7:15am - On a cloudy but decent New York morning, I couldn’t sleep. I’m at my daughter’s apartment in Queens, so I left the apartment in search of a greasy spoon. I wanted to sit at a counter and read The Daily News sports section. It says this, which is pretty clever, if you think about it:
“Mickey Mouse Club. Mets reach new low after batting out of order in 10th in loss to Reds.”
This sounds like New Yorkers. They really can poke fun at themselves. I respect that. The important thing to note here is that the loss is to the Reds, which have one of the worst records in baseball.
In a quirk of scheduling, I’m more or less stuck in Queens for the day. By myself. My daughter will wake in a few minutes and go into Manhattan to continue her accelerated nursing program. She is quite nervous about a quiz this morning. She is quite nervous in general about her studies at Hunter College on the lower East Side by Belleview Hospital. That’s where she’ll intern this summer. It’s a long way from Munster, Indiana.
I am in New York for two reasons. First, I attended Streaming Media East, a
conference for geeks who live and breathe streaming video. That’s me, by the way. This blog at some point may have to go from “My Radio Life” to “My Steaming Media Life,” but not yet. For now, I couldn’t find a greasy spoon with a counter and a couple of sassy waitresses in skirts and hose. I just found a bagel place that also fries up eggs.
“Do you want toast with that?”
“No thank you. Do you have gluten-free toast?” I asked. My sensitive side comes out at times. You can tell I went to Berkeley and have been more or less a vegetarian for 35 years. You can tell I write poems and read Didion. There is a certain type that eats gluten free. I am that type. Accept it.
This change of diet has, however, changed my life. For 25 years, I walked around with a bloated stomach. Sometimes I would be so sick I couldn’t get out of bed. I saw doctors in just about every field. Then one day, my nursing student daughter suggested:
“Hey dad, why don’t you try eliminating gluten from your diet?”
And so be it. Or, as one of my many heroes, Kurt Vonnegut would say, “So it goes.” Ever since, I’ve been rather militant about not eating bread or wheat or regular pizza or even, cupcakes, which have always been there for me. In times of stress and worry, you could always turn to chocolate chip cookies, cupcakes, raisin toast with butter. If it was a really bad time – when you really needed it – there was always Cap’n Crunch with ice cold milk dripping down your go-tee… while reading the box scores in a newspaper.
Those were the good old days. I’m still a good 20 pounds overweight, but my stomach’s not bloated. For years, my wife, whom I miss dearly after not hugging her for three days, would bend down to kiss me at night before bed. I am always laying down first since I’ve been waking at 4:30am for 30 years. Alexis would bend down, pucker his lips to kiss me, and she’d lay her left palm on my stomach.
“Ouch,” I would say. I would sometimes be so much in pain from the light pressure that I would jump out of bed.
“I’m sorry,” she would say. “I forgot.”
That’s how bloated and distended my stomach was for all of those years. Sometimes I would be in the pits or in the studio and I felt so bad – headache, stomach nausea – that I could barely talk. I took all kinds of drugs to keep going – Excedrin, Advil Cold and Sinus, Tylenol, Prevacid, huge amounts of caffeine. I knew there was something wrong. The stomach doctors called it “GERD.” My urologist attributed to a creeping prostate. My family who are doctors talked about stress and carbs. There was no answer until my nursing student daughter laid it out for me.
“Maybe it’s just gluten, dad.”
There is a corollary here, and I hesitate to bring it up because I haven’t given these people their due. Steve and Johnnie – do you know them? If you’re into radio like me you do. But if you’re not, they probably don’t matter one bit to you. That’s what happens to retired radio personalities. We forget all about them the moment they’re off the air where we found them all those years. It’s sad.
Steve King, who is the guy in this relationship, and Johnnie Putman, who is the woman, were on the radio in Chicago for decades. They‘re icons in my book. That’s why it was such a big deal to have them on my show a couple of times in the morning. Somehow, amidst the conversation, it came out that Steve is celiac, which is a step past where I am. If he has even a hint of gluten, he can go into a reaction that you wouldn’t wish on your worst political enemy.
