Chapter 7: Susan
I’m so nervous, I can hardly do up the buttons on my blouse.
It’s just after seven on Tuesday, and my interview at the radio station is for eight.
What will they ask me? What if I fall apart and run screaming? I’ve never even called into a radio show, let alone hosted one.
“You’re there,” the GPS tells me.
I look at the building I’m parked in front of. It and all the others on the street are old and don’t look too nice, and I’m glad it’s not late at night.
Maybe this isn’t such a good idea.
I hear a tapping sound, and look up. Outside my door, there’s a black man wearing tattered clothes that look like they’ve never been washed.
When he sees me looking at him, he stops tapping the glass and holds up a cardboard cup.
There’s no way I can get out of my car around here. I’ll have to call and decline the interview. It’s only an interview, but still, it would have been a nice distraction from cleaning the house.
I back up slowly, and the man gives me a pleading look.
I punch my address into the GPS.
Once I’m out of the unsafe area, I pull over and call the station.
“Hi, this is Sam.”
“It’s Tina. I was there but the area isn’t safe for me, so I’m afraid I can’t make the interview.”
“The area around here’s very safe.”
“The building was old and delapidated, and some man was asking me for money. I’m sorry, it’s too risky.”
“Our building’s new. Do you have this address?”
He recites it, and I check the GPS.
“Oh, I put in the wrong street name. I’ll be there soon.”
What a stupid mistake. I’m certainly not going to get the job now.
Sam is a tall man in his late thirties with a beard. He’s wearing ripped, faded jeans, and his shirt has something spilled on it.
Guess I needn’t have bothered with the white blouse.
I even ironed it.
“Welcome, Tina. Come this way please.” He shows me into a tiny office. He sits on the edge of the desk and motions for me to take a seat. “Have you brought your books?”
“Um, no, sorry.”
“That’s okay. I probably forgot to ask you to. Nine books, that’s really something. How long have you been writing them?”
“Since I was in high school, but I didn’t publish until I was an adult. Oh, I do have them, but they’re eBooks on my phone.”
I open the first one.
“This one’s still my favorite, even though the newer ones are a lot better.”
The interview goes well, and at the end of it, Sam assures me I’ll get a call once the interviews have been conducted and a person selected. Feeling disappointed, I thank him and go home.
There’s really not much to do except clean the house and make sure meals are on time.
The rest of Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday pass ever so slowly and uneventfully.
Martin’s putting in long hours and comes home tired.
At 3:00 on Friday afternoon, the phone rings.
Maybe Mom has finally learned that she can call me.
Without bothering to check the number, I answer.
“Hello, this is Sam. I just wanted to make sure you’re reade for tomorrow.”
“Ready for tomorrow?”
“Yes, for your first show.”
“My first show?”
“Yep. So 8:30 a.m. in the studio. I’m sure Jeff showed you around on Wednesday, but if you have any questions, you’ve got his number. I’m going home now, but just thought I’d call and confirm things. I can’t wait to listen to the tape.”
“Wait, hold on a second. I don’t know anybody named Jeff. Nobody called me or showed me around on Wednesday.”
He probably thinks I’m crazy, and maybe I am, but I know I stayed home on Wednesday. Not even Tina can make me be in two places at once.
“Hold on and I’ll call Jeff and get back to you.”
The line goes dead.
I was a radio show host for all of two minutes.
Why didn’t I just confirm the arrangements and ask Jeff tomorrow?
Five minutes later, the phone rings. I look at the caller ID this time. It’s Mom. Might as well answer it.
“Hi Susan. How are you and Martin?”
“We’re good, thanks. How are you and Dad?”
“Great. I joined him for that class. It was hard, but I think it will be useful for those times when he doesn’t want his hearing aids in.”
“Why wouldn’t he want them in all the time?”
“He doesn’t like to sleep with them in, and they’re not waterproof, so he takes them out to shower.”
“How’s it going with that grandchild we’re hoping for?”
“Sorry Mom, I’m getting another call. Love you and Dad. Bye.”
I end the call and my phone rings again. I glance at the screen, sure it’s Mom.
“Hi Tina. I talked to Jeff. He thought I called you and I thought he called you. So can you come tomorrow and do the show?”
“Yes. You said 8:30, right?”
“Where’s the studio?”
He explains how to find it, and I write down the information with a shaking right hand.
I have dinner ready at 5:00, and Martin comes home shortly after.
“Hi honey. How was your day?”
“Good. How was yours?”
“Oh, um, Mom called. She’s learning American Sign Language with Dad.”
“Oh, how come?”
Oops, I’ve forgotten to tell him.
“Dad’s losing his hearing and decided to take classes.”
We sit down at the table and I start to stuff my face. The thought of hosting my very own show tomorrow has made me hungry for some reason.
Usually when I’m nervous, I don’t eat much.
“That’s too bad about his hearing. My grandpa was losing his, but he refused to touch a hearing aid or sign like a quote dummy end quote. So we all had to shout.”
Both of them died before we met.
“Mom’s dad. I’m happy your dad’s doing something rather than just asking people to speak up.”
“I agree, although even doing something must be hard for him and hard for Mom to see.”
