Elsewhere and Else-Time

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(This didn’t end up what it started out to be. Sometimes you just gotta hit “publish” and let it go.)

It is the last week of August, 1965. American soldiers are fighting in the Dominican Republic, Gemini 5 is flying in space, Shania Twain is born, and Moonlight Graham dies. Hit songs include “Help,” “I Got You Babe,” and “Do You Believe in Magic.” I am standing at the screen door, clutching the only item I am required to take to Miss Morgan’s kindergarten class on the first day: a red-and-blue plastic mat to lie on during “resting time.” The door has one of those aluminum grates in it, a letter “B” in the middle, and I am peering outside through the bars. As I wait for the unfamiliar school bus to intrude on the familiar view through the window, the world seems a lot bigger than it ever had before.

It is the last week of August, 1969. The Gulf Coast is cleaning up from Hurricane Camille, and top songs include “Sugar Sugar” and “A Boy Named Sue.” On the first day of fourth grade, Mrs. Goodmiller introduces us to a new student, David. She says he has just recovered from open-heart surgery. On that day, I decide that I will make friends with David. We will go through a lot, and put each other through a lot, over the years to come. We’ll fight, rebuild our friendship, fight again, rebuild again. We will be college roommates briefly, and he will stand up in my wedding. His heart trouble will kill him at age 23, and I will never have another friend so close.

It is the last week of August, 1979. The top movie at the box office, as it has been for much of the summer, is Alien. WKRP in Cincinnati and M*A*S*H are big on TV. “My Sharona” and Get the Knack are atop the Billboard charts. I am hanging out in the office at the campus radio station with some friends as new freshmen come in. As I first wrote back in 2006: “On this particular afternoon, a girl walked in and started looking around. She was wearing a red-and-white striped sweater—which she filled out extreeeemely well—and had long dark hair down to her waist, dark eyes, and a distinctive nose. ‘Holy crap,’ I said to my friends. ‘Who’s that?'”

(I have been married to that girl for 36 years now.)

It is the last week of August, 1984. The Chicago Cubs and New York Mets are in a pennant race no one saw coming after they duked it out for last place in 1983. President Reagan announces the Teacher in Space program, and the shuttle Discovery takes off on the program’s 12th mission. Radio playlists are crowded with hits that will become iconic, including “What’s Love Got to Do With It” by Tina Turner and “If This Is It” by Huey Lewis, plus two by Prince, “When Doves Cry” and “Let’s Go Crazy.” At my radio station, we’re getting ready to throw the switch on a Top 40 format this Saturday. I am wired with anticipation, planning and fixing and tweaking. It feels like my whole life has been leading up to this.

Some days we walk into with both eyes open, knowing that they are going to be memorable, like five-year-old me on the way to kindergarten. Some days’ importance we don’t recognize until later, like that day in fourth grade, or the day of the format change (which, I realize now, is the most exciting single day of my radio career). The big days come with memories that can keep us going through the years.

But most days are ordinary. We spend them pushing whatever rock we’re pushing up whatever hill we’re fated to push it up. And at days’ end, we reach the top, the rock rolls down, and we’ll push it again tomorrow. This time of year, it’s those ordinary rock-pushing days I wish I could better recall. Every fall, when I see kids lined up at the bus stop, there’s something inside me that wants to say to them, “Make sure you remember everything.” But I never do it. First of all, you can’t remember everything. And second, when you’re five or nine (or 16 or 19 or 24 or 37 or 43 or whatever you are), only one thing would seem more absurd to you than the idea that your ordinary days are worth remembering: the amount of time you’ll eventually spend trying to remember them, when you are elsewhere and else-time.

5 responses

  1. <>
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    Thanks for mentioning that, Jim, along with the rest of this great post. I, too, was fortunate to be around for a format change to Top 40. I was younger and more of a fly on the wall, but for me (like you) it was by far the single most exciting time of my radio career.

  2. Well, phooey, I was trying for some fancy formatting above but it fell flat. The two bracketed lines were quotes from your post: “At my radio station, we’re getting ready to throw the switch on a Top 40 format this Saturday. I am wired with anticipation, planning and fixing and tweaking.” and “the day of the format change (which, I realize now, is the most exciting single day of my radio career)”

  3. As I’ve said before, you have a unique gift. I’m glad that you use that to share these memories with us. Thank you.

  4. This was gorgeous writing. The few sentences that you have about your friend David are heartbreaking.

    1. Agree with you on that 100 percent, David.

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