I was lying. Then he asked me something even more frightening: “Is your name Brantley?”  We didn’t even have name-tape on our uniforms yet; just white pieces of tape with our roster numbers. How the fuck did he know my name?  I answered in the affirmative, and he moved on down the line.
     I was made a Squad Leader, which meant I had responsibility for myself and seven other guys, in a platoon of forty. My primary responsibility was to make sure that my squad and me had our shit squared away at all times. The job of Platoon Guide was given to a guy named Pettit, I think, but he didn’t last more than a week. I was less than thrilled when Drill Sergeant Tiller (“Killer Tiller,” we called him – behind his back), looked at me and said, “YOU do it.” And just like that I was “promoted” to a position I didn’t want, responsible for forty guys, the only thing of which we all had in common was that we were wondering how we could have been so drunk or stupid as to enlist in the army.
     The military was the first place I learned I had the capacity to lead. I didn’t really have a choice, and I was a reluctant leader at best. If I could end most days of Basic and Advanced Infantry Training without any of my guys getting into deep shit with the Drill Sergeants, that counted as a good day. There were plenty of guys in the platoon that disliked me, maybe even a few who hated my guts – but mostly because I was the authority figure, I think. No one ever challenged me outright, and I think this was because back then there was still a mystique to somebody who practiced martial arts. You just didn’t fuck with them. But I hope the main reason nobody ever tried to beat my ass was because I was an okay leader.
     I will say that the army provided a structure and order to my life I had never known, and that I found I craved. Knowing what you were going to do every day, and what was expected of you, knowing the system of rewards and punishments, knowing the boundaries of your world; those things at that time in my life probably saved me from doing something completely stupid and self-destructive, had I not enlisted. I actually started to excel, and I liked the feeling of being good at something. I learned, for example, that I was a damn good shot with just about any weapon, even though prior to the army I had only fired a gun once or twice in my life (including the time I’d murdered a perfectly good bathroom window). I also learned that I sucked at Land Navigation (this is back when a GPS was referred to as a “compass,” and one of those is still as useful to me as a third nipple), but I befriended a guy in my platoon named Casanova (swear to God). He was this skinny little Mexican kid from Houston, with ears that stuck out sideways from his head. He looked like the Latin version of Alfred E. Newman, the face of Mad Magazine. But he saved me from flunking Land Nav, and he never got us lost in the Georgia woods once.
     For all the things I may have gained during Basic (order, structure, etc.), what I lost was my sense of humor. I simply didn’t have time for it. I couldn’t be the class clown in the platoon, because I was in charge. My desire to be good at something was in direct conflict with my nature as a human being, and I was miserable. Before I ever graduated Basic, I’d already decided I wouldn’t be making a career out of the military. I’d do my time, and I’d do my best – and then I’d get out.
     I’d enlisted late in the year, and was still in Basic Training as Christmas was approaching. The army has a contingency for just about everything, including new recruits and the holidays. I took part in something called Christmas Exodus, when all recruits in Basic are allowed – at the government’s expense – to travel home for the holidays. I went home for two weeks, and mostly what I did during that time was sleep. I also came down with the flu. I didn’t want to stay, and I didn’t want to go back. During her sober moments my mom would tell me how proud she was of me. I knew that failure to show back up at Benning would be a federal offense, and that might be the only thing that got me on the plane back to Georgia.
     I managed to finish both Basic and Advanced Infantry Training without getting “fired” from my position as Platoon Guide. I was Honor Graduate of my platoon, and my family actually made the trip up from Texas to see me graduate. We all spent that weekend in nearby Columbus, along with my best friend from Basic, a Miami native named Eduardo Lopez, whose family couldn’t make the trip. The following Monday, Lopez and I had to report to Airborne School.
     The First Battalion, 507th Parachute Infantry Regiment is where soldiers learn how to jump out of airplanes and into combat. Lopez and I, along with our friend Sean MacGuire (who also came out of Basic with us), ended up in Delta Company, which had a history of the toughest instructors and the highest standards. Airborne School consisted of four weeks of training: Zero Week, Ground Week, Tower Week, and Jump Week. Our first day in, the company commander addressed us. I can’t remember everything he said, but this bit stuck with me:
     “Now some people might ask you WHY you would want to jump out of a perfectly good airplane. Your answer in these situations should always be that the U.S. Air Force doesn’t make any PERFECTLY GOOD airplanes, and it is best to know how to leave one quickly, and here we will teach you that skill.”
     I made it all the way through Tower Week. The Friday morning before we would actually start jumping out of planes, we went for a company run, as we had every day since the beginning of Airborne School. On a steep decline, making a sharp left turn to head back to the barracks, my left foot planted and stayed put while the rest of me turned 90 degrees, partially tearing my ACL. And just like that, my army days were done.
     I could have stayed in. I had options. I remember going over them with my company commander. I could have become a Range Instructor. I could have taken any number of desk jobs. But the last option he gave me was to honorably discharge, and I jumped at it. My friends had already graduated Airborne and were long gone. I was in a sort of bureaucratic Purgatory, and I already knew I wasn’t going to make the army a career. When I told him I wanted to go home, he looked over his thick spectacles at me with utter contempt. And I thought, I don’t care. You’re just one more person I’m disappointing. Get in line. A few weeks later, a guy I’d befriended at Headquarters Company, named Lennon, drove me to the bus station.  I hopped a Greyhound for Atlanta, and there I got on a plane and flew home, with absolutely no goddamn idea what I was going to do next.
     And that’s how I became a bouncer.

