Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Interlude at a chain diner

The girlfriend's car had a flat; the second in just a couple of months. It was the rear passenger side wheel. She might have caught a corner wrong or it might just be the car, but a jagged two-inch tear stood out like a stab wound in the black rubber.

It all seemed kind of suspicious to me. The tire had less than 5,000 miles on it, but I hadn't been called out to change the tire, which I was capable of, something I've done far too many times, but to offer comfort and moral support.

Besides, the car was practically new and came with free roadside assistance --why not leave it to the professionals. 

But we had to wait around and she was hungry. I was not, but I offered to walk in from the Shoney's parking lot and buy a hamburger and a drink while she waited for a guy to come and change the tire.

I felt kind of wary of the place. The time before, not that long ago, we'd had dinner there. There had been a mix up, a minor issue of onion rings instead of fries, and I'd kind of been treated like an asshole for not accepting that I'd ordered something I hadn't.

The waitress sort of stomped off when I said, "Hey, I didn't order this."

A few minutes later, another waitress came and collected the onion rings in a bowl, but it was a good, long while before another waitress came back with the missing fries.

We didn't see the lady who took our order again until she swung by with the check and then scurried off.

It was a weird level of hostility for something that shouldn't have been that big of a deal to any of us, but I paid the bill without a fuss, hadn't said anything to the manager at the register, and I'd left a normal tip.

Still, the meal hadn't made me want to go back anytime soon.

I spotted the previous visit's waitress as I crossed the floor from the door to the counter. She looked up at me and, for a second, I thought she recognized me, remembered me somehow, but the place was only half-full at dinner time and just as likely, she was wondering if the hostess would seat me in her section. Each new customer was a few more bucks for the night.

A pair of old women stood at the register; the both of them were easily past the recommended retirement age. The younger of the two had gone gray. The elder dyed her hair black --or I presumed so since she seemed so much older than the other.

It seemed sad to me that two grandmothers would be stuck working the night shift at a Shoney's, but I explained what I needed from the younger of the two. She cheerfully took my order, while the other woman looked on.

The rest was just standing around, waiting for meat to cook and potatoes to fry.

I got a text: the roadside assistance guy was there.

I joked and texted back that she could share her fries with the man, if she wanted. Fries came with the meal. It was an extra.

A scrawny man in his 20s slipped out from the kitchen. He hovered next to the door, grimly, nervously, eyes darting furtively. The man looked looked pasty, but not quite feverish, like he was sweating something unpleasant out.

The old women tried very hard not to act like they weren't watching him.

A couple of moments later, a short woman with flinty eyes came out. She slipped a cigarette in her mouth as she walked past him and he followed her out the door.

The younger of the two old women said, "Now, what was that about?"

A little sharper than she maybe intended, she replied, "What do you think it was about?"

The younger woman sighed and warned,"It's a mistake." 

"Of course, it is," the other woman told her. "I did it, too. Over and over."

The younger woman shook her head.

"Yeah, me, too."

They were quiet until a minute or so later when my order came up: a cheeseburger and fries boxed up in Styrofoam and dropped in a flimsy bag, ready to take to my girlfriend waiting in the parking lot.

"If she wants dessert, you come right back in," the junior of the two told me. "We got some really nice desserts."

I didn't think to even look at the menu.

Monday, March 30, 2015


I never accomplished much in Bluefield. I managed to con my way into working a few extra shifts here and there, but it was always minor stuff. My best shift was the Sunday morning ghetto shift. I worked Sunday mornings from 6 to noon, played a couple of canned national programs and only really hosted an hour or so before the afternoon guy came in.

I was never considered for anything more substantial.

Part of it lies with me --a large part of it. When it works, I have a pretty fair voice, but not a really over-the-top personality to go with it.

Most of the guys who do well in radio aren't necessarily funny. They're sometimes sort of funny and some of them are kind of charming, but they're over-the-top loud. Their voices boom and so do their personalities on the air. They're larger than life, larger than they actually are.

I've always been pretty much the same size --and that's no crime, but it doesn't necessarily open doors for you.

Things never really got better for me and I made them worse. A few months after my first wife and I split (I left. She was horrible), I developed a crush on a co-worker. I wanted it to be more than a crush, but I really just wasn't her type. I was kind of nerdy, silly and sort of plain. I was hard worker and very creative. She liked guys who were handy with tools, followed NASCAR and were, mostly, just simple, uncomplicated country boys.

