I waited. I didn’t sleep.
I waited. I mean, I was lying on a thin pad of a mattress. A mattress that felt like it was stuffed with dryer lint and potatoes. A mattress shoved into the corner of the room, right on the greasy linoleum floor. Waiting, not sleeping. Propped up on one elbow, stamping out one smoke and lighting another. My legs were covered by grimy grey sheets which I’d pushed down in the middle of the night simply because my torso rejected the very idea of them. The one tiny window (or rather, the hard blade of yellow sunlight coming through it) told me it was daytime. I didn’t give much of a fuck what time it was. The only company was the smoke and dust and a gnat or two that swirled through the shaft of sunlight, reminding me of the old Star Trek transporter effect. I waited, and I had to pee.
The door exploding inward startled me.
No. No, that’s bullshit. It scared the living shit out of me, made me jump literally to my bare feet, hand flailing at my hip, searching instinctively for a weapon that wasn’t there. Hadn’t been there for days.
Fucking Motia. Give that crazy witch credit, she knew how to make an entrance. She liked to announce her presence with her boot flying into something it shouldn’t, whether it be a man’s junk, a flimsy wooden door (like right that second) or a pit full of timber rattlers.
Then you know what that maniac did? She laughed. She stood there with that psychotic smile and laughed out loud. Laughed at me.
She stifled the guffaw with a hand to her mouth.
“Get your shit together and come with me.” All business, Motia. “He’s waiting, goddammit!”
My arm hurt right above the elbow, a yellowish bruise from the last time she’d grabbed my carcass, hauling it out of yet another predicament. I didn’t give her the chance this time, shrugging her off and side-stepping.
“Okay! Jesus! Let me at least grab a shirt and–”
She didn’t grab my arm. She grabbed a handful of hair on the back of my skull and threw me out the door. One-handed. Hard. Like I’d imagine a linebacker tosses his laundry bag down the stairs.
So that’s how I came to meet Dan. Barefoot, stinking, shirtless. I smelled of last night’s booze and this morning’s stale nicotine and I couldn’t remember the last time I’d eaten or showered. Hell, I wasn’t even sure which one I wanted more: to be clean or to be fed.
Except, of course, none of that is true. Okay, let me switch gears here.
2014 has been the Ragnarok of Radio. Yes, we’re going back to when I was in professional radio. I lost my gig in June, for those of you that care and/or want backstory. It was nobody’s fault, really. I gave my employers enough of a way out, and they took it. I won’t say it was amicable, but it really did work out for all parties. And that’s all I’ll say about that. I ended up being better off, and I’ll explain later.
But it wasn’t just me. Ft. Wayne radio got shaken to its very core this year. People got fired. Lineups changed. Stations disappeared. Much of the change was actually just aftershocks from the big WOWO/Bob & Tom switcheroo from a few years previous, combined with a few new ownership groups playing chess with their properties. The dust is still settling, and even though nobody likes the idea, the fact is that there could be more changes to come. That’s business. That’s life. That’s radio.
But it wasn’t just this market. For God’s sake, South Bend got gutted. Ft. Wayne got shaken pretty hard. Some folks got displaced (or left of their own accord) and found their way out of town. WAAAAAYYYY out, for folks like Chris Cruise, who’s now doing country (!) radio in the Pacific Northwest. Some folks are still waiting for a ride, and wondering if they should even try tho find another job in the biz. And then there are people like Jenna. The Jenna Raetor. Former midday host at The Bear, and more recently employed as a social media guru and host at some station in California. That is until she lost her gig there, too. I’m telling ya, folks: radio is a fucking pit of vipers and nobody knows what the hell they’re doing. Remember that scene in Apocalypse Now where Martin Sheen asks the soldier “Who’s in charge here?” and the dumfounded guy responds “Aren’t you?” That’s what radio is. And that’s a big part of why I’m glad to be out.
So, what exactly am I doing? I’m doing work, son! My title is “copywriter” but as I quickly discovered once I joined the award-winning Asher Agency, that barely scratches the surface. Yes, I write copy (the words, the text) for radio, print, and television commercials. But I also conceptualize advertising campaigns, and come up with creative ways to get the message out. I work with our graphic designers and artists, telling them what I want or need and then watch as they masterfully put it all together. I storyboard TV shoots and cast the actors. I pick the music for spots and the announcers. I direct. It’s awesome. As my friend and podcast partner Joe Schultz says “It’s like a modern-day Mad Men!” And he’s absolutely right. And it’s awesome. And I am happy. And it’s awesome.
EPILOGUE: I’d long since tuned-out the beeping of the monitors or whatever the hell they were. The distant low hiss of some respirator somewhere in the next room. I just sat. And watched. I waited for her eyes to flicker open or something. Anything. It was terribly discomforting to see her like that. I’d never seen Motia in any other condition but wild berserker blitzkrieg or falling-down drunk. The person in that bed, the person recovering from surgery couldn’t possibly be the same woman. And yet it was.
A grunting cough shook me from my reverie. Caleb. That guy hadn’t left her side for a second. I don’t think he’d even slept. And for most of the time since they’d wheeled her back in, he’d had his eyes bored directly into me. The dude was a helluva watchdog, that was obvious. He loved her. That, too, was unmistakeable.
“Relax, cupcake.” I smiled at him.
“Hmmph.” He snorted back. The only reason he tolerated my presence just then was because he knew that Motia respected me. Sure, she may’ve tried to kill me a few times in the past, but there was a level of trust there. Caleb’s huffing and puffing was his not-so-subtle way of saying “Thanks. You can go now.”
He was right, of course. She had a guardian. A hulking, shaven-headed sentry with a snub .38 tucked into the back of his belt and brass knuckles in his left-front jacket pocket. It dawned on me that three of the most dangerous bastards I knew were in the room. There really was no one that would dare mess. Not here. Not with her. Not today.
“Well, good luck.” I smiled.
“Brrrrrmmm.” Or something like that. That’s what came out of Caleb’s throat
I smiled again in spite of myself.
(In all seriousness, get well soon, Motia!!)