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Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Chapter Twenty-Nine.

That pretty much sums it up.

     There's nothing quite so self-awareness raising as writing a memoir. Some people can't believe I actually post some of this shit about myself. Others simply don't believe it. They believe, as the name of the book suggests, that I'm just making shit up. I'm not. That's some James Frey shit. If you never heard of him, he wrote a book in 2003 called A Million Little Pieces, which was published as a memoir, and went to the top of the NY Times Best Seller List after Oprah made it a "Book of the Month" selection. Then a little while later, a rag called The Smoking Gun did some investigating and discovered that James Frey was full of a million little pieces of shit, and that an awful lot of what he claimed happened to him never did. And then that poor fucker had to go back on Oprah's show, and receive a very public bitch-slapping from a mad black woman. 

     I think the chances of Oprah ever picking my memoir for her club are about the same chances I have of winning the lottery, and getting mauled by a polar bear. On the same day. Still, I'm not taking any chances. The shit I write about my life actually happened, and I've written it down as accurately as I can remember. You hear me, Oprah?

     Anyway. Off we go...

Chapter Twenty-Nine
Competitive Speech, Lipstick, and The Great Drift

   The first time I got the idea that I could actually DO something with my humor – other than entertain my classmates and annoy my teachers – was in Mrs. Anderson’s speech class at Travis Jr. High. I believe it was 1981, and my father’s suicide was still a topic of conversation. Mrs. Anderson’s class was primarily a “how-to-give-a-presentation-in-front-of-your-classmates-without-shitting-your-pants” kind of thing, but for those of us with a penchant for crowd-pleasing there was something called Humorous or Dramatic Interpretation; basically, acting out a scene from a play or book, in which you play one or more characters, without the benefit of costumes or scenery, or any of the other trappings of theater performance. (I realize that I have previously explained Humorous and Dramatic Interpretation earlier in this book. But you know those people who, even though they missed the start of the movie – like, the first fifteen or twenty minutes - will come traipsing into the theater, anyway? Blocking the screen, and dumping half their buttered popcorn in your lap while shuffling to that one empty seat in the middle of the aisle? I have to believe there’s some guy out there who does the same thing with books. The above explanation was for him. Quit being late to books, asshole.)  This struck me as an interesting challenge. I had to pull people into a little world that I created all by myself, and make them believe it.
     I was competent enough at it that Mrs. Anderson registered me for my first competitive speech tournament. There were several categories, and I can’t remember which of them I competed in, save one: Impromptu Speaking. Contestants drew a scene out of a hat. They had one minute to think about it, then had to perform a three-minute sketch based on the scene. I made it to the Finals, and I can still remember the scene I was given: you are the captain of an airplane. In the middle of the flight, you lose an engine. Now, this could be played dramatically, of course, but fuck that. I decided to take a scene of a fully loaded passenger plane in the process of CRASHING, and make it funny.
     And I killed. That was the first competition I ever won. When I stepped onstage at the awards ceremony, and was handed a cheap-ass medal to commemorate my victory, it was as if they had handed me the Grail. That was also probably when I started craving the adoration of the entire planet, as I was getting nothing of the kind at home. Finally, here was a way to use what came naturally to me, and get recognition for it –the good kind of recognition. It didn’t make me any more popular with girls, but it would do.
     I competed all through seventh and eighth grades, sometimes in the categories of Prose or Poetry readings, always in Impromptu, and always choosing material that was funny. I also learned pretty quickly that Competitive Speech people were very different from Drama people, and rarely did the two groups comingle. Drama people tended to be purists, and viewed any acting that wasn’t performed on a stage, with lights and sets and costumes, as beneath their artistic integrity. And Competitive Speech people thought that Drama people were mincing little pussies.
     When I got to high school I continued to compete. The competitive speech coach my freshman year was a woman named Martha Roach. I never really liked her, and not just because of her name. But I do owe her thanks, because she pushed me out of my funny-zone and into Dramatic Interpretation. This was also the year I actually had to start performing with somebody else, which began my life-long love of creative collaboration, maddening as it can sometimes be. I was to compete in the Duet category with a girl named Shawn Day. She was two years older than me, and crazy beautiful. She and I developed a love/hate relationship, which must have translated well to performance. We were given a scene from a play about the final hours of the life of Anne Boleyn, the second wife of Henry VIII, whom he beheaded for convenience. The scene takes place in the tower in which Anne is locked away, awaiting her execution. It’s one last conversation between king and queen, and at the end of the scene they kiss. Now, I had no problems with kissing. By this time in my life I thoroughly enjoyed kissing. And Shawn was game too, especially because that kiss never failed to produce a gasp from audiences when they saw it (keep in mind this is Texas in the 80s, and even the more liberal speech judges were usually dyed-in-the-wool conservatives who believed that high school students should never hold hands in public, much less make out at a school-sanctioned event).