I was doomed to fail from the beginning and she was either too kind or too afraid to tell me to move along. Maybe she thought I was fragile, but I was unhappy with going nowhere with her and going nowhere at the radio station. So, when the opportunity arose, I jumped ship for public broadcasting.

A couple months after I left, the guy they hired to replace me was basically canned. I got a call from the station manager offering me to write commercials for him on the side. That lasted for seven or eight months before I got fed up with being paid late and with the scripts I wrote being horribly mangled.

I told the boss to go fuck himself.

I had the public broadcasting job, anyway.

It was TV, though, and kind of dull. When a position opened up in Charleston, it seemed like the answer to all kinds of prayers.

I don't know that it was.

Saturday, March 28, 2015


A very long side note:

I got out of the habit of blogging not long after I moved into this house. For a while things were really tough and then they were really good. Blogging about how truly awful I felt seemed too self-indulgent. So, I dialed it down.

After I met Vanessa, things just got so  much better that I didn't think anybody would believe me or they'd think that I'd been holding out.

After a while, I just got out of the habit of blogging. I just didn't write much.

I missed it all the time, but I didn't feel like I needed it. I could walk away.

So last night I come home full up with anger and frustration. I sat down at the computer really just to do something besides open a second beer and glower at the cat, but the words came and when I was done, I felt a lot better.

I've always thought of the writing as just communication. This is me trying to connect and explain the things that sometimes don't come out so easily from my idiot mouth.

It's something else, too, something I never considered --it's therapy. I bottle stuff up. I obsess. I brood. I dwell. I am frequently frustrated by my job, my community; the people I love and the people I wish would get genital warts so large that they have to buy pants the next size larger.

I don't talk it out as much as I should and I don't know why. It seems to me like I do, like I'm constantly shouting "Ow!" at every physical, financial or emotional injury, but maybe I'm not. Maybe it gets buried in there somewhere or maybe I yell "ow!" but I don't actually put a band-aid on the wound. Maybe that's part of the problem.

Anyway, the blogging seems to help.

More about radio...

I got my second job in radio about a year after my first gig ended. For right at a year, I took a job working inbound customer service for a satellite television company based out of Canada. I like to refer to it as the worst satellite television company in the world and it was pretty bad. The equipment had been rushed to market and didn't work properly. The bulk of our customers seemed to be from the Spanish-speaking parts of central America and the call center was located in Bluefield, WV --which is not known for its vibrant Spanish-speaking community.

The job lasted exactly a year and then all of us were laid off just after the company announced it planned to cease broadcasting channels. They announced this in a message that scrolled across the bottom of their customers' television screens.

What a bunch of assholes.

In the interim, I answered an ad for a local radio station I didn't much like. They needed someone to write commercials and work with the sales force and the on-air talent. I interviewed, showed a panel of managers a couple of scripts I'd written while I was sitting around the trailer park and they were impressed --not impressed enough to hire me, but impressed.

I spent the next month selling vacuum cleaners --badly.

And just after I decided I wasn't meant to be a vacuum cleaner salesman, I got a call back from the radio station. The woman they'd hired, an old friend of the current station manager, was basically stinking up the joint. She was a little unbalanced, wasn't taking her medication, I was told, and worse, she was unreliable.

The commercials they needed her to write weren't getting done and the incoming station manager wanted her gone.

I was hired to assist her and do some production work, but then they fired her the day before I came into work.

I remember it well. It was Halloween. The sale staff were in costumes. One woman, Catherine, was dressed as Little Bo Peep. The company also provided pizza for lunch, something I was told, "not to get used to."

I almost didn't make it. When I came on staff, they showed me the system the last two people who'd held the job had used to manage the workload. I tried to do the same thing and fell flat on my face. It was one disaster after another.

For Thanksgiving weekend, a car dealer wanted us to run a different commercial every hour for four days straight on three different radio stations. I was called in Thanksgiving day to correct my mistake and then come Monday morning, the boss wanted my head.

"Can you even do this?" She shouted at me.

I told her I didn't know, but I asked her to let me give it one more shot.

How we'd done things before, how the copy writer had assigned things for people to do, I tossed it out the window, came up with my own, very simple, very primitive and very effective method.

We stopped making big mistakes. We stopped making little mistakes, mostly. The work got done. It was good work and for a while, they treated me like I was some kind of a miracle.