Steve and Johnnie came to the WJOB studios not long after I had casually mentioned on the air that not eating gluten had changed my whole daily feeling. Steve told his story about what gluten does to him and how they have to find places to eat that will respect what he needs. It was a real eye-opener for me. If radio imitates life, then gluten can screw up radio.
That’s not what I set out to talk about this morning. But I’m not gonna get to what I want to talk about. I want to talk about The Terd State. I’ll get to that later. My daughter just woke up and it’s time to talk to Jeanie who lives in New York City. It’s a long way from the Region.
8:15am. I laid on the couch and watched my daughter eat the omelet I brought her.
“Why are your scrubs purple?” I ask.
“Because that’s the color of Hunter College.” This is a city college, a public university that the three or four of you who read my blog have never heard of. Around here, though, it’s a pretty big supplier of nurses to area hospitals. I get the feeling that this is what my daughter may one day become – a nurse in a New York hospital.
Not that I hate that idea. As a matter of fact, I’m kind of starting to like New York. I’m not kidding. You can walk out of your door at any time of any day in the year and find a great meal. We ate at an Indian place on Monday night, a Greek place on Tuesday, and yesterday for my niece’s confirmation in Northport, Long Island, we ate at an Asian fuision place called “Ping.” Every one of these meals, I’m sorry to say, blow the Region away… except maybe for Giovanni’s, Theo’s, Giuseppe’s, Big Frank’s, El Taco Real and my other restaurant sponsors. They’re the best.
The reality of the situation, right now, right here, is that I am stuck in Queens until my plane takes off this afternoon. My daughter and her boyfriend have left for school and job, respectively. I am alone with a black cat named “Luna.” She keeps crawling across the keyboard and meowing. I’m not necessarily a cat person. When I walked into my daughter’s apartment on Monday evening, I rubbed the back of my hand into Luna’s face. She sniffed it and rubbed against it. After a few moments of this, I tussled under Luna’s chin and rolled her a little with my wrist. Luna jumped.
“Dad, you can’t roughhouse a cat.”
Oh, I forgot. I’m used to dogs. Luna and I are friends, don’t get me wrong. I’ve been here enough times to my daughter’s apartment in Queens that we’ve gotten to know each other. It’s just that we’ve never been left alone for several hours, like now. I don’t know what to do. I could go work out at a local gym, or I could rent a bike and, as my daughter suggested, “ride down to the water.” I could even go see a movie.
All of these things might be appealing in another mindset. But the truth of the matter is that you and I haven’t spent much time together of late. That’s because of me. You have held up your end of the bargain. The three or four of you read my blog to understand what it’s like to live a life of local radio. I stray at times from the topic, but that’s only because you have to take me as a whole. My trip to New York City is based on radio. I really am trying to bring radio out of the dark ages and into the age of streaming video. It’s working for WJOB in Hammond, Indiana. It can work for radio stations across America. It really disappointed me that I was the only radio person that I know of at the whole of the Streaming Media East conference at the Hilton Midtown Manhattan. That’s disappointing.
It means that radio is ceding the whole of streaming video, which is taking over the world, to everyone who isn’t radio. Think about it. There’s 4800 or so commercial AM radio stations and almost double that of FM stations. Many of these stations are like WJOB. They’re the bedrock of their communities. They are in the perfect position to take over the flow of streaming video in their own communities.
But what happens? We cede the war to the national providers. We give it all to Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram. Don’t you get it? These are not local providers. They are multinational aggregators of content and information. They form the bedrock of the Terd State. I’ll explain that some other day. Right now, the N train to Ditmars Boulevard is going by a hundred feet from the open window next to me. A train going by, whether it’s 40 feet up in the air or it’s barreling across a farmfield, is a peaceful thing. You don’t want to ruin the moment in which you notice it.
I started to tell you about the second reason that I am here in New York City. It’s my niece Lisa’s confirmation. It took place yesterday at St. Phillip Nieri in Northport, Long Island. Jeanie and I got up early at her apartment and took an uber to the Woodside train station. We waited there for the Long Island Railroad. Somehow, they spilt the word “railroad” into “Rail Road.”
