I don’t have the heart to tell my wife of 26 years that I don’t really care. But she cares, and that’s all that matters.
“Are you Jim Dedelow?”
“My name’s Pam Garman. I’ve been listening to your station for more than 50 years.”
So I did the right thing and took a selfie with Pam. It makes me feel good to know that when I start talking at 5:30 in the morning tomorrow, a woman named Pam Garman will be listening to me. At least we got that going for us.
I’ve been thinking lately about what I would regret when I die. I think about love, and since it’s only the three or four of you, I don’t really mind telling you that I don’t have any real regrets in that department. As I’ve told you before, I gave my heart to a Mexican woman who would be judge. She can do whatever she wants with it as long as she lets me drink my beer and… you know.
And I’ve got plenty of love with the daughters and my sisters and brothers and nieces and nephews and stepson and my dad and aunts and uncles and the rest of my 500 relatives around here. I am so freaking fortunate in this regard.
Ambition? I guess I haven’t really lived up to the youthful notions of fame and fortune. But then again, they don’t really matter as much to me as they did when I worked at WJOB in 1985. I thought that I was supposed to try to be famous and make a ton of money. I figured that’s what chicks want.
Travel? Education? Helping people? I’ve done a little of all of these and I’m kinda satisfied with the levels.
Nope. One thing keeps coming back to me all day. I keep thinking about what I would regret, and I come up with one thing –
I didn’t write enough poems.
I’m not kidding about this. I did the radio show and then drove to Portage to talk to a bunch of union guys and then worked out. After a quick lunch, I came back to the radio stations and worked with Debbie for a while on radio stuff. And then I went shopping, as mentioned, at Van Til’s in Hammond.
Now I know that I should probably spread it around to other Strack & Van Til stores. There’s 19 of them, and Jeff Strack and company bought the naming rights to our studios at Purdue. I was actually gonna go shop at the Strack & Van Til in Portage when I was out there this morning. But I started there and just turned around. I didn’t know why at the time.
But I do now. That Van Til’s grocery store in Hessville has been there for a really long time. And when I’m walking down the frozen goods aisle, I sometimes think about my grandma Dedelow who used to shop there every Wednesday. That’s when the flyer comes out with the sales. “Hurricane Helen,” as she was known, shopped there for 50 years or more.
Now in all coincidence, my mom grew up a few blocks away. She grew up, literally, on the other side of the tracks. She grew up poor in a neighborhood that still doesn’t have curbs. And both my mom, as a young woman, and my grandma as a middle-aged woman, could have run into each other in the frozen goods aisle. I am called home in a variety of ways all of the time. Every day when I talk on the radio, I feel the weight and beauty of generations of my people who walked these streets, these paths, ten, thirty, a hundred years ago or more. You don’t get to talk on the radio too often on the exact location where your people walked around a hundred years ago. It’s a weird feeling. There’s a connection you can’t escape.
If that doesn’t explain why I turned around in the parking lot of the Portage Strack & Van Tils, then I don’t know what will. I came home to shop. That’s all.
The carry out girl asked me – “So how old are you?”
“You don’t look that old. How long have you been married?”
I had to stop loading groceries into the trunk to think about it.
“Me. I’ve been married for three years now.”
“Well, I hope that you experience as much love as my wife and I have. I’m sure that you will.”
I don’t know where that came from, but on a day when you’re trying to think about what you would regret, you wind up talking about love.
By the way, my wife of 26 years just scrambled up the stairs – “Jones won, Jones won.” And I wish I could fake enthusiasm for an election and a political world that I don’t give two shits about, but I’m not gonna do that. I’m just gonna bask in the unexpected love of about 28 years and let that speak for itself.
So here’s the thing – when I start to think about what I would regret, I can only think of that one thing. I should have written more poems. I don’t know why, either. I’m not particularly blessed with poetic talent. And I don’t really like reading other people’s poems, except for Bukowski and maybe Dylan Thomas and Emily Dickinson and Ginsberg. Okay. Maybe I like to read some people’s poems. But not often.
So in the spirit of regret, let’s write a poem. I’d start it right now, but my wife of 26 years has come into the bedroom.
“I texted Jacqueline. She cares.”
I’m sorry, honey, that I don’t care who wins the senate seat in Alabama. I have to write a poem and then get up in the morning to talk about what’s going on in the Calumet Region.