     The problem was Shawn’s lipstick. She insisted on this blood-red color that made her lips pop as if she’s just eaten a handful of roses. And when we kissed – and it was a for-real, lip-mashing, grab the back of my head and hang on kind of kiss – that shit would smear all over my mouth, so that when we parted my face looked somewhere between circus clown and transvestite. I’m sure lipstick technology has come a long way since then, but in the 1980s it had the consistency of congealed bacon grease. I never really minded though, because I was getting to lock lips with easily one of the prettiest girls in school. And everybody knew it.
     Ms. Roach left after freshman year, and was replaced by Mom Murphy. She began letting me experiment in Humorous Interpretation with pieces that Roach wouldn’t let me touch. As for Duet, her belief was, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. So the first tournament of my sophomore year I was back performing as Henry VIII, with Shawn as my Anne Boleyn. As luck would have it, we made it to the finals. (Not just luck; we’d gotten pretty tight by then.) But there was another duet in the finals from a school that had a new speech coach: Martha Roach. She ran straight to the judges to point out a technicality that competitors could not perform the same piece within a certain amount of time after the previous season had ended. She got Shawn and me disqualified from the finals. Now, you can say she was just abiding by the rules. But I’ll call bullshit. She was vindictive as hell, and she knew we were better than her duet, and I swear when Mom Murphy delivered us the news, and Shawn burst into tears, I looked a few tables over at Roach and caught her smiling.
     The problem – my perennial problem, it seems – is that I could never fully commit. Performance came easy, and, as such, I felt no great need to actually work to get better at it. Also, remember, I was choosing pieces that I wanted to perform, not pieces that were likely to be respected (or even recognized) by judges. As successful as I was, Mom Murphy pointed out (correctly), that I would fare even better if I would just suck it up and perform something more easily recognizable; something more mainstream. To me, “mainstream” meant “boring,” and I spent most of my high school years doing exactly what I wanted. Only my senior year – the very end of my senior year, actually – did I agree, at the last minute, to switch what I was going to perform for NFL District. (That’s National Forensic League. I stopped playing football in junior high.) I was going to perform yet another collection of Monty Python sketches, but Mom Murphy convinced me to switch to a monologue out of Neil Simon’s Brighton Beach Memoirs. I think I literally had two days to work on it before the competition. I made it to Finals, but came one spot short of qualifying for Nationals, beat out by two students who had clearly put in the time and effort needed to be successful. I would not be performing on the national stage. Once again, my lack of ambition had placed me right where I deserved to be.
     I wish I could tell you that I learned from that experience, but that would totally be making shit up. I believe my response to that episode was something along the lines of, fuck it. Who needs it? I finished out my senior year, blew up my relationship with my girlfriend, graduated mostly unknown in a class of over 600 seniors, and spent my summer hanging out with my friends and practicing (and teaching) Tae Kwon Do. Thus began a phase of my life known as The Great Drift.
     The night of my graduation, the high school held a party/dance. I went to the party/dance, because that’s what everybody else was doing. I did not party. Nor did I dance. I sat at a table, mostly alone, with one thought running around and around the hamster wheel in my head: what the fuck am I supposed to do now? I was teaching Tae Kwon Do, and making next to nothing. My mother had remarried my sophomore year to a guy I hated, mostly because he was a huge enabler of Mom’s alcoholism. So I didn’t want to stay at home. I sat there absolutely confounded as to how to proceed with my life. I might have sat there all night, but a friend who was a junior invited me back to his house, as his parents were out of town and the hot tub was already fired up. I wound up in a Jacuzzi with several other couples, and a girl who might also have been a junior, and her name might have been Stacie or Stephanie. She was quite pretty, and either she thought I was good-looking enough, or she felt sorry for me, and we ended up making out until the sun came up. I never saw her again.
     The next morning I had a vague recollection that I was on the hook to some upper-middle class Junior League Ladies’ Club, because I had entered some sort of competition from them for a college scholarship, and I had won. A whopping two-hundred and fifty dollars, which unfortunately they would not give me in cash. Since I could think of nothing better to do, I scraped together a few more meager funds, enough to enroll for one semester at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas. Which, coincidentally, is also home to the prison where Texas carries out all its executions. In addition to general courses, I also registered for their competitive speech team.
     I hated the entire experience. I was pretty miserable in high school, but at least it was a familiar misery. Now everything was new again: the campus, the students, and the teachers (which you couldn’t even call them “teachers” anymore; they were “professors” now). It had taken me four long years to make even a handful of friends in high school. I found that I just didn’t have the capacity for it in college. I dropped out of the speech program almost immediately. And I remember taking a history course where I actually spoke the entire semester with a Russian accent. I have no idea why.
     I don’t believe I actually finished the one semester of college I enrolled in. (That doesn’t keep the SHSU Alumni Association from asking me for money two or three times a year, though. I still don’t know how those fuckers manage to track me down.) One morning I just couldn’t stomach the thought of getting in the truck and driving the 35 miles to the campus. I just stopped going. I kept on making no money, kept living at home, kept my familiar misery.