We took the LIRR to Hicksville, where we transferred to Northport. At the station, Jeanie and I pulled this little trick on my little sister, Allison. She’s 10 years younger than I am. I didn’t necessarily treat her and my sister Jennifer, who is nine years younger than I am, all that great when they were little. Especially since a good portion of their adolescence was spent with a mom fighting cancer. We all remember the hiss of oxygen tanks.
Still, for having been part shmuck when they were little, I still am availed of their love. I can feel it. They can feel mine. Somehow we got through the cancer and the bankruptcy and we lived to tell about. I don’t really want to tell about now, not to the three or four of you, but I am alive and could tell about it if I wanted to. So could Ally, if you really think about it.
It’s an American horror, really. I can’t even begin to tell about it without my eyes moistening up a little. To this day, right now, I miss my mom. Isn’t that weird? And I could see it in my sister’s eyes a couple times yesterday. When we talked about family stuff back home in Indiana, she, Ally, missed it. Misses it. Her eyes water. And I get the feeling that her eyes water not only for having all of her brothers and sisters and dad and aunts and uncles and cousins so far away… they’re half-tears for a mom who died 30 years ago. It’s an ache that never goes away and it only flares up when you see your siblings after a long hiatus.
Enough of that. Why do I always have to go the dark side? Yesterday, when you put it down in the scorebook, was a nearly perfect day. Here’s the trick that Jeanie and I pulled on my sister. Jeanie came out of the train station and got in Ally’s big SUV. As they started to pull away, Jeanie said, “Wait. I think I forgot my phone.” And she ran back into the Northport station, which is a dump, by the way.
And out I walked.
“Oh my god – Jim. What are you doing here?”
“I’m here for my niece’s confirmation.”
This is a scene that played out with each one of her kids, also. We walked into their house and Jeanie led the way. Lisa, the gymnast-soccer phenom, came down the steps. Jeanie and her hugged.
“Oh, and there’s a little surprise,” Jeanie said. And out I popped. The little balance beamer gave me a hug… and then came back for another one.
“I can’t believe you came.” A similar scene played out with the little one, Marie. I’m her godfather. She does not display emotion in the normal channels. She’s in fifth grade and has always been what you might call in another era “coy.”
“Why did you come?” she said in a matter-of-fact matter.
“Just to bother you.”
And then, of course, I proceeded to bother her for the whole 10 hours that Jeanie and I were in Northport.
At noon, my sister asked me to pick up Alex from school. He’s a junior at Northport High. So I drove over there – turn left at the storage facility - and met a cop parked outside.
“Why are you here, sir?”
“I’m here to pick up my nephew.”
“It’s his little sister’s confirmation.”
“Park over there and you see those white columns? At the end there’s a door. Go in it.”
As I walked up to the door beyond the white columns, I noticed a man in a yellow vest patrolling around the entrance. His vest said “Security.”
“Can I help you?”
“Yes. I’m here to pick up my nephew.”
“What’s his name?”
The man in the Security vest held open the door. As I passed, he looked at me suspiciously. “Talk to the woman at the desk over there.”
I walked up to the woman. She was on the phone. When she got off, she asked – “May I see your license?”
I showed the woman my license, but remember that we, most of the three or four of you and me, live in Indiana. This is a problem when you’re trying to take your nephew out of school in Northport, Long Island. I talk different than they do and they’ve never seen an Indiana driver’s license.
“Do you have any other form of identification?”
I showed her my credit cars and my health insurance card. The woman reviewed them. She was suspicious.
“Are you an emergency contact?”
“I could be.” I lied. This is what I do sometimes when I just want to get by bureaucracy. I thought the woman would just fold at that point. Instead, she reached down into a file cabinet.
“Well let’s see if you’re listed as an emergency contact.” She had called my bluff.
“Listen,” I said. “I’m in from Indiana and we’re having my niece’s confirmation. I’m just picking up my nephew to go to it. What do I have to do to get him out of school?”