But nobody gets into radio to write commercials. I started asking about getting an air-shift. I was willing to do it for free, if they'd just let me.

No takers, until my old boss at the satellite company called me and offered to hire me back for three dollars an hour more than I was making at the radio station.

The radio station agreed to a two dollar an hour raise and gave me a weekend air-shift.

Everything seemed great... but really, it wasn't.   

Friday, March 27, 2015

Resume -1

I have no idea if I'm quitting radio or not, but I've been thinking about my career in that business a lot lately.

My first radio gig was in Beckley. I worked for a guy named Al. He treated us all kind of poorly and cheated people whenever he got the chance.

I got the job because I was willing to put up with a lot of shit. The interview had been a relentless mocking of my experience and newly minted educational accomplishment. I hadn't walked out on him and I hadn't jumped across the desk and put my hands around his throat.

That probably meant something. 

He didn't heat the building in the winter and the on-air staff used to hole up in the control room with a space heater somebody brought from home. You had to stuff a towel under the gap below the door to keep the heat in --and it was never enough.

I worked nights and weekends.

It wasn't so bad and when I was down a car, I could walk to the job.

One night, after midnight, a man in car followed me. He rolled the passenger side window down and tried to offer me a ride.

I declined.

"I just want to talk," he said.

I kept walking.

He followed and I ducked down a side street.

He looped around and came looking for me.

I slipped away, but the same scene played out a couple of other times before I finally moved.

Another night, a couple of junkies, huffing paint on the roof of the building where I worked, tried to break in through a side door. The station manager, John, lived in an apartment on the third floor and was working that night. He called the cops.

"Hey, I've got a break-in over here!"

The Beckley police department were across the street.

They asked him if they had gotten inside the buidling. He told them, no. They told him until they actually got through the door, it wasn't a break-in.

He fired three rounds into the door, while he was on the phone.

They came running, put the crooks in cuffs and took John's gun.

He was pissed about the gun, had to go to court to get it back, but he had a couple of others lying around.

There were a lot of guns in that place.

Al kept what looked like a sawed off shotgun in his desk. John said he'd seen him shoot it at a couple of honest-to-God hobos who'd jumped off a train and were down below the building, messing with his car.   

Eventually, Al sold the station off and we got new owners who occupied some offices and quietly went bankrupt over some bad coal deals. The only real thing I remember about them was that they didn't approve of me wearing sweat pants on Saturday.

At the end of the run, they more or less sold the station off to another radio company. They offered to keep me around if I was willing to continue working Sunday mornings and manage the African-American preachers who came in and did their shows.

They'd been doing their shows for years. Some of them were pretty good. Al seemed to despise them. He called them, "his nigger preachers," but they paid on time and they paid in cash. They were practically the only reliable source of income the station had.

I could keep doing Sunday mornings, they said, if I was also willing to take a two dollar an hour pay-cut.

My answer was to take another job.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

It came from under the sea, from the stars, from beneath the earth... etc.

I honestly thought I was done with this blog.

Don't Print This was too dark. There was too much history.

I like blogging. I've been doing it for 10 years and figured I'd just wipe the slate clean. I could blog about my fucking house or I could maybe blog about getting my shit together, but honestly, it was just me trying to beat around the bush, trying to avoid some truths.

The greatest of these truths is I seek approval. I want to be liked. I want to be loved. I want to be respected, thought highly of, adored, admired, esteemed, and, if its not too much trouble, lusted after.

This blog is not great for that.

Historically, it hasn't been. Historically, it's been a place that lands me into trouble.

So, it seemed like a good idea, a wise idea, to do something else. I could blog about the house or maybe losing weight or maybe reaching what is maybe the mid-point in my life --and there is nothing wrong with any of these things-- but all of them were poor attempts to change the subject of conversation.

So, what changed? Why am I back here, again trying to breathe life into this thing?

I went to a radio meeting this morning.

Meetings at public radio are miserable. They're kind of hapless downward conversations mixed in with some meaningless banter. No one gets much out of it, but we all get to say we went, which seems to satisfy whoever it is that decided we should have a regular pointless meetings everyone sort of resents.

We were all seated around the radio console. Someone was speaking, but I can't remember who or what they were saying or why. What I remember was looking over at my computer screen and seeing the rant of a young lesbian on Facebook.

