A Watchful Eye (Fourth Chapter of KILL THE MUSIC)


 

“Andy Griffith came on at 10:05 AM, then 7:05 and 11:05 PM. It was a ritual.”

By Michael G. Plumides, Jr.

The following Monday, I was sitting at my desk in my bedroom studying and listening to The Smiths, Meat is Murder. My roommates were in the other room, taking bong hits and watching Andy Griffith.

When interviewing potential roommates, I had three rules: One condition was to pay the rent and utilities punctually; the second was if you drink my Michelob Light, don’t replace it with a Milwaukee’s Best, and lastly, no bongs in the house; only because they get kicked over and stink up the place.

Although Brett and Rob-O agreed to my terms, they religiously tuned in three times a day to WTBS in Atlanta, to watch the hi-jinx of North Carolina’s favorite sheriff. And the bong got kicked over weekly. Smelled like rotten tomatoes, and ass. I was reading Justice Berger’s opinion on Miller vs. California, as Morrissey’s crooning soothed me.

“Sex, a great and mysterious motive force in human life, that has indisputably been a subject of absorbing interest to mankind through the ages, must be accorded a high level of constitutional protection.”

There was a knock on the front door. I passed the two stoners enthralled in Opie’s exploits, paying no heed to the repeated raps, and stepped into the hallway to answer the door. When I opened it, Sharon stood there holding a piece of paper in her hand. She was staring at the words “The Gods at 1800 Greene Street,” in black letters stenciled across the white painted door.

“So, what do I owe this dubious pleasure?”

Sharon was hesitant and nervous as she spoke. “I’ve got some bad news.”

Bracing myself I asked, “All right. What did I do this time?”

“Lorna was listening to your show on Sunday, and she says you said, ‘goddamn’ on the air. She called Juliet. They called me, and then they rounded up everyone for an immediate Director’s meeting. I’m sorry Michael, but you’re suspended for a week.”

Sharon handed me the notice. As I read the letter, Sharon gazed at her shoes, with her arms crossed, almost embarrassed.

The University of South Carolina accepted me as a student in 1983. At the time my older brother George, was attending UNC Charlotte. I never thought of us being in competition, but upon my acceptance to USC, my brother insisted on transferring there for his senior year, obviously to prove he could get into Carolina as well. After my freshman year and George’s graduation, Dad was complaining about paying out-of-state tuition for me, so I transferred to UNC-W the following fall. After driving four hours to Wilmington, I called back home to tell Mom, I arrived in one piece. When I asked where George was, my mother responded, “Oh, he’s in Columbia registering for classes.”

In the fall of 1986 after two years, I transferred back to Carolina, as I felt cheated out of my alma mater by some sibling skullduggery. But while I was in Wilmington, I was involved in the fledgling college radio station, WLOZ-FM, so when I transferred back to Carolina, I already had my FCC license and knew my way around a control room.

Sometimes I felt like I didn’t fit in anywhere. I was always a little different. I did love David Bowie, though I wasn’t gay. I was voted “most unique” of my senior class in high school maybe because I wasn’t easily categorized into a sub-group. People like me were the blunt beginning of the GenX-ers. We had no heroes. At my high school, our Homecoming Queen dropped out, and Mr. East Mecklenburg was one. A queen, I mean.

My dad went to Law School at the University of North Carolina, so I was from an educated family. Maybe that’s why I was argumentative and rarely lost a debate. That created some dissension. I was kind of artsy, but not primarily. I was athletic, well-rounded, intelligent, vocal, and likable, or at least I thought. The attributes that I perceived as virtuous stuck in the craw of others.

Some of the deejays, namely Lorna and Juliet, thought of me as an outsider. They didn’t like me around, especially Lorna. She saw me as a threat to her control of the universe. Lorna kept a watchful eye on me, insistently. Since I transcended the typical label, it always seemed like someone was fucking with me. That’s why I had to stand up for myself and appear to be confident. Maybe that’s just the way life is. Either you liked me, or you hated me. And believe me, Lorna hated me for no apparent reason really. Maybe, I was too free spirited for her taste; and I didn’t fit neatly into her mold of oddities.

Lorna and the others would often commiserate amongst themselves, like witches peering over a cauldron of defiance and absurdity, conjuring and plotting against their adversaries, as if college radio was Macbeth. They were Wicca types. I always kept a close tab on my hairbrush.

“As you have violated FCC regulations by using inappropriate language on the air Sunday, January 9, 1988 at 3:45 P.M., you are hereby suspended for one week.”

I objected. “I didn’t say ‘goddamn.’ I didn’t say it.”

Sharon defended the decision.

“Lorna says that she heard you clear as day.”

“What’s her problem?” I posed.