“It shouldn’t be too bad, and if they enjoy learning to sign, then it might even be sort of a good thing. I mean, if he could still hear well, he probably would never have thought to take that class, right?”
“I guess so, but it must be so stressful for them. I can’t imagine learning a new language at their age.”
“It probably isn’t the easiest thing in the world, but he’s got your mom to keep him upbeat. I just got an interesting idea. Why don’t we learn some signs and send your dad a video wishing him a merry Christmas? We have almost two months to learn that.”
This is the Martin I fell in love with and married.
“That’s a fabulous idea.”
He smiles at me and we keep eating.
A few minutes later, he says, “I wanted to bounce an idea off you. I’m finding six days a week a little too much, so I’m thinking of taking another day off. I was thinking either Tuesday, Thursday, or Saturday. What do you think?”
I have to tread carefully. I can’t mention the radio show and undo all the progress we’ve made since I finished writing.
“Um, maybe Thursday, that way you only ever work three days in a row.”
“Oh, yeah, good idea.”
The next morning, I’m terrified that Martin will ask me why I look so excited, but he eats his breakfast and goes to work for six.
At 8:00, I walk into the studio. I’m surprised to see how tiny the room is. There’s a table with two chairs and a bunch of microphones and stuff hanging from a board that’s covered with buttons and a screen that appears to be turned off. There’s also a door to the right of all the equipment.
Jeff’s about fifty with graying hair and blue eyes. His clothes are pressed and spotless.
“Hi Tina, have a seat.” He points to one of the chairs, and I sit down. “Thanks for coming early. When this light’s on, it means you’re on the air. Right now, there’s recorded stuff on. After you, there’s more recorded stuff that we get piped in from a boring national show, but don’t tell anybody I said that. I prefer local, but we need stuff to broadcast.”
He positions a microphone near my mouth. He hands me a headset, and I put it on.
“Let’s test the sound.”
His voice is muffled.
Is this how Dad hears things now? As if he’s trying to hear with a headset on?
Jeff positions another microphone in front of himself, puts on a headset, and presses something. The screen comes to life and he presses another button on the control board.
“Hi,” he says in a Southern drawl that comes clearly into my headset. “This is Jeff and Tina. Hi, Tina. How’s y’all doin’?”
“I’m doing well, thank you.”
“Awesome, now, let’s see what we got.” He presses more buttons, and our conversation plays back. He sounds funny, and I sound like an old woman trying to impersonate a young one. “Perfect. Okay, so these is the phones.” He points to a few buttons with numbers on them. “That’s line 1, line 2, and so forth. I’ll be here, but I want you to know how to work ’em.”
One of the lines lights up.
Tentatively, I press the button for it.
“Hello, you’re on the air,” I say, trying to sound like how I think Tina would.
“That didn’t take too long.” It’s Sam. “Can I pretty please talk to Jeff?”
“Sure.” His microphone is off. I press the button for his and turn mine off. He smiles at me.
“Hi Sam. Have a nice day.”
I turn off Jeff’s microphone, end the call, and turn my microphone back on.
“We’ll return after these messages.”
Jeff cracks up.
When he calms down, he says, “That was great. I’m gonna go into the booth and call you and pretend I’m on your show.”
“Yep.” He points to the door to the right of the control board.
A minute later, line 1 lights up.
“Good morning, you’re on the air.”
“Hi Tina! I’ve read all your books, and I just have one question. Where oh where do you get all y’all’s ideas from?”
Has he actually read them?
“Oh, I couldn’t possibly tell you that. That’s top secret information, and if I told you, I’d have too much competition, wouldn’t I?”
“Uh, I guess so, but it’d be so much fun if I could write like you so I could make me a billion zillion bucks.”
Line 2 lights up.
“Oh, I think we’re getting another call. Let’s see who else wants to know where I get my ideas from” I touch the button. “Hello, you’re on the air, along with another caller.”
“Hi Tina, this is Sam. What’s up?”
“I was just telling my first caller, pardon me, what’s your name, sir?”
“Thanks. I was just telling Jeff how I can’t possibly divulge the secret of how I get my ideas. My name is Tina, and this show is all about writing, but I can’t really tell you much, because it’s all top secret, so there. We’ll be back after a short commercial break.”
Line 3 lights up.
“Hello, this is just for practice, so you’re not really on the air.”
“What? Who’s this?”
It’s a young woman.
“I’m Tina. I’m practicing for my radio show.”
“Uh, okay, I guess I have the wrong number, huh?”
“Yes, probably, but can you stay on the line please? I’d like to practice on a real caller.”
“Sure, but I’m really not on the air, right?”
“No, it’s just a studio recording. There are two gentlemen, Sam and Jeff, on the lines with me. They’re radio station staff. What’s your name?”
“Fiona. What’s your show about?”
“Oh, that’s kind of cool. Is it like how to write a good college paper or something?”
“Nope, how to write fiction.”
“That’s nice. Do you write fiction?”
“Yes. I’ve written nine novels.”
“Nine? That’s awesome. My favorite author’s got nine. Her name’s Tina, too. Wouldn’t that be the weirdest coincidence if you were her?”