It had something to do with jettisoning the things that make you unhappy, that don't work in your life. She, I think, was talking about a relationship.

For me, I just looked around the room and wondered, What the fuck am I doing? Why am I in here? Does any of this make me happy? What's the point?

The short answer is no. The longer answer is maybe why I'm here blogging again.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Dueling Banjos: part 1

We pulled up to the gatehouse to the campground. An older lady greeted us, tried to collect money and get me to sign something, but then I told her I was with the press and there to cover the string band festival.

As usual, nobody had said anything to anybody. Puzzled, she told me to wait right there.

"I'll go check."

Off she went to call somebody.

Five minutes later, she came back, all smiles, and told me, "Sure. You're expected."

We were told we could park and camp just about anywhere we could find a spot. She gave my son a bracelet to wear --proof that he was supposed to be there. I was given a lanyard to wear around my neck with a big, laminated card that said PRESS.

"You have to wear that at all times," she said pointedly, almost as if to challenge me.

I didn't like their damned sign. I'd come to experience the festival, to immerse myself in it. This had been explained. The tag felt heavy handed, unnecessary, and more than a little insulting.

With a camera around my neck, a notepad, and pen in my hand, it seemed pretty obvious who and what I was.

Honestly, they were lucky to have me there. The String Band Festival is a small event -at least compared to other festivals along the same lines, like the Old Time Fiddler's Convention in Virginia. It's out of the way, about an hour and a half along a two-lane road that winds around the side of a couple of mountains.

There's not much near the campgrounds and cell service is limited --particularly if you're a dummy like me who can only afford a cheap phone through Sprint.

Promotion for the festival is poor to very poor --at least on the local level. The division of culture and history sends out email blasts about the string band festival, if they send them at all, which are indistinguishable from their other regular announcements about quilting exhibitions, historical lectures and the like, none of which have anything to do with someone like me who covers arts and entertainment.

At best, their approach is uninspired and lazy. At worst, it's comically inept. 

The Appalachian String Band Festival has been around for right at 25 years and it's still kind of secret to anyone other than the music nerds who play this kind of music.

Even getting to go cover the festival had been a little tricky. Because of deadlines, workflow and even newspaper resources, getting approved for an overnight story was hard. The paper didn't want to pay for anything. My editors wanted the story, but I think they only agreed to paying the mileage because I'd agreed to shoot pictures.

I wanted to go because, two years back, I'd gone to Clifftop with a photographer and spent about an hour chasing over the grounds to get material for what felt like a very superficial take on the festival.

I wanted to dig a little deeper, really look around, and I also wanted a change from what had become my regular routine.

Most of the work I do is on the phone. I am endlessly chatting with actors and musicians to the point that it sometimes feels like I'm chained to my desk. That work has to get done because Brad Paisley or (more likely) the bass player from some 80s rock band that's coming to town isn't going to make a special trip out to meet me for coffee. Likewise, I am not going to be approved for a flight to L.A. or Nashville for a meeting.

Talking on the phone is fine, but it gets old, and it feels like an insufficient use of my abilities.

All throughout 2014, I'd made plans to get away from the newsroom for stories. I'd worked out plans to attend several regional festivals. All of those dried up after a minor car accident drained my bank account.

Free tickets to the show is fine, but you still can't go if you don't have any money to buy food or pay for a motel room --things the newspaper would absolutely not cover.

By the time of the Appalachian String Band Festival, it was the end of July. Half the year had gone by and the only other trip out I'd managed to make happen had been a bus tour to Southwestern Virginia, which was just weird.

So, on a personal level, just being at the festival was important to me --and I was well outside what I considered comfortable. 

I don't even like camping. I hate it. Of the many places you might choose to call it a night, inside a flimsy nylon shell, atop the cold, hard ground is about the worst. I'd rather a good bed in a cheap, chain motel than a sleeping bag in a tent staked next to my car.

But here I was at the gate house. A story had been approved and I had promises to keep. So, I agreed to their terms, put the stupid sign around my neck, and went looking for a place to park and set up camp.

It would be dark soon.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Pattern recognition

You never wish for the things you don't want. You always wish for the things you don't have, the things you need.

I wish Christmas had been merry.

I don't think I'm going to bother with the lights, the tree, the cooking or much of anything else next year. Somehow, I'm doing this wrong. Somehow, I've always done this wrong and I've had enough.

Fuck it.