Have you come hear to
ask that I remember what
you once were?
You have disappointed me.
Birds fly off a telephone wire
in unison every time you
make a call.
You could have followed
Purity. Instead, there’s a
mustard stain on your
And your breath
Do not come here to ask
forgiveness. I can give it to
everyone but you.
Really, do you ever think about why I go through the trouble to write out my radio days for the three or four of you? It’s tedious work. I tell you about the people I interview, the ones I meet at the grocery store, my family, my callers, my staff, and elected leaders who are subjects of federal investigations. It’s a varied lot, for sure, and it makes up the whole of my existence as a radio guy.
It’s not unlike Winesburg, except that I’m not nearly as genius as Anderson holed up in an apartment near downtown Chicago writing for days. Do you know that once he wrote that book that you had to read at least once in your high school years, he never changed a word.?At least that’s what I was told.
I have also been told that radio is dying, and I believe this. All things, if you really think about it, start dying as soon as they are born. When you’re younger, you don’t really think about things this way, so philosophically. But when you get older and you’ve seen so many ideas, hopes, family members, friends, celebrities, high school teachers and pets die, then you realize that you, like radio, and me, like the Internet, and all of us, like tulips eaten by squirrels in the Fall, will die. Hence, radio will die. We just don’t know when.
And when they come to write its history, I hope at least one radio historian – if there will ever be such a thing – will take note that to truly be a radio person, you have to immerse yourself in your community so deeply that it’s like your own arm. You don’t go anywhere without your right arm, and as a radio guy, you don’t go anywhere without your radio station emblazoned across your forehead.
That, for the literal of the three or four of you, is figurative.
Today, I ended my travels at the Podkul family reunion, where I conducted a taste test of kapoosta. My uncle Danny made his kapoosta, and my uncle Mark made his. And I tried them both. So did my cousin Duane, the former mayor of Hammond.
You make kapoosta by combining saur kraut, salted pork, and some kind of white pea. You simmer it on the stove until it smells so good that you might choose to lift the lid and whiff rather than have sex. I’m not kidding.
Duane chose Danny’s kapoosta as better, so I took Mark’s kapoosta. As a tiebreaker, cousin Charlie chose Danny’s also. It turns out that Danny’s tastes the most like my grandma Podkul used to make in her kitchen along Carroll Avenue in Hammond. The aroma of kapoosta would permeate the carpeting and drapes so deeply that even when grandma wasn’t making kapoosta, it kind of smelled like she was. I miss that moment when you’d come down her steps and there was a mystery – is grandma making kapoosta or not?
There were dozens of my Polish relatives at the Podkul reunion today. Many of them listen to me on the radio and watch me on Facebook. I won’t go through all, or actually, any of the conversations of the day. For some reason, it would seem like betrayal. We met under a shelter at Lemon Lake County Park in Cedar Lake, Indiana. I ate a piece of Strack & Van Til fried chicken, two variations of kapoosta, and three apple slices that my cousin Patty made. I heard two stories today that might make the three or four of you cry onto your phone or computer as you read about them. I hear sad stories all the time in radio, but when they involve your family, somehow you feel the pain in your gut and you can’t shake it. You just can’t shake it.
Let’s go in reverse order – on the way out to Lemon Lake, I stopped by White Hawk Country Club for the Laborers 41 golf outing. As the three or four of you know, I was once a member of this fine union. I learned how to operate a vibrator (the kind that moves concrete) and I learned how to swear with the vehemence of an over-the-road trucker who’s been driving four hours past legal. I learned how to sawcut, set a laser, use a jackhammer, and how to read a set of plans.
Here’s how you read a set of plans. You pull them out of the backseat of your truck and you lay them out on the front hood. Then you put your left boot on the bumper and you lean over like you’re in an old Marlboro commercial. You will not feel more in balance in your life than when you’re half worker and half intellectual standing on a jobsite in your beaten-up tan construction boots, jeans, no belt, a flannel shirt and a hardhat. You’re using your noggin, but only so that you can get back in the hole and continue to lay sewer pipe.