It turns out that there was a lot that I had to do to get him out of school. Mostly it involved getting my sister on the phone and me signing some papers. Eventually, my nephew came around the corner.
“Oh my god, what are you doing here?”
This was the biggest surprise of the day. Where once walked a little punk with a decent jump shot now walked a hipster teenager with long hair and a swagger. Alex and I hugged and walked out of the office under the careful scrutiny of two security officers and the woman at the desk.
Now don’t get me wrong. I am not criticizing the security at Northport High School. It’s necessary, especially in the days of Sandy Hook and Parkland, Florida. There’s also parents abducting their own kids. I could just see all of these scenarios playing through the mind of the woman at the desk as I showed her my Indiana driver’s license. She’s seeing me put my kid, who is in the middle of a custody battle, in my car and driving him to cornfields beyond yonder. My sister cleared it up. She always does.
The rest of the day played out like a Long Island confirmation should. A hundred or so kids in red robes stood on the lawn in the sunlight outside of St. Philip Nieri church. Their confirmation sponsors, my daughter Jeanie among them, stood next to them. There wasn’t enough room in the church for everyone, so many people had to stand. I was lucky enough to get a seat. My brother-in-law’s parents, Eddie and Mary, saved me one.
During the mass, my inner radio man surfaced. The bishop wore a wireless lavolier microphone as he directed the mass. This was all fine and dandy while he stood on the altar doing the ceremony. But when it came time to do his sermon, the Bishop walked off the altar and pulled his lavolier microphone from his lapel and held it in front of his mouth, almost like a hand-held microphone.
I don’t know why he did this. His sound was perfectly fine with the microphone clipped to his lapel. What he did was hold the microphone too close to his mouth. Every time he said a word that began with a “b” or a “p” or even exhaled, you heard a loud swoosh sound through the extensive speaker system. It was horrible sound. But because he’s the Bishop, no one would stop him to tell him.
I was ready to. Really, if the Bishop had walked far enough down the aisle that I was sitting in, I was prepared to motion to him to pull the microphone a little way from his mouth. I was tired of hearing him breathing like Darth Vader and saying “p” sounds like Porky Pig. He gave a great sermon about spirituality and being a Christian. But I just couldn’t get over the bad sound. I never can. I’m a sound snob.
After the mass, we ate dinner at Ting restaurant in Huntington. It was amazing. Jeanie had sushi and so did my sister. I had grilled salmon over vegetables with a side of brown rice. Steve King would be proud. Here’s who was there, as far as I can remember:
- Sister Allison and her family. Husband John-Mark, Alex, Lisa and Marie.
- Jeanie and me
- Grandpa Eddie and Grandma Marie
- John-Mark’s brother Rob, his wife Kelly and their two kids, Chris and Andrew.
- John-Mark’s brother John and two of his kids, Jessica and Matt.
- Pat the friend and Dee the friend.
There might have been a few others. I write this down not for the three or four of you but for the next time I come out to see my Long Island family. I always forget their names and I have to ask my sister to remind me of all of them. Next time, I’ll just go to this blog entry about My Radio Life from May 11, 2018, and just review the above list.
On the train back to Queens, Jeanie and I met a guy and a woman doing a live video on the train. I can’t remember his name but he’s a motivational speaker and she’s his manager. They’re going around on a tour this summer giving speeches. It's called "The Lituation Tour." Jeanie looked him up on Instagram. He has 1800 followers. I gave him a card and told him if the tour ever extends to the Chicago area to let me know and I’ll have him on my show. Whatever. You can act like a big shot when you’re a long way from home.
And that is exactly what I am this morning. I am a long way from home, although if you really think about, this second-floor apartment is a bit of an extension of my home. My 25-yerar-old daughter lives here. Her blue folder sits on the kitchen table next to her just-finished La Croix. Her wooden-strap shoes sit on the floor. The boxing gloves she uses to hit the bag at New York Club Fitness sit on the desk right next to the computer that they’re letting me use. My daughter has left on the N train to Hunter College to take her nursing quiz, but she is all around me. She is still part of my home, or at least I can fool myself for the moment into believing so.