Monday, January 11, 2016

Unconventional and Contrarian, Part One

I think I have always known I was weird, but I didn’t fully embrace my weirdness until later in life.  I had a few early shots at it, which no doubt secured my weirdness in place as it is now.  This story and the one that follows tomorrow should help to explain.

Before we begin, let me tell you that during this post I will conduct a magic trick that works thanks to the power of the Internet and the various “waves” that are transmitted as you read this.  First, you will need to find yourself a wind-up watch that is no longer operational.  A digital battery model won’t work – I’m talking about one of those old Timex watches that you had to wind every day, like you had back in the 70s…when I first did this trick on the radio (amazingly, radio waves and the Internet have the EXACT SAME AFFECT on your old watch – true!).  Take the watch and hold it in your hands like in the picture.  Scroll down to read the rest of my story as best you can (use your teeth or something).

When I was a teenager, I wanted desperately to fit in with everyone else.  So did everyone else, I suppose – it’s what teens do.  In my case, I was already “weird” and “picked on” (glasses, fat, geeky…isn’t that enough?).  I actually went out for the basketball team not because I loved basketball (I did) or that I would actually make the team (I did not) but because my Dad was a 2-time captain of the team back in the early 40s (when short and slow guys could play the game).  I never found anything to “belong” to until I discovered the Magic Club, and from there I found the Radio Guild, and it was a short jump to stagecraft and the theater and I even got a part and so lost some of my shyness and gained confidence and found what I hoped would be a potential career.

I set out in college to make it in broadcasting, and half-way through my studies I decided that while college radio was fun, actually having a real, paying commercial DJ job would be a big step for me.  So I got one, albeit a part-time bottom-of-the-barrel weekend shift at a middle-of-the-road AM station.  But to me, this was a big deal.

I worked the 6pm-Midnight shift on Sunday, the absolute graveyard of radio.  Hell, my show came on AFTER the two foreign language shows the station aired – the Czechoslovakian Hour and the Spanish show (and I had to do the call letters in both English and Spanish – and I still can).  Still, I tried to be entertaining and witty and all that in between playing the sort-of hits of the last 60s and early 70s as long as they weren’t too “rock-and-roll-y.”  Before I went on for the first time, I asked the Program Director for some guidance as to how to best “amuse” my audience, but not much in the way of direction was forthcoming.  “Just be yourself,” he advised.

So, eventually, I did.  My weird self.

After two successive Sundays of saying “that was Bobby Goldsboro, and Honey” and “Here’s Johnny Mathis,” and reading the weather, I decided to add some spunk to the program, thanks to an old friend from the high school magic club.  He told me of a trick that you could do with an old windup watch to make it start up again, and agreed to be a special guest on my show and do the trick using the power of radio waves (remember, they work just like the Internet – you are still holding that old watch, aren’t you?).  I started hinting that “something special” was coming up later in the evening, dropping hints beginning at 8:15, and every 10-15 minutes or so that I was going to do something that, to my knowledge, had never been attempted on live radio before.  At a little after 9:00 he showed up and I had him on briefly to explain the trick, imploring listeners (all 70 of ‘em, if that) to grab a non-working watch and be ready to be amazed.

At 9:15 we stopped the music.  He explained how he was learning the secret of controlling radio waves for the “powers of good” and although he had not perfected his technique to offer world peace just yet, one thing he COULD do was revive old worn out watches, and that was something.  He went on for a couple of minutes, explaining how to hold the watch as I demonstrated earlier in this post, and blah blah blah (actually just killing time to let the “magic” work).  He then said the magic words (and I obviously remember them just as well as I remember his name, which you might notice has been absent from this story).  And we asked the listening audience to open their hands.

Of course, the watches were working.  It IS magic, after all.

If you haven’t guessed, the secret is this:  the warmth of your hands acts on the spring, causing it to relax a bit, and, even if dead, it will cause the operation of the watch to reactivate…for a little while, and then, of course, it goes dead again.  But long enough for people to call into the station, excited as all hell, because IT ACTUALLY WORKED.  I had never been shown how to take the feed from the phone and put people on-air (by design, I assume) so all I could do was start a record and talk to people while it was playing and hear their exclamations.  I came back on after the record and said on-air what people were saying, and I was excited and happy and proud, and I thought I had a great show.

So when the Program Director called me on Tuesday following my show, I wanted to be sure he knew all about my successful magic trick.  Oh, he knew all right.  He started out by saying he had not actually heard the show, but heard about it from someone else, and asked me if I had anything planned like that for this upcoming Sunday.  I told him no, not yet, but I could…

“Good,” he said, “Don’t do anything like that again.”

I started to ask him why, but he just said, “Just be yourself – announce the songs, do the weather, but don’t do anything like that again.”

I hung up, dejected, and then realized he had not said, “If you plan to do anything like that again, ask me” or, “If you want to do something like that, be sure to get my OK.”  Just, “Don’t do that again.”  So I did my Sunday show “straight and boring” and really wasn’t that surprised when he called me during the show to ask me to come to his office on Monday.

I was a little surprised when he told me that he had to let me go, not because I was doing a bad job or anything like that, but because of budget cutbacks – they had to hire another sales person, and that meant they had to let someone else go, and I was low man on the totem pole, so, yeah, thanks, and good luck.  I was surprised a bit more when, on my way home (as I still had the radio set to that station), I heard a promo for the new guy “starting this Sunday at 8pm, right here on…” and I quickly turned the radio off.  Of course the new guy couldn’t have started any sooner, and that’s why I got to do one last show, and it all made sense.  I had injected my weirdness where it wasn’t wanted, and paid the price, despite what I thought was “success.”

And this was a tremendous setback to my weirdness.  I stayed in college another year, but then dropped out (lack of money as well as lack of desire), got into banking of all things, got married, got promoted a bunch at the bank up to a certain point, then went back to school to finish my degree and gain a business minor and then went back to the bank…

…and I regained my weirdness, embracing it with everything I had.  And how did I do that?  That’s coming in Part Two (hint:  it’s not magic).  Just watch. 

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