This week held onto the heat of summer a little longer, but loosened its hold right at the to show us Fall is still on its way. We slept with our windows open last night, letting the cold breeze float in and there was no need for air conditioning, no need for fans. The outside air was just what we needed to feel comfortable.
There is nothing like these near perfect days outside to make you take notice of the world. Earlier in the week, when it was still in the 90s, there were a few days with breezy winds that fooled you into thinking it was cooler. These are go out on the porch with your book days, drop your assignments and tasks to take a walk days. We’ve been sweating in the sun for weeks now, we have to do something to celebrate, something to acknowledge that this day is comfortable. Appreciation takes precedent over mundane tasks that we could do every day if we aren’t careful.
On one of these days, I went out with Digby to throw the tennis ball in the field across from our house. In addition to the wind, joining us this week, cicadas have really come on, buzzing invisibly from the trees. They swell to this loud hum, then go quiet, much like the motion of the wind, raising up, dropping down in a rhythm like some sort of slow heart beat. In the time after I hurled the ball, while watching my little brown ball of fluff chase the neon green ball like it’s a pork chop, I would breathe deeper, try to absorb all these sensory feelings. There’s the wind on the skin of my face and hands. There’s the feel of the dry grass on my feet. There’s the sounds of the cicadas rising and falling. This seemed important, seemed like something I needed to remember.
This Friday would be the first time I hosted All Things Considered on the radio station all alone. To the casual radio listener, this probably doesn’t seem like much. I’m just the voice that breaks in about every 20 minutes to say which business supported this hour of broadcast, repeat the call letters, say what’s coming up this weekend, and give the weather and temperature if there’s time. I imagine this is the time many people are going to the bathroom, zoning out, or turning the channel from NPR just long enough to hear a guilty pleasure on a pop station. Still, I take it seriously and want to sound polished, which will inevitably make you nervous and shaky, which is the opposite of polished. At the worst, though, I could load up the next show wrong or talk over the NPR feed when they come back, which messes with what people actually want to hear. And, I have to load Marketplace for the next hour in a very particular way–a way when I was trained I was told people have been fired for messing up. So, this whole week, I’ve been going over scripts and schedules in my head. I’ve been reciting to myself each step of every action I must take from 4pm to 6pm on Friday.
This gives me a new found appreciation for the new people who get put on the air on television and radio. For years, I watched WBBJ news out of Jackson, heckling all the new news personalities. These kids (I say kids because they couldn’t have been older than 20) would get on camera and deliver the news of the day and make small talk with the other personalities, and it rarely went completely smooth. It’s so easy to stomp all over those mistakes from your couch without putting yourself in their shows. When I began speaking in front of people, I realized how much time it takes to make yourself sound the way you think a good speaker should. Then, I would see these kids, feel some sympathy seeing how nervous they were, but ultimately say, “man you gotta do better than that.” Now after putting on the headphones and hearing my voice, knowing in that split second that if I can hear fear everyone else can too, I understand how ridiculously brave those guys are to do it and to come back the next day when you screwed up and know you will screw up again. No one will start great–the key to those who make it are the ones who can recover quickest from the screw-ups.
This week, my oldest friend James welcomed his first child into the world. I was able to go with Allyson to visit them in Nashville on Thursday and check the little guy out. He was born a few weeks premature, so he is, indeed, a little guy, and he’s still figuring out the basics like opening his eyes, drinking milk, and moving his arms. I see babies in this phase pretty differently than most people. While most people describe them with at least one of the terms: perfect, angel, or beautiful, they really look like pink aliens to me. And, while many are able to pick out features that resemble their parents, babies usually don’t remind me of anybody. I’m not trying to poo poo on the magic of the experience, but I wonder if I’m missing something or if I’m seeing something different that I need to pay more attention to. It is a cool experience meeting your best friend’s child. I’ve seen plenty of babies before from friends and family. But, it’s so interesting to see how this instantaneous step into parenthood changes a person you’ve known your whole life. What all is that little pink alien going to teach him as he begins to look more and more like a person?
On Saturday, Allyson and I both needed to get out of the house and into the wilderness. We traveled to LBL to hike one of our favorite stretches of the North/South Trail, starting at Jenny Ridge. The weather was perfect–warm with sunlight shielded by thin, gray clouds and a steady breeze causing the branches to wave back and forth. Allyson was really looking to burn some calories and pent up frustration, so we walked at a pretty good pace, hiking 4 miles to Vickers Bay. This was a small, muddy inlet from Kentucky Lake–not one of the more popular ones–seemingly hidden away for us to discover. Before turning back for the 4 mile hike to our car, I suggested we take a break and sit on the rocks next to the water. As we sat and chatted, we noticed activity just under the surface of the lake. Then, a thin gray fin about 6-8 inches tall emerged slowly from the water then went back in. We watched for about 15 more minutes watching this happen over and over. We had no idea what this thing could be–it didn’t look like a fish that should be in Kentucky Lake. And, it moved so slowly, like it was rolling over on it’s back and waving it’s fin out of the water. And the fin was so thin and large. We wondered if it was some sort of mutation like on a made for TV Sci-fi channel feature, so I started calling it Bat Shark. Bat Shark eventually stopped it’s twirling in the water, and we packed up to head home. We wondered, though, what we had seen, what it was doing, what it meant?
On Friday, I never felt unprepared. I was practiced each reading multiple times before going on air. I had back-up things to say just in case I went too fast. I knew exactly what time I needed to finish to be able to return it to the national feed. It took me 10 minutes to cut Marketplace and load it up, but it was done too. I went through the readings with minimal mistakes (I did trip all over the word “Gilbraltor”) and when I said goodbye for the weekend, turn my mic down, and the NPR feed back up, I felt like I had done something huge. As I was packing up my water bottle and putting up the instruction books, I heard Marketplace begin. Then Kai Ryssdal’s voice came in telling us all we were listening to Marketplace for Thursday September 4, 2014. What a second. Did he say Thursday? Surely not. I began checking the sound bite folder to see what the date said on it. It said September 5. Ok, I was probably just hearing things. Then the phone rings. “Excuse me, but you guys are playing yesterday’s marketplace.”
In this moment, you begin wondering if this is a turning point in your life. Is this the moment that you flitted away your chance at any kind of radio work? I called our Program Director and explained what was happening. He told me to call the Chief Engineer. I explained everything that had happened and answered his questions about the program and sound files. He checked his email and found one from Marketplace saying they had made a mistake and the first 9 minutes were taped as Thursday’s broadcast. They screwed up. I called Tracy, the Program Director with that information, and he said, “That’s the problem, then. You didn’t do anything wrong Troy, go home and have a good weekend.” What a relief to hear those words. I stepped out to the stairwell from the Fine Arts Building 8 stories up, looking out onto the town. It was partly cloudy and breezy. It was a great day to walk home in. I’m not to sure what it will all mean for me. I just made it through two hours of radio work. I just stood there in the wind soaking it in. I was just still enough to notice what it sounded like, what it looked like, what it felt like on my skin. I don’t know that I’m any smarter. But, I’m glad I got to listen to these things. I’m glad to see them in my life. I will work hard to find ways to remember them, to keep them.