It's 8:48 on a Sunday morning and Alexis and I are lounging around in the bedroom. I turn on WJOB.
"What the heck?" Alexis says. "Oh, it's Radio Variedades."
On Sunday mornings either Javier or Chu Cho talk in Spanish and play mostly older tunes from Mexico. Today it's Chu Cho. Like Javier, he's an older Mexican guy with a real soft spot for radio. They've been doing this show in one form or another for more than 50 years.
There is one thing that you notice about trio music from Mexico. It sounds a lot like Polish polkas that my grandmas and aunts and mom listened to when I was a kid and that we danced to at weddings. And, yes, that I learned to play when I took accordion lessons. I'm listening to a song in Spanish right now in 2016 on WJOB, the station that my wife and I own, and I'm transported to my uncle Dennis's wedding in the late 1960s. I'm dancing with Dana Sinclair, hands on her laced hips. We're sauntering around the Legion's tile floor to a song that sounds exactly like this Mexican trio song forty some years later. If you replace the rolling Mexican words with the more staccato Polish words, you'd have the same song.
I know what the three or four of you are thinking - JED, you took accordion lessons?
Yes, I did, and for most of my childhood I was the cool guy. You know, playing my basketball and baseball and football and wearing my hair a little longer and spitting. I spit a lot. And I would throw tomatoes at cars with the best of them, and when it came time to take my first hit of weed, I did that too.
I did a lot of cool guy stuff to compensate for something, and that something would be that I took accordion lessons. I wanted to take drum lessons, but when we went to the music lessons place on Kennedy Avenure across from Freddy's Steak House (a couple blocks from where Jean Shepherd grew up, by the way) the music teacher handed me an accordion.
"There must be some mistake. I'm here to take drum lessons."
"Take that up with your mother. She signed you up for accordion lessons."
I can't express to you, these 40-plus years later, my disappoint at this turn of events in my life. Yes, I learned how to squeeze that massive box so that it sounded remotely like a song. I even learned to play some Beatles and Guess Who. But my most poignant memory about the whole experience - outside of my mom's joy at listening to me play the instrument that represented her Polish heritage - is my buddies making fun of me. It wasn't enough that we'd be playing basketball outside or running around playing hide and seek and in the middle of it all I would have to go inside and practice my accordion. No, there were two rather miscreant buddies of my youth - Chris Klyczek and Joey Chruby - who would poke their head in the picture window in the back and point and laugh at me. Literally, they would point at me, jab each other in the ribs, and laugh out loud at me.
That stuff never goes away. So, the three or four of you, please do not ever do two things. 1. Please do not bring up that I played the accordion. And 2. Do not ever make fun of me for doing so. My whole life, you could say, has been a giant "cool guy" compensation for being an accordion player as a child, and I'd really hate for the three or four of you to blow my cover.
... In other developments, Alexis is downstairs making breakfast and I'm upstairs typing to the three or four of you while listening to a crooner in Spanish. Yes, I was able to sleep past 4:22am. Actually, I woke at 4am and then laid here for an hour running all the anxieties of radio through my head until, out of pure mental exhaustion from the weight of worry, I fell back to sleep. It felt great to roll over and see that it was 7:44am. That's like sleeping in 'til noon for the three or four of you.
Yesterday Alexis and I both said the hell with both of our jobs for a day. I JEDgolfed a round at Wicker Park and she hung around the house - "It takes me three hours to wash my hair and then straighten and curl it" - and then we went to a movie called "Eye in the Sky." It's about drones and the moral and legal dilemmas in ordering and carrying out a strike on known terrorists. The whole movie centered on a little girl twirling around with her hula hoop and then sitting at a table selling bread... right next to the house they were gonna blow up with a drone strike. Evidently there's all sorts of "rules of engagement" and one of those is you can't blow up a terrorist den with a little girl sitting right next to it. It's an adrenaline ride, the whole movie, and I recommend it.
The movie was good, but the NCAA Final Four games were not. Like a hundred million other Americans - maybe even a couple of the three or four of you - we got the couch all ready and watched the amazing pre-game ceremonies and put out some chips.. and then watched two of the worst basketball games of the college basketball seasons. Villanova beat Oklahoma by a record 44 points, and North Carolina, as expected, blew away Syracuse. We both went to bed by 10.
"JED, your breakfast is ready." Those are five of the best words you can ever hear in your American, Radio Life. Eggs stuffed with onions, green peppers and, yes since she's Mexican like Chu Cho and Javier, jalapeños and tomato-based salsa. On the side there might even be some Mexican rice and beans. It's a dream world, this American, Radio Life. It really is.
PS - Please don't say anything about the accordion.