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Friday, June 10, 2016

Chapter Twenty-Eight.

     I've arrived at that age where I actually have to pay attention to aches and pains. In the first place, they don't go away after a couple of days, the way they did twenty or thirty years ago. In the second place, a sore neck used to mean that you'd overdone it the day before when you were waterskiing, or sky diving, or having sex in the back of your Datsun 280ZX. These days a sore neck is almost assuredly the beginnings of rheumatoid arthritis. Or dementia. Or ED. Or something.

     So this week's chapter of Making Sh*t Up: An Improvised Life, is about a time when I didn't have these concerns: when I could frolic as the Village Drunk, or dress up as the world's sickliest Santa, or even have sex in the back of a Datsun 280ZX without worrying the next day that my sore neck was a portent of doom. (For the record, I never had sex in the back of a Datsun 280ZX. Because I'm not an Oompa Loompa.)

Chapter Twenty-Eight

Drunks, Wenches, and a Face for Radio
One of my most memorable jobs was as the Village Drunk at the Texas Renaissance Festival in Plantersville, TX. If you’ve never been to Ren-Fest, or Scarborough Faire, or any of the hundreds of other similar festivals around the country, then try to imagine all the geeks you knew who used to play Dungeons and Dragons, and all the chicks you used to know in high school who liked to dress up as Stevie Nicks, all collected in one place out in the middle of the country, where they can basically let their medieval fantasies run wild every weekend for a couple of months. Dudes dress up in armor and beat the shit out of each other, on the hour, for your viewing enjoyment. There are jesters, who juggle and pick your pockets, and (sometimes) return your wallets. There are musicians playing instruments you never heard of, mostly melancholic tunes of a bygone age that has had the shit romanticized right out of it. And there are wenches. Holy shit, the wenches.
     I haven’t been to the Renaissance Festival since I was 18 years old and employed there. I’m told it’s a lot more family-friendly now. But I remember a time when a guy could walk up to a buxom wench and whisper something in her ear. Money would exchange hands. The wench would then whip the guy’s shirt over his head, remove it, and then tuck it into the front of his pants, providing a makeshift curtain over his crotch. The buxom wench would then get on her knees, and go underneath this makeshift curtain. You can work out the rest for yourself. And all this took place right out in the open. God bless America.
     What I was supposed to be doing at Ren-Fest was selling collectibles, and camera film, and any cheap plastic piece of shit with the Renaissance Festival logo imprinted on it, never mind that cheap plastic didn’t exist during the actual Renaissance. But getting folks to walk over to our out-of-the-way booth was a challenge, especially because I was not a buxom wench. I took to hopping out of the booth and, with an empty beer stein in hand (which one could conveniently purchase from my booth), proceeded to stumble around like a drunkard, saying funny things and generally making fun of people, which, oddly, people really seemed to enjoy.
     The more loud and obnoxious my character became, the more people would gather around, and the more they would buy something from the booth. The guy who ran these booths knew opportunity when he saw it, and pretty soon I was playing the Village Drunk at all the booths, rotating every hour or so to whichever location he deemed to be moving merchandise too slowly. I loved being able to say to strangers whatever I thought of them at first glance, which was usually something very unflattering (the guy with pit stains under his arms, or the woman with the moustache), unless it was a hot chick, in which case I could be completely honest and tell her how hot she was, and not be worried that her gigantic boyfriend was going to try and kick my ass. Because I was a character.