I did a Facebook Live video with one of the guys from Laborers 41. He told about some of the things he’d done in his Laborers career, which started in 1989.
“So what’s your favorite?” I asked him.
“Concrete. I love to work with concrete.”
“Sewer pipes was mine. I love to lay pipe.”
There’s a sexual innuendo joke in there, if you let your eighth grade self go. Before the Laborers outing, I stopped by the Carpenters Local 599 picnic at Wicker Park in Highland, Indiana. I talked with Josh Doran, who’s in charge of the picnic, and Sara, who’s in the Sisterhood of the Brotherhood of the Carpenters Union. Sara comes from a trade union family, and you get the feeling that she could swing a hammer better than many of the burly men that she works with.
You’re probably wondering – why two trade unions in one Sunday?
I’m a union guy, that’s why. At my base – without the politics and the connotations involved – I believe in the sanctity of men and women getting together to sell their labor collectively.
I do have to tell you about a rather touching moment at the family reunion today. I said goodbye to everyone and was walking to the car, and my dad followed me out. He wears a full gray beard these days. I don’t know why.
“Jimmy, you know how you say on the radio that you are an alum of the Laborers union?”
“Well so am I.”
When my dad turned 18, some BA (that’s business agent) named Propiere or something like that showed up with a card.
“I get the feeling that your grandfather set that up. But I worked in the union for four or five years and then left to use my engineering degree.”
So that’s how it goes. It’s in my blood. Before the Podkul reunion and the Laborers outing and the Carpenters picnic, I went to a fundraiser run/walk that Alexis and her friend Bridget Lipowski Cook put on. They held it at Wicker Park. It was for Kim Hurley, who works with Alexis at the law offices. Kim is taking a ton of chemo for stage three ovarian cancer, which her mom died of.
A ton of people came out to the Hurley Shuffle. Kim got on a chair and thanked everyone one right before the run/walk. She started to cry a couple of times but made it through. I heard a lot of sad stories today, just like every day, but somehow seeing Kim up there on a chair wearing a bandana (no hair from the chemo) made me tear up inside my cheeks, just like would happen with the three or four if you were there.
Let’s back up even further to last night. Alexis and I went to Beatlesfest in downtown Hammond and saw
I can’t tell you how much fun that was. We heard, maybe, 50 songs on the night, and they were all Beatles. Alexis and I stayed for a couple of hours and were ready to leave when Dave and Lisa Kusiak showed up. That meant that by midnight I’d be sitting in a booth at Johnny’s Tap eating White Castles cheeseburgers and a sack of fries. Despite the late-night grease, . I still woke up with a wicked hangover.
“That’s because you don’t drink enough water,” Alexis told me tonight as I grabbed for the milk out of the fridge. “You get dehydrated. That’s why you feel so bad.”
Have no fear, though, the three or four of you. No matter how deeply that knife penetrated my forehead, and no matter how many times I felt nauseous, I persevered. That’s because I’m a profession. You party like a rock star and then get up the next morning to do what needs to be done.
On the way to Beatlesfest, Alexis and I stopped at Optimist Park in Hammond to meet with our broadcast team. As the three or four of you may know, Hammond’s team lost in the semifinal round by one run. They led the whole game and lost in the last inning. It was just horrible to watch, so I went in my bedroom and listened to it on the radio. Still horrible.
Proud of the 10-year-olds from Hammond… still pissed about the loss. Hammond lost to Raleight, NC, which went on to defeat Hawaii for the Cal Ripken World Series championship. We broadcasted the game last night – 30,000 views on Facebook. No kidding.
That should be enough to prove to the three or four of you that radio is dying and I better write down what it’s like while it’s still here. Radio is a skin of honor, sadness, intrigue, laughs and horror. If I could be anything when I grow up, I’d like to be a radio man. That way I could talk on the air in the morning and write a blog in the evening. In between I could work out, eat good Mexican food, and shake several dozen hands, each with its own unique story. Good night, Sherwood Anderson, and good night to the three or four of you. See you on the radio.