“It would be, and it is.”
“I don’t believe this. What’s the title of your seventh book?”
I tell her.
“Oh my gosh! Tina! I’m like, your biggest fan ever! Where do you get your ideas?”
“I honestly don’t know, so I can only conclude that my ideas get me. I’m not trying to keep it a secret, honest, but I really just don’t know how to answer that. Do you have ideas for stories?”
“Actually, um, sort of, but they’re not good ones. When do you do your real show?”
“Nine today, so in a few minutes.”
“Now I wish I really was on the air.”
I look at the lights. The record light is on.
“This call is being recorded, and I’m sure Jeff or Sam can explain how to play your call on the real air.”
“We sure can,” Jeff says, “and we can even remove the part about being not really on the air.”
“No, please don’t edit the call,” I say. “I want to use this call as it is, if that’s okay, Fiona?”
“Yeah, that’s awesome.”
“Thanks. It’s been great talking to you. Please call me again soon, and don’t forget to tell your friends about this.”
“Oh, I couldn’t forget this in a zillion years.”
“Me neither. Bye bye.”
I press the button, and the line goes dark.
“How do I keep a line open but not on the air?”
“There’s a toggle beside each line,” Jeff says. “It puts the line on hold.”
“How do I answer a call and put it on hold right away?”
“You can’t, but you can just wait to answer it. The automated system will tell the caller they’re on hold, but if they get bored, they might hang up. When I’m here, I can answer calls and hold them for you.”
“Why can’t I turn off my microphone and answer or something?”
“You don’t ever, ever want dead air,” Sam says.
“Oh boy,” Jeff says, “it’s 8:59. It’s time!”
Both lines go dark.
I turn my microphone off.
To the left of the control board, a curtain moves, and I see Jeff in the booth.
It’s 9:00, and a light goes on. It’s the on air light.
I turn my microphone on.
“Good morning. My name is Tina, and I’m here with Jeff. This is my first show, so please forgive me if I make any rookie mistakes. During this hour, and from nine to ten every Saturday, I’ll be here talking about writing, my books, and literature in general. I’ve written nine books so far.” I name them. “While I was practicing for this show, somebody called me by mistake. Hello, Fiona, thank you for being my first caller.” I signal to Jeff, who nods and gives me the thumbs up. My recorded voice fills my ears.
My microphone is still on and I tap the button. There’s a little pop in the sound, but oh well.
“That was great!” Jeff says. “You are rockin’ this here studio somethin’ fiercely.”
“Thanks. How did you make it so we can talk to each other without being on the air?”
“Intercomm. There’s a button on your side as well.” He tells me where it is.
Just as the recording ends, I tap my microphone.
“Thank you, Fiona. Does anybody have any questions about my books, literature, or writing? If you do, please give me a call at . . .” What’s the number?
A second microphone light comes on, and Jeff recites the number.
“Thank you, Jeff.”
“No problem,” he says in his wonderful drawl, even if it isn’t his real voice.
Line 1 lights up.
I touch the button.
“Hello, this is Tina, and you’re on the air.”
“Hi, Tina. I can’t believe I’m really for real getting to talk to you. I love all your books. I usually hate reading, but your books are so awesome.”
“Thank you. What’s your name?”
She sounds about twelve.
“It’s nice to meet you, Cecilia. Do you like to write?”
“I didn’t used to, but now I kind of want to learn. But I don’t know how to get an idea.”
“You already have ideas.”
“I do? Where?”
“What do you like?”
“You mean, like, schol?”
“Any place. What games, sports, or movies do you like?”
“I love racing games.”
“So how about you write a story about a girl learning to drive a racecar? We get ideas from life itself, so there’s no need to wait for them. Does a story about a girl driving a racecar sound fun?”
“Yeah, but I’m too young.”
“Do you know anybody old enough to drive one?”
“Of course! Like, everybody’s older than me.”
“Okay. Imagine you’re one of them, give them a character name, and write a story about them driving a racecar. Does that make you want to sit at your desk and write? It does me.”
“Yeah, kind of.”
“Wonderful. Once you’ve written that story, please send it to the radio station.” I recite the address. “You can put Tina on the envelope and I’ll open it and read it on the air if you’d like.”
“You’d read it? But what if it’s no good?”
“Feel free to ask your English teacher for help revising it and your friends to make suggestions or point out things they don’t understand. Writing requires team spirit. I think you have lots of that and will make an awesome author.”
There’s a timer on the screen.
“Thank you for calling in today, Cecilia. Have a great week. We’ll return after these messages.”
The countdown reaches zero just as I turn off my microphone and end the call.
The intercomm light comes on.
“That. Was. A. Mazing!”
“What? All I did was answer a call and finish just as the timer ticked down to zero.”
“All you did? Do you know how hard that is for some people?”
“No. How hard is it?”
“I won’t name names, but one person’s been doing a show for a few years and can’t get that right. I’m always having to help out at the last second. One time I got sick and Sam was away, so we had to play a canned show instead of risking miles of dead air and angry advertizers. You also have great content. Sometimes one of our hosts doesn’t come prepared.”
“I didn’t, either. Well, I did bring my books, but that’s it.”