     I once had a drunk guy at Ren-Fest pay me twenty bucks to French-kiss his very attractive girlfriend for three minutes, while he recorded the deed for posterity on video. I’m pretty sure I wound up making out with this hot chick for five minutes, and I’m pretty sure she wanted those last two. Another time I was on my way to an under-performing booth to do my act, when I was halted by a couple of extremely buxom wenches. They informed me that they were in dispute as to which of them were more, um, endowed, and asked me to settle the issue. Before I could utter a word they both dropped their tops, revealing four of the most awesome breasts ever seen by man or god. And, again, in full view of the attending public. As I was literally struck speechless, and as I didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings by declaring a winner (and, by extension, a loser), I feigned light-headedness at that most marvelous sight, and fell over backwards in a faint. Lord bless those wenches; so concerned were they at my plight, they attempted to revive me by rubbing their bare breasts all over my face. They did revive something.
     I had another interesting job – albeit briefly – my senior year. I was a disc jockey for a local AM radio station (You’re on the move with KMUV!). The format was soft rock, and I didn’t completely hate it. I read PSAs (that’s Public Service Announcements to you civilians), talked about community events, and even learned the rudiments of producing radio commercials. Some of my friends’ parents would listen in, and even call in occasionally to request a song.
     You know these days how a lot of “radio programs” are on television? That shit would never have flown with the crew I worked with. They were in radio for two reasons. The first is that they all had unique voices. I don’t mean sexy, or announcer-like, necessarily. I mean that, whether it was because of pitch or timbre, meter or accent, they all had interesting voices. The second reason is that none of them gave a shit about what they looked like. It wasn’t uncommon for a DJ to show up for a shift in their pajamas, especially if they had the sign-off shift. Shaving was unheard of, and that went for the women as well as the men. Yet somehow I felt like I fit in with these outcasts. I was performing, of a sort, and I was getting paid for it (kind of).
     For Christmas that year I got elected to do live events for the station. These events consisted of me dressing up in the most hideous Santa Claus costume ever made by a sweatshop full of Malaysian children that never even heard of Santa Claus, and standing out front of local stores doing “remote broadcasts.” At the time I weighed 140 pounds soaking wet, and I probably looked like Santa would if he’d spent some quality time in a concentration camp. The station icon was an antique Model A Ford with the station logo on the doors, which was driven to all the live events (not by me). We would set up speakers and antennae, blasting the likes of Chuck Mangione and Carol King and Neil Fucking Diamond, occasionally breaking in for live updates. As the dancing monkey, my primary job was to provide a photo opportunity for the many children who wanted a snapshot with Santa. I drew the line at letting the kids sit in my lap. I had a very traumatic experience as a small child, in the lap of a bearded fat stranger dressed in red, and was not going to perpetuate the cycle.
This is the EXACT moment when the need for therapy started.
     The job didn’t last long. Evidently the guy who owned the station wised up to the fact that, after all, a local AM radio station didn’t really need on-air personalities; it just needed someone to punch the buttons for music and commercials. Most of the DJs – including yours truly - were given the heave-ho, and so ended my brief sojourn in radio. Probably my most important takeaway from the experience was this: radio doesn’t get you laid.

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