“She’s worse than the fucking Gestapo. You know it’s because of her, that Mark Bryan quit. She wouldn’t let him play Hootie on the radio. How, fucked up is that? That’s his band, for Christ sakes. What kind of police state has this turned into?”

I stood there for a moment, and pondered. Then I remembered.

“Wait a second. I’ve got that show on tape! Come with me.”

Sharon followed me into my bedroom. I unzipped the front pocket of my book bag, and produced a tape with the date written on it, 1/9/88, and handed it to her.

Sharon raised an eyebrow. “You taped the show?”

“I always tape my shows. I’m a narcissist.”

Sharon joked, “That’s a polite word for what you are.”

“Oh, come on Sharon. You tape your shows. How are we going to improve if we don’t learn from our mistakes? Besides, I’m not the neo-fascist here.”

Sharon remarked, “Fine then. Let’s hear it.” I popped in the cassette. It was evident that I had not said “goddamn,” but “God, man.”

After listening several times to the recording, Sharon decided, “Well, I’m afraid you’ll have to bite the bullet on this one.”

“Why? There’s the proof!”

“Because it’ll make them feel better,” she said.

I was confused. “Who?”

Sharon crossed her arms, and leered at me. “Who do you think?”

I was livid.

“Fuck them! I’m not in this life to make them ‘feel better.’You can go ahead and let them boss you around, but I won’t allow the ‘fat chicks in black’ to bully me, like they do everyone else at that radio station!”

Sharon was making excuses for them. “Well, they’re concerned about the FCC. You know how things are these days.”

“Don’t kid yourself, Sharon,” I disagreed. “That’s not what this is about. Lorna and the others are a bunch of introverted, elitist control freaks, and the last thing on their minds is the FCC.”

Sternly Sharon asked, “Then what’s this about, Michael?” I argued, “This is about Lorna using what little executive power she has to get rid of people who don’t look like carnies. Lorna typifies a face for radio.”

Sharon snickered.

I continued, “Think about it. Every semester we train students who are eager to be a part of college radio, and every semester, Lorna and her circle of cronies treat the trainees who may have a modicum of attractiveness, or normalcy like shit until they quit.”

Sharon giggled again, but tried to keep a straight face. “Well, look at it from Lorna’s perspective. I think she’s resentful towards you because you came on the scene like a wrecking ball, and all the other jocks liked you.”

“So? Get over it. Anyway, that’s why they nominated me for Promotions Director. Because the other jocks felt emasculated by Lorna, they knew she couldn’t control me, and I’d stand up for them. Come on Sharon, admit it, they even boss you around and you’re the fucking Program Director! This nonsensical game of politics you play with them is total bull shit.”

There was silence.

“Well, I don’t get it either. You work as hard as anyone else at the station. Maybe the problem is that it was easy for you and it wasn’t supposed to be. Lorna and the others resent you for that.”

“Well, fuck them,” I said. “Tell them to get some anger management. Counseling. EST, or some shit. There are programs.”

Sharon tried to analyze the situation.

“Lorna’s like Nurse Ratchet in One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Lorna wants to maintain the status quo, and she certainly doesn’t want any newcomers creating dissension amongst the ranks. You’re like Jack Nicholson’s character who challenges her authority.”

I was puzzled at her comment.

Sharon shrugged, and said, “I took film appreciation last semester.”

I joked, “But doesn’t McMurphy strangle Nurse Ratchet in the end?”

We both laughed.

“Anyway, I’m not a newcomer. I’ve been there for two years and I hate bullies. Always have.”

Sharon was in thought for a moment.

“All right, listen. I’ll make a deal with you.  Take the week off, and this Thursday, I want you to drive to Charlotte, and interview Dave Mustaine of Megadeth.”

I was a little surprised.

“Huh?”

“I need someone to interview Megadeth, and I want you to drive to Charlotte on Thursday. You can edit the tape, and play it next Monday night on Massive Metal. Cal Young needs a replacement, and you’ve filled in for him before.”

I scratched my head.

“Nobody said that you can’t use the production room, so in all practicality you really only miss a day. Deal?”

Sharon, thinking she had a compromise, stood there waiting for my answer.

I went over to shut the door to my room, while my roommates continued to watch TV, and munched on big bag of Doritos. After shutting the door, I sauntered up to Sharon and stood really close to her. Sharon was blonde, cute, and much shorter than I. She was surprised, and a little doe-eyed, as she bit down slightly on her lower lip in anticipation. I put my hands on her hips and pulled her close.

As I leaned down to kiss her, I smugly said, “Deal.”

KILL THE MUSIC is available at www.amazon.com in paperback, and kindle, and also at regional bookstores in the South.  To find out where go here:

http://www.facebook.com/#/pages/KILL-THE-MUSIC/103538850629?ref=ts

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