“Selma, Alabama, came to bite him in the ass,” my wife says as she picks up her dirty clothes off the bedroom floor.
“How are all of my clothes black?”
It’s gonna be kind of difficult to write a poem right now, but here goes –
Roving the hinterlands of a railroad yard
looking for a nickel, an old soldier
bends down and instead lifts an oil can.
There are no tin men around, so
he throws it down. There’s gotta
be a nickel around here somewhere.
If it weren’t for wars, there wouldn’t
be any soldiers. Their stories would
be lost forever, just like the nickel
that he set on the track as the
locomotive came near.
Everyone likes a smashed nickel.
It reminds you that one moment
you could be walking around looking
at the streetlight, and the next you
could be smashed on the pavement.
Don’t look into the sky, you idiot.
You’re gonna get run over by a
bus. Let’s drop in on the neighbors,
see if they have a coffee cake.
We know where the donuts taste
better than anywhere in America.
John D. Rockefeller had it all. Why’d
he have to die?
If you could answer questions like
that, you’d be God. And what fun
would that be?
I read somewhere once that the
definition of hell would be that
you knew everything. Mystery
would be gone.
But isn’t that also the definition
of God? He knows all. We have free
will, but in the end he even knows
what we’re gonna choose. It’s written
on the wall of a cave in northern
New Mexico whether I’m gonna order
an iced tea or a Diet Coke tomorrow
There was a cow jumped over the moon
moon this morning. I saw it over the
abortion hotel across the street. Hot
chicks walk in and out of that place
all day. They got problems of one sort
or another. I think about that sometimes.
Sometimes, if you get really quiet and
you sit on your bed and listen to Bobby D,
you can feel the pain of the whole world.
At the same time.
It must be colored waves that float
in and out of all of us. In the quiet
of the early morning, amidst big trucks,
a radio tower, and airplanes
headed for Midway… you can sense the
melancholy. I wish it weren’t true. I can
see them laugh at me, but in the end the
color of melancholy has a little blue in it.
Right now, on the freeways of Los Angeles,
a few hundred thousand cars move real fast.
That has always hypnotized me. Did you
ever stand on an overpass above the 405?
Watch the cars zip by under your feet, hear
the constant rush of their engines. You can
even catch a quick glimpse of the faces.
Where are all of these people going? It
can’t mean that much to deliver a load
of printed material and then get back in the
car and fart.
I wish I could fart right now. Better yet,
I wish that I wasn’t blessed with the ability
to see the pain. It floats above the mountains
of my imagination, and it hangs like a mist
above Indianapolis Boulevard in the morning
when I talk on the radio.
Part of that has to do with relaying the news
to my local listenership. Today I talked about
a county councilman threatening a woman
with a sledgehammer. And then I
talked about a 24-year-old teacher snorting
coke in a classroom. By the time we get to
the end of it all, we’re gonna have to ask
What did it all mean?
I come closest to finding the answer at 5:45 in
the morning when I’m standing out in the dark
on a busy street talking on the radio. Once in
a while there’s no cars and I walk to
the middle of the roadway. I can feel something.
It’s eerie and beautiful and mysterious and
I want to take it with me for the rest of the day.
But as soon as you sneeze, there’s a big truck
or seven that come by carrying steel or oil or
a big crane or a dumpster. Sometimes the
dumpsters are full of garbage and they smell
like my breath in the morning. As quickly as
it comes, this feeling like it all makes sense
goes away. Keep your car waxed and shiny
and you never know what’s gonna happen.
No one waxes their cars anymore. That
was always a moment of peace also. I’d
Simonize the old Nova that my grandma gave
me and then drive around town looking for
a nickel that some soldier placed on the
railroad tracks just to see what it would look
like. He wears tattered clothes and he smells.
His shoes were once boots and his skin is
tanned and leathery since he spends so much
time outside picking things up and
throwing them back down. Once in a while
he falls asleep under a bridge with a cardboard
sign nearby –
Homeless veteran. Please help.
I wish I could, my friend, but like you I’m
looking for a nickel that I placed on the tracks
a long time ago. And every time I think I’m
getting closer to finding it, the blue haze
lifts and I can no longer feel the sadness that
lives in us all.
How’s that? Alexis has tired of folding her clothes – she always does – and she’s gone downstairs to heat up some tea before bed. I’ll be with the three or four of you and maybe seven or eight others in a few hours. The important thing to remember is that radio is good and pure and beautiful and –